Given the legacy of racial segregation, it is astonishing to perceive the presence of African American faculty in many college classrooms. For leaders in higher education, this feat symbolizes progress toward a heterogenic academic culture, namely within predominantly white institutions (PWIs). While we celebrate progress toward cultural diversity, the notion of retaining African American faculty members in higher education remains a challenge. Retention rates for African American members of the academy remain dismal, compared to their White peers (Turner & Myers 2000). This challenge forces scholars to reexamine issues of retention and representation for minority faculty in the arena of higher education.
I predict that in the near future, higher education institutions (specifically PWIs) will remain stagnant in their activities toward retaining African American faculty members; thus, neglecting to meet the perceived needs ofAfrican American (and minority) representation in higher education. In respect to timely environmental factors, it is probable that the effects of the economy may influence the provision of critical resources for retention, further limiting sustainment of African American faculty. Nonetheless, I suspect that efforts toward collective advocacy and persistence from minority faculties and administrators will not promote, at the very least, above average representation of African Americans in higher education. In this paper, I will use the literature to examine the trends and experiences of African American faculty in predominantly white institutions of learning. I will explore some of the impediments surrounding retention and underrepresentation of African Americans, and offer some qualified recommendations from the literature. Finally, I will evaluate the impact of African American faculty representation in higher education.
Trends of African American Faculty in Higher Education
Historically, African American scholars had not fully participated in mainstream institutions of higher education. During the years prior to the United States Supreme Court decision of 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education), educational policies favoring separation was assured, in that “there were few if any racial minorities on the faculties of predominantly white colleges and universities” (Turner & Myers, 2000, p. 61). However, the years following World War I marked an increase of African American faculty appointments at white universities. Segregation forced African American faculty members to remain mostly employed by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
During the period of desegregation, HBCUs employed “upwards of ninety-six percent of African American faculty” (Thomas, 1981, cited in Smith, 1992, p. 3). Although not a major focal point herein, this data can be associated with the structuring of professional classes in African American communities. Allen and Jewell (2002) point out that African Americans “were trained almost exclusively in HBCUs in the era prior to the 1954 Brown ruling” (p. 246). Inevitably, these institutions produced highly educated and skilled professionals, including those future African American scholars of the academy. In referencing Pearson (1985), Smith (1992) noted that there had been a gradual shift of African American faculty employed by HBCUs since 1966. Regardless of this trend, African American scholars are still likely to teach in HBCUs today (Smith, 2002). Nonetheless, HBCUs have created opportunities for African American faculty and students alike. They have symbolized the African American quest for education and scholarship (Allen & Jewell, 2002).
In their review of faculty representation in HBCUs, Johnson and Harvey (2002) cited that “currently 58 percent of full-time African American faculty are concentrated at these [HBCUs] institutions” (U.S. Department of Education, 1996, p. 69; p. 298). This regressive pattern (since the period of desegregation) appears to be indicative of increased opportunities for African Americans and other minorities in mainstream institutions of higher education. Legislative activities and mass efforts by professional organizations have paved the way for diversity in higher education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 11246 ushered in the growth of minority faculty members into predominantly white institutions of higher education. This order ensured “the termination of occupational segregation by race mandated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (Turner & Myers, 2000, p. 17). In 1973, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) pushed for affirmative action in faculty hiring. This organization “charged the professoriate with promoting diversity to remedy past discrimination” (p. 17).
Evidence and Explanations for African American Faculty Underrepresentation
It is clear that African American faculty members remain underrepresented in American higher education (Turner & Myers, 2000). Data from the U.S. Department of Education illustrates this underrepresentation. During 2005, 5.2% of full-time U.S. faculty members were African American, while 78.1% were White (Digest of Education Statistics, 2005). Recent institutional data from the University of Memphis illustrate a similar trend of African American underrepresentation. During the 2005 fall semester, 8.1% of full-time faculty members comprised of African Americans, while 80.3% were White (The University of Memphis, Office of Institutional Research, n.d.). With some care in the interpretation, one can presume that the university data is indicative of the national trend of African American faculty underrepresentation. To sum up the data, Perna (2002) cited that African American faculty underrepresentation is pervasive, in that “retention in higher education continues to be lower for African Americans than Whites” (p. 652).
