Recruiting Professorial Diversity

By Robinson, William,, III | Black Issues in Higher Education, March 5, 1998 | Go to article overview

Recruiting Professorial Diversity


Robinson, William,, III, Black Issues in Higher Education


In a state where lawmakers currently are debating a bill that would scale back state-sanctioned affirmative action policies, a University of South Carolina (USC) faculty member is trying to lure under-represented minorities into the collegiate teaching ranks.

Dr. Aretha Pigford, a professor of education, says she believes she can raise $150,000 over the next few months to pay stipends for ten Ph.D. candidates who could begin their final push toward a terminal degree at the University's flagship campus in Columbia this fall. Pigford's three-year goal is to have thirty students at USC, thus adding to a pipeline that produces just 1,400 Black Ph.D.s annually, according to the National Library of Education.

The centerpiece of Pigford's vision is a pledge that students will be paired with enthusiastic mentors willing to share teaching secrets and nurture teaching skills.

"Mentoring is important in education, period," says Dr. Michael Nettles, executive director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which studies ways to improve educational opportunities for minorities. And, he says, "The mentor doesn't have to be the same race as the student."

According to Nettles, it is more important that a student have someone to depend upon for advice and guidance, and that the relationship function as a partnership.

With the help of a planning grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Pigford has spent the past year trying to drum up support for her idea. If she ran raise the necessary matching funds, she stands to receive nearly $1 million in Kellogg grants over five years.

Betty Overton, Kellogg's higher education program director, says the foundation is "very excited about...this project. It integrates into higher education our theme of capitalizing on diversity."

The past year hasn't been easy for Pigford, but she's not discouraged. Although USC's administration is now supportive, school President John Palms expressed reservations last fall about the incentive strategy of tying enrollment at the university to job guarantees.

Pigford, one of the five tenured Black faculty in USC's College of Education, has been knocking on doors on her own campus and around the country in search of the financial backing she needs to lure the next generation of African Americans into the college classroom. USC's athletics department has agreed to contribute $15,000 for the next three years, if a graduate student enrolls in a field related to the welfare of student athletes.

"We applaud the university for creating opportunities for attracting potential minority faculty," says athletics director Mike McGee. "It makes sense for us to support something in academics like this that will benefit our student-athletes and the university as a whole."

Another key USC administrator backs Pigford's initiative as well. Engineering school Dean Craig Rogers told Pigford he has money in his budget to underwrite a doctoral stipend if she can produce viable candidates.

"We are very much supportive of Dr. Pigford's program," Rogers says. "We would like to provide research assistantships for African American students as part of our [ongoing] research activities. We want to aggressively recruit African American graduate students, particularly those who want to earn a Ph.D."

Limited Numbers

Fewer than 5 percent of all college professors in this country are Black, according to Nettles. Exclude those who teach at historically Black institutions, and the number falls to 2 percent.

The Kellogg Foundation's Overton says it is not surprising African Americans opt for careers other than teaching at the college level. …

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