Creating Opportunities for Faculty Research: Research Is One of the Most Rewarding Aspects of a Scholarly Career, but until Recently Few African American Scholars Have Had a Choice to Pursue It Seriously

By Meggett, Linda | Black Issues in Higher Education, November 25, 1999 | Go to article overview

Creating Opportunities for Faculty Research: Research Is One of the Most Rewarding Aspects of a Scholarly Career, but until Recently Few African American Scholars Have Had a Choice to Pursue It Seriously


Meggett, Linda, Black Issues in Higher Education


Creating Opportunities for Faculty Research: Research is one of the most rewarding aspects of a scholarly career, but until recently few African American scholars have had a chance to pursue it seriously.

Higher education's sacrosanct route to promotion and tenure is navigated along the paths of teaching, service and research. Good teaching and service are expected, but it is good research that usually attracts the greatest rewards.

The preferred environment for most researchers is found at large research universities. But these institutions produce few African American Ph.D.s. and because they have a tendency to hire faculty from within or from institutions of like stature, it is rare for African American scholars to land positions at these schools.

Among the more than 160,000 faculty who work at Research I and II institutions, only about 3 percent are African American, and many of these are junior faculty who have yet to achieve tenure (see BI the Numbers, pg. 38). As a consequence, many African American researchers find themselves teaching at smaller, often historically Black, institutions that lack the funding and infrastructure needed to support extensive research.

Research is an invaluable tool for of faculty career development, offering colleges and universities a means of enhancing institutional competitiveness and a way to expose Black students to valuable learning opportunities. Recognizing this, a growing number of historically Black universities have begun building impressive research complexes. Subsequently, African American scholars have a variety of options to pursue if they want to teach and conduct research at an HBCU -- especially if they are in science and engineering fields.

"Hampton University, for example, has one of the finest physics programs in the country," says Dr. Earnestine Psalmonds, vice chancellor of research at North Carolina A&T University. Florida A&M, Tuskegee, Howard, Norfolk State and Prairie View universities as well as her own university also have dynamic research being conducted on their campuses, Psalmonds says. And even though Howard is the only university in this group that is officially classified as a Research institution by the Carnegie Foundation, these mostly state-supported schools are distinguishing themselves for their research activities.

Even smaller schools -- like the John C. Smith University -- that do not have the research infrastructure found at larger institutions, are finding ways to get more research money and opportunities by creating incentive programs for young professors.

"It is not difficult getting research opportunities," Psalmonds says. "[Researchers] can come [to HBCUs] and make such a difference in the lives of underrepresented students."

HBCUs that strive to expand their competitiveness also are using research opportunities as a faculty recruitment strategy. Tactics such as offering more competitive salaries are buttressed by other perks like state-of-the-art laboratory space.

There is no lack of funding opportunities for those persons to do research, Psalmonds says.

Prioritizing Research

One of the biggest obstacles to building a competitive research environment is finding the resources necessary to lighten the teaching load of professors so that they can engage in serious research. And even at schools where the resources exist, most faculty are still required to teach.

At the most prestigious research institutions, the jobs of most faculty are split between research and teaching. Of course, there are research faculty members who don't teach at all, says Ted Greenwood, a program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, but these faculty are in the minority. To achieve this, professors have to raise a substantial amount of external money in order to buy out their teaching time. At liberal arts colleges it is rare to find faculty who are in this position.

Johns Hopkins University has developed a reputation as one of the top breeding grounds for doctors and scientists. …

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