The Road to Tenure and beyond for African American Political Scientists

Article excerpt

African American political scientists are not tenured at the same rate as European Americans, nor do they hold similar rates of full professorships. This study examines data from the 1991-92 Departmental Survey of the American Political Science Association, as reported by chairs of 1,288 political science departments nationwide. The purpose of this study is twofold: (a) to measure the disparities in political science faculty rank and rates of tenure by race after controlling for likely intervening factors such as age, gender, and type of institution; and (b) to examine other factors that may explain these disparities. The results reveal that race remains the single strongest significant explanation for the difference in rank among African American and European American political scientists.


The rewards of academe seem elusive to African American political scientists. Although African Americans are receiving the doctorate (Ph.D) degree in political science, achieving tenure track positions in political science departments, and developing successful research agendas, they are not achieving tenure and moving into the rank of full professor at the same rate as other political scientists. The reward of a tenured position for meeting the requirements of outstanding research, teaching, and service in the profession is not bestowed upon African American political scientists in representative numbers. The plight of African American political scientists must be examined in the context of overall African American doctoral production in American institutions of higher learning. In addition, the production of African American Ph.Ds must be viewed from a historical perspective, for only within the past century have African Americans made strides in obtaining the Ph.D degree. Nonetheless, those who have obtained the Ph.D in political science are few in number.

African American Doctoral Production

The production of African American Ph.Ds has fluctuated over the past century-anda-half. Although data on the early years are inconclusive, some information does exist. Between 1876 and 1930, sixty-three African Americans received Ph.Ds, followed by 316 between 1930 and 1942. These numbers increased until the late 1970s, with 1,056 doctorate degrees awarded in 1979. During the following decade, the numbers declined until 1987 when only 767 degrees were awarded, nearly a one-third decrease in one decade. Since then, data reveal an upward swing that reached an all-time high in 1995, when 1,287 African Americans received Ph.Ds, the most since 1975.

Increasing the number of scholars with a doctorate degree is a long-term process, with median total time from entrance to completion of the degree across all fields ranging from as long as 13 years for African American scholars compared to 10 or 11 years for European American scholars (Ries & Thurgood, 1993). However, increases in the number of African American students entering doctoral programs in the present decade are encouraging. In 1996, ninety-five African American students began doctoral study in political science compared to 68 in 1984. Nevertheless, it will be a number of years before these developments will be reflected in increased numbers of Ph.D holders and political science faculty positions (Brintnall, 1995).

Researchers have considered several factors in the upward, downward, and now upward-again swing in the number of African Americans pursuing the Ph.D, including (a) the precarious financial assistance available for graduate study (Exum,1983); (b) market forces that ebb and flow in careers not requiring a doctorate degree (Rafky, 1972); and (c) the climate minority faculty and students encounter in graduate programs (Anderson et al., 1978; Blackwell, 1981, 1988; Exum, 1983). Although all these factors may play some role in the fluctuations revealed by the data, the present study examines only the climate for African American faculty, which will be proxied by examining how faculty are faring within the academy. …