The theater of faculty diversification

12190_racism_lowresfTo most of my academic friends who are identified as “diverse” faculty, Yale University’s recent Report on Faculty Diversity and Inclusivity in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences” sounds pretty ho-hum.

The Yale Report reviewed numerous plans for diversification, focusing on hiring and promotion data. The Committee found Yale’s many such endeavors locked a “groundhog day” scenario, a “perpetual loop: Form a committee in reaction to a crisis, pledge to diversify the faculty, and then fail to follow through with action and resources needed to sustain progress” (Beth McMurtrie, “A ‘Devastating Account’ of Diversity at Yale,” May 25 2016, The Chronicle of Higher Education). 
In other words: organize a big party around Change, and simply continue with racist practices of hiring and promotion.

Most university communities take the critical plunge when trouble is breathing down their necks. Yale is no exception.The credit for pushing Yale University authorities to critically examine its poor record of diversity must go to Yale students and their anti-racist campus protests.

The Yale Report could probably be photocopied, with some use of Wite-out, and used for most universities and colleges. Certainly most of my previous employers and workplaces could easily adapt the findings to diagnose their issues with faculty diversification. I’d recommend another set of points that could be adapted by such universities:

  • Hire diverse faculty with great fanfare
  • haze them
  • isolate them in a variety of ways (McMurtrie says: “more than half of faculty members in underrepresented groups said they often or always felt excluded from informal networks, had to work harder to be seen as legitimate scholars, and had more service responsibilities”)
  • conceal information from them about how to effectively adapt their teaching to the local student culture
  • use students for politicking against diverse faculty (take every opportunity to chat up students about how much work the new faculty member demands and their “harsh” assessment – while tenured faculty distribute A’s like M&Ms)
  • restrict diverse faculty’s academic freedom in teaching, demanding they teach particular textbooks, using old syllabi and sets of assignments (while rarely offering any support as to how this model works in practice. This includes saying, “You’re on your own. We all suffered through and figured it out, now it’s your job to figure it out.”)
  • conceal information about department funding, research support, etc.
  • stick diverse faculty with the most demanding classes, the most controversial topics, and the worst time slots
  • punish them for not getting A++ student evaluations from White students
  • when they excel in scholarship, never acknowledge their work
  • Ultimately, when diverse faculty cut and run, lament the fact that diverse faculty won’t stick around
  • and then, proceed to hire White faculty to replace them, because of better ‘fit.’ 

At the time, most of my White colleagues professed themselves nonplussed as to my experiences. But everyone is so nice! Everyone is so supportive! they said. Maybe it was my “attitude,” they said. Maybe I needed to not be so “sensitive.”Racism

McMurtrie writes: “It is striking that the vast majority of male faculty perceived lack of diversity to be ‘not at all’ a problem or an occasional problem” in culture, reputation, and capacity, the report notes.” In other words: everything is fine, except YOU PEOPLE. 

One senior White colleague, who had offered a sympathetic ear for years, ended up on my promotion committee; under pressure from her department head (as I discovered later), she teamed up with her colleagues against me, claiming informal complaints for which there was no evidence. When I demanded evidence, she said, “Well, we know you,” the “we” being a clear flag of WE – a small number of tenured, long-standing local, White Christian faculty who will always stick together.

Fortunately the Faculty Council, reviewing evidence, struck down the promotion committee’s claims, though this did nothing to improve the program climate.

Even administrative staff are steeped in department politics. At another small regional university, the White department secretary seethed for months against me until one day she suddenly exploded with a foaming-at-the-mouth rant: “Why don’t you go back to Pakistan? Nobody likes you here.” (After a formal complaint, she received an official letter reprimanding her. But she is now a senior admin staff member at a University of Illinois department.)

At my tenure-track employment, graduate students entered my classes steeped in program politics. Students of color who had taken my classes before approached the administration, pleading with them to leave me alone, describing the quality of my teaching, amazed at the unprovoked disruptive rudeness of some White students in my class.

UntitledEventually I gave up, since I was unable to breathe in the toxic school climate. I took the first offer I got – from a fiscally unsound institution – simply in order to escape the dysfunctional climate. The program hired a White male to replace me.