Turner and Myers (2000) offered four conventional explanations for the underrepresentation of minority faculty (including African American faculty) in higher education: a chilly climate, the pipeline, market forces, and turnover. In consideration of the latter, Turner and Myers carefully described the paradox of the turnover problem, in that “it is not an inability to recruit minority faculty, but rather, the failure of institutions to promote and retain them” (p. 78). In this regard, the reference was being made to the turnover of faculty to inadequate mentoring programs “and other institutional conditions that serve to neglect or even thwart minority faculty development” (p. 78). Turner and Myers (2000) conducted a survey of 486 institutions, which examined development programs for minority faculty at member states of the Midwestern Higher Education Commission (MHEC). Analyzed were the faculty hiring rates between 1991 and 1994. The report showed that on average, only 25% of minorities were hired. The analyzed sample illustrated that “for every minority hired, four whites were hired” (p. 117). To extract a cluster of African American faculty from this sample would show a grim proportion of the hiring rates for this group. Clearly, the percentage of African American faculty hired would probably be well less than the stated 25 percent.
Addressing Retention and Underrepresentation
A significant determinant for African American faculty underrepresentation may lie in the actual institution. From the MHEC survey, Turner and Myers (2000) discovered that although close to 80 percent of the institutions rate the retention of minority faculty as a high or very high priority, “only 5 percent report that their institutions have special offices designated for minority faculty professional development” (p. 122). Only a few institutions within the MHEC states have professional development programs directed at minority faculty recruitment and/or retention. Turner and Myers (2000) suggested that financial constraints or the absence of an institutional designee (those assigned to handle faculty recruitment and retention) is the most contributory for the lack of targeted programs.
The literature on African American faculty surrounding retention and representation is scarce. However, the narrative of African American faculty regarding their capacity to survive in the academy continues to grow. Sorted themes from qualitative data describe experiences of African American faculty members, particularly those subjected to marginalization at their respective campuses. Broadly, the literature cited described how African American and other minority faculty feel unwelcomed and unappreciated in their everyday social and professional interactions. In addition, there is a perceived “assumption on the part of colleagues that they were hired for affirmative action purposes; thus, feeling pressured to prove continually that they deserve their positions” (Menges & Exum, 1983; Reyes & Halcon, 1988, cited in Johnsrud & Sadao, 1998, p. 316).
Such experiences invariably influence the decision of future African American doctoral students to pursue careers in higher education. Turner and Myers (2000) noted that
…the experience surrounding the fairly small number of black faculty presently in academia significantly impacts the decision of potential candidates to choose academia as a career option. In turn, there are fewer individuals to help alleviate the isolated conditions and subsequent experiences of those black faculty presently in the system such that more individuals would see this profession as a positive career option (Jackson, 1991, p. 146, cited in Turner & Myers, 2000, p. 52).
The African American graduate student retention and completion rate is predictive of the presence of African American faculty. In other words, higher proportions of African American faculty members on campus are strongly associated with a higher production of African American graduates (Turner & Myers, 2000). Frierson (1990, cited in Turner & Myers, 2000) emphasized that this can only be done when current African American faculty support one another and create professional networks, as well as “provide assistance to black junior faculty members themselves” (p. 53). Action on the part of the institution is also imperative to retention and representation. Frierson (1990, cited in Turner & Myers, 2000) noted that “institutions should make every effort to ensure that Black faculty will have opportunities for professional growth and development” (p. 53).
Jeffrey Guidry, an African American male tenured professor, described his professional and social experiences as linked to “race and gender stereotyping, training, student exposure, and mentoring” (Guidry, 2006, p. 167). Guidry felt that he is not in isolation among other minority faculty, pointing out that his own prescribed responsibilities, as a tenured professor is indicative of his department’s overall culture toward minorities. In addressing African American retention and representation, Guidry recommended that predominantly white institutions should have mentoring programs for junior faculty members. He expressed that such programs should “pair junior minority faculty with senior minority faculty mentors” (p. 172). Guidry regrets not having a mentor to help him to adjust to the demands of teaching at a PWI. Stanley (2006) also saw the role of mentoring as critical in the sustainment of African American faculty. She felt that for those marginalized African American faculty members, mentoring is “a strategy for escaping isolation” (p. 365). Stanley is likely implying that mentoring supplements other survival techniques often employed by African American faculty members.
Yoshinaga-Itano (2006) reviewed institutional barriers to recruiting and retaining African Americans and other minorities. She pointed out that there was an increase in anti-affirmative action initiatives, stating that they are designed to prohibit “the use of race/ethnicity in admissions, retention and scholarship programs, and in any program at institutions of higher education” (p. 345). She noted that in hiring, faculty appointments of minorities are for the sole purpose of improving diversity within specific departments, and without the much needed guidance and support of senior faculty. Female African American faculty members are at greater risk for retention problems. According to Yoshinaga-Itano (2006), the rigidity of the tenure and promotion process force women of color to leave tenure track positions due to family demands. Given the 50/50 ratio of hiring by gender at the assistant professor rank, “the increase at the tenured ranks of associate professor is much slower to change and shows even slower increases than hoped for when gender diversity is considered” (p. 353). Yoshinaga-Itano (2006) noted that “faculty of color are often hired as a sole expert in their area of study, an area that the institution or unit members do not emphasize and perhaps, even worse, do not value” (p. 355). She pointed out that mentoring is lacking in specific academic units, suggesting that faculty of color solicit mentorship from scholars at other institutions. Most likely, these scholars would be available to cultivate professional development and assist faculty of color avoid clashes within their respective departments.
