ERIC Identifier: ED317100
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Washington, Valora - Harvey, William
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.
Affirmative Rhetoric, Negative Action. African-American and
Hispanic Faculty at Predominantly White Institutions. ERIC Digest.
This is an analysis of affirmative action theory and practice for
African-American and Hispanic faculty in predominantly white, four-year
institutions of higher education. It examines the history of affirmative action,
supply and demand issues, institutional approaches to affirmative action,
factors outside of the academy that affect faculty employment, and case studies
of effective practices or new initiatives.
Critics and advocates of affirmative action have focused on similar issues in
debates. Both groups often assume that affirmative action has led to significant
increases in the number of minority faculty at predominantly white institutions,
but this is not the case. Both groups also cite the threat of federal action as
a result of affirmative action failure. However, no college or university has
ever lost federal funds as a result of noncompliance--or if they have, this fact
has not been publicized.
Several questions for consideration emerge as we approach the 1990s. Is
affirmative action really necessary? Why hasn't more progress been made in
hiring African-American and Hispanic faculty? What should be done to increase
employment opportunities for African-American and Hispanic faculty?
IS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION REALLY NECESSARY?
Any discussion of
affirmative action must recall the historical factors leading to this solution.
Before World War II, Hispanics and African-Americans were virtually invisible in
higher education. Moreover, lack of "qualified" minority faculty was not the
reason for the racial segregation of faculty. Even by 1936, there was a sizable
group of African-Americans with Ph.D.s, 80 percent of whom taught at three
historically African-American institutions (Atlanta, Fisk, and Howard
Universities). By 1941, only two African-American tenured faculty members in
predominantly white institutions can be identified. By 1947, out of 3,000
African-Americans who listed college teacher as their occupation, only 78 had
ever taught at a white school--many as part-time lecturers. By 1958 there were
200 African-American faculty members at predominantly white institutions, a
figure that increased to 300 by 1961.
By 1972--the year affirmative action in higher education was
initiated--African-Americans represented 2.9 percent of all faculty (including
those at historically African-American universities). Other minority groups
(including Hispanics, but not Asians) were 2.8 percent of the total faculty.
There were only 1,500 faculty who could be identified as Mexican-American or
Chicano (600 of these were at community colleges).
The number of African-American and Hispanic faculty increased until 1976,
then began to level off or decline. Between 1977 and 1984, national faculty
representation for African-Americans dropped from about 4.4 percent to 4.0
percent, and for Hispanics from 1.7 percent to 1.4 percent. Note that most of
the African-American faculty are at historically African-American institutions
(although they comprise just 60 percent of the faculty at historically
Affirmative action continues to be necessary because of its limited success,
and because of the pluralistic nature of our society. Colleges--as institutions
where people expect to challenge their perspectives and values--can help prepare
our nation to deal with diversity in many ways: by providing students with role
models, by preparing minority youth to assume positions of leadership, and by
supporting minority-related scholarship.
WHY HASN'T MORE PROGRESS BEEN MADE IN HIRING DIVERSE FACULTY?
Proponents of the availability pool rationale for the low
numbers of African-American and Hispanic faculty can readily point to data to
support their arguments: the small and/or declining number of
African-American/Hispanic Ph.D.s; the underrepresentation of minorities in
particular disciplines such as science and engineering; the concentration of
African-American and Hispanic doctorates in the fields of education, humanities,
and social sciences; and the trend toward nonacademic employment among doctoral
Nevertheless, the lack of affirmative action progress cannot be explained
solely by arguments about the availability pool. The proportion of
African-Americans and Hispanics who hold faculty positions in predominantly
white institutions has never come close to the percentage of African-Americans
and Hispanics who hold terminal degrees, even in fields where the supply is
relatively good. Indeed, the decline of the African-American professoriat in the
late 1970s occurred despite growth in the total number of faculty positions and
in the number of African-Americans with Ph.D.s. In certain fields, minorities
are more likely than whites to state their reason for working part-time as the
inability to find full-time employment.
These facts raise issues about the demand for African-American and Hispanic
faculty. While it is important to increase the number of minorities with
doctorates, it must be stressed that those who are already available and
qualified are not being fully employed. Most minorities who have been hired have
not had any special or preferential treatment.
Other reasons also help to explain the lack of progress in hiring
African-American and Hispanic faculty, including the lack of accurate
availability data; the political and philosophical dominance of issues related
to merit and standards for qualification, rather than on equity and fair
process; the focus on regulation and compliance rather than on advocacy in
affirmative action operations; and an atmosphere of deferred responsibility
within institutions, where administrators, faculty, students, and staff each
hold other groups responsible.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO INCREASE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND HISPANIC FACULTY?
Institutions of higher education
should experience more affirmative action success if they adopt proactive,
rather than reactive, approaches to seeking African-American and Hispanic
faculty. Visible and determined leadership by the chief executive and academic
officers of the institution is the most important element that sets the stage
for successful affirmative action. Strong leaders treat affirmative action as an
institutional priority for resources and staff by closely monitoring decisions
and offering incentives.
The role of the faculty is also critical for affirmative action in higher
education, although there is little credible evidence of strong faculty
commitment to it. Rather, many successful affirmative action programs are the
outgrowth of leadership among members of the target groups who are already part
of the campus community.
Search committees are the standard tool for screening and interviewing
candidates; hence, their composition and work strategies are important. In
choosing committee members, more flexibility in defining rank and
subspecialties, and the use of minority networks or vitae banks, may be useful.
Effective affirmative action offices reflect the mission and purpose of their
institutions. They work to set goals rather than respond to the timelines and
goals set by others. Ideally, the affirmative action officer reports to the
president and does not serve concurrently as chief academic officer.
New ideas and innovative approaches are needed to develop, recruit, and
retain African-American and Hispanic professors. Some institutions are using
curriculum review as a key to hiring (e.g., Temple University). Others build a
pool of potential professors through incentives to graduate students, including
financial support and mentoring (e.g., Wayne State University and the Florida
Endowment Fund). Improving primary and secondary educational opportunities
(e.g., Ohio State University) is a long-term strategy.
Blackwell, James E. 1981. MAINSTREAMING
OUTSIDERS: THE PRODUCTION OF BLACK PROFESSIONALS. 2nd rev. ed. New York: General
Brown, Shirley Vining. 1988. INCREASING MINORITY FACULTY: AN ELUSIVE GOAL,
Princeton, N.J.: Educational Testing Service.
Harvey, William B., and Scott-Jones, Diane. 1985." We Can't Find Any: The
Elusiveness of Black Faculty Members in American Higher Education." ISSUES IN
EDUCATION 3(1): 68-76.
Menges, Robert J., and Exum, William H. 1983. "Barriers to the Progress of
Women and Minority Faculty." JOURNAL OF HIGHER EDUCATION 54(2): 123-44.
Reed, Rodney J. 1983. "Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Is It
Necessary?" JOURNAL OF NEGRO EDUCATION 52(3): 322-49.
Sudarkasa, Niara. February 1987. "Affirmative Action or Affirmative of the
Status Quo? Black Faculty and Administrators in Higher Education." AAHE BULLETIN
Wilson, Reginald. 1987."Recruitment and Retention of Minority Faculty and
Staff." AAHE BULLETIN 39(6): 11-14.
This ERIC digest is based on a new full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series, prepared by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and
published by the School of Education at the George Washington University.