Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Attitudes and Advocacy: Understanding Faculty Views on Racial/ethnic Diversity

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Attitudes and Advocacy: Understanding Faculty Views on Racial/ethnic Diversity

Article excerpt

Introduction and Significance

Diversity has been a hot-button issue in higher education for the past several decades (Chang, Witt, Jones & Hakuta, 2003). A significant portion of research has been dedicated to how students experience the campus racial climate (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1998; Rankin & Reason, 2005), their views on policies such as affirmative action (Sax & Arredondo, 1999), and how they participate in diversity-related activism (Rhoads, 1998). However, less is known about how faculty feel about diversity policies on their campuses, how important they think diversity is to undergraduates, and their own commitments to fostering a diverse environment (Flores & Rodriguez, 2006; American Council on Education, 2000).

Faculty play a critical role in the life of the university. They design and teach the curriculum, conduct research that advances the existing knowledge base, and set guidelines that determine many of the standards for their campuses. They make up the body from which department heads, deans, and college presidents come from. Trustees may serve terms, students cycle in and out, but once tenured, faculty are there to stay. Because faculty play such a sustaining role in the life of the university, it is essential to better understand their attitudes towards diversity, especially in a time period where policies geared towards increasing access to higher education for students of color continue to be challenged (Chang, et al., 2003).

In order to better understand faculty attitudes towards diversity, specifically racial/ethnic diversity, we created a composite variable that taps into a variety of faculty attitudes towards diversity including their commitments to promoting racial understanding and their views on the role of diversity in undergraduate education. We refer to this variable throughout the study as "Diversity Advocacy." The purpose of the study is to examine how Diversity Advocacy varies within subsets of faculty, as well as to identify predictors of faculty attitudes regarding diversity.

Background

Much of the literature on faculty and diversity has concentrated on the under-representation of faculty of color in the professoriate, as well as the challenges that they encounter in academe (Cole & Barber, 2003; Smith, Turner, Osei-Kofi, & Richards, 2004; Turner & Myers, 2000). Still, less is known about how professors view the relevance of campus diversity and diversity-related policies (ACE, 2000). Since faculty of color remain under-represented in the academy and are more likely to hold untenured positions (Harvey & Anderson, 2005), are professors in general more or less likely to support efforts to increase diversity on campus and recognize its educational value?

Citing findings from the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute's survey of faculty, Milem and Hakuta (2000) note that while over 90% of faculty agree that "a racially/ethnically diverse student body enhances the educational experience of all students," 30% thought that "promoting diversity leads to the admission of too many underrepresented students." The general picture presented is that most faculty support diversity, but some may feel that academic standards are being compromised in expanding access to higher education.

In a study of a public institution in the Mountain West region, Flores & Rodriguez (2006) analyzed the responses of 436 faculty on diversity-related issues. In the area of admissions, 60% considered diversity to be an important admissions criterion. While 65% supported giving more financial support to increase the attendance of students of color, substantially more faculty (84%) supported giving more financial support to students with lower socioeconomic status. One item echoes Milem and Hakuta's (2000) finding that some faculty feel that academic standards are compromised by admitting a more diverse student body; 39% of faculty answered that student applicants of color were not as qualified as applicants from the majority group, and half agreed that students of color received grades as good as majority students. …

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