Implications for Higher Education
In this paper, I concisely reviewed the development of African American faculty in higher education. From a variety of perspectives, I outlined a few issues surrounding retention and representation for this group. I also summarized some recommendations that would improve retention, and ideally increase representation of African American faculty in predominantly white institutions. A review of the selected literature revealed that “mentoring” was an overarching theme for increasing representation. Mentoring is defined as “a process in which one person, usually of superior rank, achievement, and prestige, guides the development of or sponsors another person, who is seen as the protégé” (National Educational Association, 1993, cited in Turner & Myers, 2000, p. 150). Mentoring is a specific strategy for “retaining faculty of color at predominantly white colleges and universities” (Stanley, 2006, p. 14). As a supplement to other retention activities, the implementation of informal or formal mentoring is likely to increase African American representation in higher education. For African American faculty, having a mentor can result in “a significantly higher level of career development than those without mentors in terms of improved teaching and research performance” (Stanley et al., 2003; Tillman, 2001, cited in Stanley, 2006, p. 16).
I sense that racial, ethnic and gender diversity among faculty in predominantly white institutions will affect higher education in at least three ways: a move toward a stronger heterogeneous faculty culture, pedagogical and curricular enhancements, and a multicultural student classroom base. From a broad perspective, a heterogeneous faculty culture may likely be reflective of a 21st century America: an American population that is educated, self-sustaining, and contributory to society. The possibility exists to enhance the pedagogy, curriculum and student course work because of the wide range of experiences that the faculty brings into the classroom. African American and other minority faculty could assist students to not only broaden their perspectives, but force them to “confront a range of stereotypes, including racial, ethnic, social, political, and personal experiences” (American Council on Education & American Association of University Professors, 2000, p. 14). From this perspective, I am optimistic that mentoring, and other targeted strategies, will gradually improve retention, increase African American faculty representation, and eventually change the landscape of higher education in the near future. On the other hand, I remain skeptical, given the sluggish progress being made toward race and gender equity.
Allen, W.R. & Jewell J.O. (2002). A backward glance forward: Past, present and future perspectives on historically black colleges and universities. The Review of Higher Education, 25, 241-261.
American Council on Education & American Association of University Professors (2000). University faculty views about the value of diversity on campus and in the classroom. In Does diversity make a difference? Three research studies on diversity in college classrooms (chap. 1). Retrieved March 24, 2009, from http://www.aaup.org/NR/rdonlyres/97003B7B-055F-4318-B14A-5336321FB742/0/DIVREP.PDF
Digest of education statistics. (2005). Retrieved March 24, 2009, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d07/tables/dt07_239.asp
Guidry, J. J. (2006). Can a brotha’ get a break. In C. Stanley (Ed.), Faculty of color: Teaching
in predominantly white colleges and universities (pp. 166-174). Bolton, MA: Anker
Johnson, B.J. & Harvey, W. (2002). The socialization of black college faculty: Implications for
policy and practice. The Review of Higher Education, 25, 297-314.
Johnsrud, L.K. & Sadao, K.C. (1998). The common experience of “otherness:” Ethnic and racial minority faculty. The Review of Higher Education, 21, 315-342.
Perna, L.W. (2002). Retaining African Americans in higher education: Challenging paradigms
for retaining students, faculty, and administrator (review). The Journal of Higher
Education, 73, 652-659.
Smith, E. (1992). A comparative study of occupational stress in African American and white university faculty. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd.
Stanley, C.A. (2006). An overview of the literature. In C. Stanley (Ed.), Faculty of color:
teaching in predominantly white colleges and universities (pp. 1-29). Bolton, MA:
Anker Publishing Company.
Stanley, C.A. (2006). Summary and key recommendations for the recruitment and retention of
faculty of color. In C. Stanley (Ed.), Faculty of color: teaching in predominantly white
colleges and universities (pp. 361-373). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
The University of Memphis, Office of Institutional Research. (n.d.). The University of Memphis
Employee Factbook. Retrieved March 24, 2009,
Turner, C.V.T. & Myers, S.L. (2000). Faculty of color in academe: Bittersweet success. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Yoshinaga, C. (2006). Institutional barriers and myths to recruitment and retention of faculty
of color. In C. Stanley (Ed.), Faculty of color: teaching in predominantly white
colleges and universities (pp. 344-360). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.