Unhealthy and racist academic climates can always come up with a rationale about why diverse faculty do not join, do not get tenure, and do not remain long term. At the university I described earlier, the Women’s Studies director told me that they had a serious problem retaining Black faculty to teach African-American Literature. As she put it, the university “trotted out White lesbians” like herself to establish their diversity credentials, since it was such a “bloody racist” environment that they could not retain Black faculty.

This is why this post is titled “The theater of faculty diversification.” Theater is busy work. It looks good. It is a lot of talk, a lot of lip-service. Hire a woman of color whose research focuses on underrepresented communities, and then put her through the wringer. Not only do you get points for hiring her, but you get rid of her long-term. And bonus points for putting a black mark on her long-term career by marking her as a “bad fit,” a turnover risk.

It took me many years to gain the ability to actually speak about these experiences publicly. Early on, I was socialized – by senior colleagues – into the art of sucking it up and never complaining. Because, I was told, if you complain, you are marked as a complainer, a whiner, a poor fit. In at least two litigation-worthy employment experiences, I was persuaded not to pursue litigation. Why? Because who wants to hire someone who sued their former employer?

So you continue as a Tribute, hoping that the Capitol will accept your service, that you will be that one Tribute you will not lose everything to the pursuit of a successful career.

9 thoughts on “The theater of faculty diversification”

  1. You may not be expecting from me such interest but It is the same everywhere. I first joined (1959) “faculty” in Khyber Med. College Peshawar. It was a University administration. The “college was started in 1955. They had staffing problems and in-spite of that I clearly remember one High Official saying to us ” when our own graduates come out we would get you Punjabis out, wont need you.
    fast forward I am Cincinnati senior lecturer in Neurology and when finished my “training” I was offered to start Asstt. Prof. of Neurology in California. I talked with my boss/mentor and decided to leave “teaching institutions altogether and go private practice not my liking. I had seen the “faculty struggle” of all kinds in my own university where I was liked and Dukes were willing to hire me also. The “struggle” was against my nature as I am a peace-loving man. Yes I know what you are saying baitee. I love you and pray for you I have no advice for you for I myself “ran away” from all that feeling incompetent

    1. I can imagine you would not be the kind of person willing to engage in academic politics, mamujan. This is a constant struggle. I love you and your support and prayers are always welcomed and appreciated!

  2. I have witnessed and experienced personally some of the hard lessons in which you speak of. However, because of you and how you inspired me, in many ways, I was better prepare in understand the injustice and politics ingrained in academia. My research, perseverance, and resiliency was fueling by your influence knowing I could not be a victim of defeat by academic hazing, despite how hard ‘they’ tried. It was by chance I came across this article. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw you were the author. Thank you for your words, your tenacity, and your voice to speak for so many of us who have been left to know how to fight this fight without the cultural capital it takes to maneuver a system that often does not think you “fit”.

    1. It’s so nice to hear from you, Sara! You speak powerfully: “many of us who have been left to know how to fight this fight without the cultural capital it takes to maneuver a system that often does not think you “fit””.

  3. This is a read that I will share and share again. You Are Not Alone. The Student Affairs side is very much the same. Diversity is preached but at the top of every administration is a white man.

  4. Its not just academics in the university. As one of your colleagues points out, its everywhere at every institution. As a physician, I have worked in many hospitals on the academic track until I gave up in disgust. For me, being female was much harder than being a doctor of color. However, I didn’t stand too close to the flame of the inner circle, so maybe I never found out. My husband always says that they need the minorities to do the hard work and the grunt work so that they can skate by on minimal work presented with maximal fanfare. But don’t whine, make this a cause celebre and make money off of your observations! I think that would be the sweetest answer and you would have your OWN stage to perform on!

  5. As an African American male Muslim, tenured associate professor, I can tell you that my journey was almost Identical. My teaching and research was so severely devalued, and after out-publishing all of my White female (oppressor) colleagues, I was called lazy by a direct faculty supervisor. The admin became very verbally aggressive such that I had to complain about her. The institution stood by the professor’s comment and by the admin’s action. I eventually left the university , and remain in a much better situation. But as I reflect and as a word of caution, I’m not certain that I would encourage us to subject ourselves to this type of violence and persistent trauma. We POC never fully recover from these oppressive experiences. I commend your effort, and stand in solidarity with you my sister.

  6. Solidarity to you, dear readers, and deepest gratitude for sharing your experiences. This sharing is a place of power because once we share, we know we’re not alone. You are right, though: this trauma can break us. But for those of us in this profession, what are the choices?

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