Diverse Faculty Eludes Colleges
Illinois’ numbers show little progress
Robert Becker, Chicago Tribune, Jun. 14
Despite years of effort by schools and millions of taxpayer dollars, the number of minorities teaching in state university classrooms has barely budged during the last decade, according to Illinois Board of Higher Education statistics.
Whether urban or rural, research or teaching, Illinois public universities continue to struggle with a dramatic lack of faculty diversity. For example, an $11 million state program aimed at increasing the pool of science faculty has added just nine minority faculty members to Illinois colleges, prompting lawmakers to pass legislation that overhauls administration of the program.
African-Americans make up barely 5 percent and Hispanics less than 3 percent of Illinois public university faculties, according to the latest Board of Higher Education statistics. The numbers are even lower at Illinois private institutions, where African-Americans compose 3.9 percent and Latinos 2.1 percent of full-time faculty, according to board figures.
At the University of Chicago, 3 percent of the school’s full-time faculty are African-American, while 1 percent are Hispanic, according to university figures. And at Northwestern, African-Americans and Hispanics each account for 2.1 percent of the faculty there.
Illinois figures mirror national trends, where African-Americans are 5.1 percent and Hispanics 2.9 percent of full-time faculty at American colleges and universities, numbers that have changed less than a percentage point during the 1990s, according to data compiled by the American Council on Education, a Washington-based organization representing 1,800 college and university administrators.
Education officials say the small number of minorities receiving PhDs remains a major obstacle. For example, of the 5,970 doctoral degrees awarded in physical sciences in 2000-01, African-American candidates accounted for just 80, according to American Council on Education data.
“I think it means we’re not attracting enough people effectively to graduate programs and getting them degrees,” said Michael Baer, senior vice-president of the council.
At Chicago State, Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State and the University of Illinois at Springfield, the numbers of African-American faculty from 1993 to 2002 either remained flat or declined. In that same period, Southern Illinois and Governors State Universities have struggled to attract and retain Hispanic faculty.
And even on those few campuses that have added to the total of minority faculty — the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or Northern Illinois, for example — the overall percentage of black and Hispanic full-time faculty remains low.
Of the 10,138 full-time faculty at Illinois public universities and colleges in 2002, only 523 were African-American, and only 297 were Hispanic, according to the latest IBHE figures.
The state has tried a homegrown approach to the shortage of minority faculty with little success.
Since 1985, the state has spent $34 million to support minority students pursuing advanced degrees at Illinois universities in hopes of cultivating an in-state source of minority faculty members.
The Illinois Minority Graduate Incentive Program has cost $11 million and added only nine minorities to Illinois science and technical faculties. Meanwhile, a similar program subsidizing humanities and social sciences students at a cost of $23 million has placed 156 minority faculty members at Illinois colleges during the same time, while 88 program grads have landed faculty jobs out of state.
The lackluster performance of the two state programs has prompted legislative action. State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) sponsored legislation, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, that will bring both programs under a single board and focus on finding graduates jobs in Illinois.
Del Valle said minority representation on college faculties in Illinois remains “dismal.”
“We need this type of program now more than ever,” del Valle said. “But it has to be effective.”
Some of those minority students earning PhDs in Illinois say they would gladly take a job at an in-state college or university, if a suitable post were available.
But students getting doctoral degrees graduate with a particular academic specialty that may not mesh with available jobs. A university in search of an expert in Shakespeare, for example, won’t consider a job candidate who specializes in American literature.
Lourdes Aviles found herself in just that position.
Aviles, who in May finished the work for her doctorate in atmospheric sciences at the U. of I., developed an expertise in tropical storm development.
Aviles, a native of Puerto Rico, looked for academic jobs in Illinois, but there weren’t any openings that matched her skills and interest. Now she is heading to New Hampshire for a tenure-track job at Plymouth State University.
“I did look [in Illinois],” Aviles said of her job hunting. “There was nothing.”
Attracting minority candidates to the full-time teaching jobs that are available in Illinois can prove equally daunting.
Competition is fierce for the relatively small number of minorities who earn doctoral degrees each year.
“There are too few people that everyone is looking for,” said Richard Herman, provost and interim chancellor at the U. of I.
The problem of recruitment and retention is particularly acute for smaller, rural schools like Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
Not only are schools like Eastern generally able to offer less in terms of salary and research packages, they find themselves at a geographical disadvantage.
When Eastern tried earlier this year to hire an African-American mathematics professor, school officials say they were politely told by the candidate: “I don’t want to live in a small town at this point in my life.”
Eastern President Lou Hencken says the university could use its location as an “excuse.”
“But if you do that, you’re starting to list excuses,” he said. “We have to go out and sell our excellent university. It’s difficult, but we believe it is working.”
Deans and faculty are encouraged to buttonhole prospective candidates at professional conferences and meetings to interest them in teaching at Eastern.
The extra effort has brought modest success. Of 19 hires at EIU this year, two are African-American, two are Hispanic and five are Asian.
In many regards, Western Illinois, located in rural Macomb, has a hiring record similar to Eastern. From 1993 to 2002, the number of African-Americans serving on the faculty hovered around 18; fewer than 10 Hispanics were full-time faculty members.
But this year, Western successfully recruited six additional African-American and two Hispanic faculty members. Cathy Couza, director of affirmative action at Western, says the school — with a new president and provost — is serious about diversifying its faculty.
“I never felt there wasn’t support at the top,” said Couza, who has held her position since 1988. “But there’s support and then there’s expectations articulated to the individuals” involved in the search.
Caridad Brito, an associate professor of psychology at Eastern, said she loves the collegiality of her department.
“I felt we shared the same values,” said Brito, who received her doctorate from the University of Iowa.
But Brito knows that many minority faculty candidates aim for jobs in more urban settings. As long as that’s the case, she says, schools like Eastern will face continued obstacles in recruitment.
“I’m not sure there are a lot of quick fixes,” Brito said.