Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Tales from the BOONDOCKS: Recruiting Black Faculty to Small Town, U.S.A., Can Be A Challenge

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Tales from the BOONDOCKS: Recruiting Black Faculty to Small Town, U.S.A., Can Be A Challenge

Article excerpt

Tales From the BOONDOCKS: Recruiting Black Faculty to Small Town, U.S.A., Can Be A Challenge.

When Dr. Mordean Taylor-Archer first arrived in Manhattan, she went to the local cable provider and asked that Black Entertainment Television be added to the basic cable offerings. Taylor-Archer was not, by the way, in New York's Big Apple, but rather in Manhattan, Kan. -- in the heart of the Midwest, where few in the town of roughly 41,000 had even heard of BET.

"There are certain things that have to happen to make a place feel welcome and warm to a diverse population," says Taylor-Archer, associate provost for diversity and dual career development at Kansas State University, who also has found herself lobbying local merchants to get Black hair-care products and make-up sold in local stores.

Preparing the campus and community for diversity, after all, is part of her job at Kansas State in an effort to attract more Black scholars to the campus of 21,543, which currently has 20 Black faculty members.

Taylor-Archer is not alone.

Administrators at campuses, small and large -- from Brunswick, Maine, to Boone, N.C., to Manhattan, Kan. -- are looking to cultivate a Black presence in cities with tiny minority populations. Many have a lot of research and scholarship opportunities and simple small-town charm to offer the right candidate.

In 1990, there were just two Black faculty members at Kansas State. With Taylor-Archer's assistance, the university has increased that presence tenfold. Still, Black scholars only account for 1.3 percent of the full faculty complement of 1,500.

To maximize recruitment of faculty of color, Taylor-Archer says a university should consider two things: "The first and most important thing is that there is an institutional commitment to diversity from the president to the provost to the deans to the department heads as well as the faculty. Everyone must be on the same page and not just talking about recruitment but taking affirmative steps to make it happen."

Once that commitment has been determined, Taylor-Archer says the next step is personal outreach. The formula worked recently when the university acquired its first African American department chair.

"Initially, I said, `Thanks, but no thanks,'" admits Dr. Gwen O'Neal, chair of the department of apparel, textiles and interior design at Kansas State.

She had reservations about the offer that was personally extended by the dean of the college not because of the campus' rural location, but because she wasn't sure she wanted to accept the challenge of being the first Black department head.

But that didn't stop the dean of human ecology, Dr. Carole Kellett, a White administrator, from continually calling O'Neal, who was up for full professor after 13 years at Ohio State. "I first thought that she was a great candidate and I knew that we'd really like to get her," Kellett says. "And, secondly, that if we did get her and she's not happy in this environment, then we'd be negligent."

Kellett, a former administrator at California State University-Long Beach, says that she is no stranger to a diverse community and being the minority, but that she has no personal insight to the perspective of a Black woman.

Yet she wanted O'Neal to draw her own conclusions about Kansas State. "I finally had to be very candid," O'Neal says. "I told her that I didn't think that a White faculty would want to be lead by a Black female."

Kellett responded by inviting her to campus. It was that visit that changed O'Neal's mind. "There was a real atmosphere of inclusion, even though there was no evidence of inclusion," O'Neal says of the small minority presence.

To make sure that O'Neal received a true picture of life at Kansas State, Kellett footed the bill for a dinner with other African American faculty hosted by Taylor-Archer, which the dean did not attend.

"I knew what the challenges were. That was very obvious," O'Neal says. …

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