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PhD Project Seeks to Diversify Faculty

POSTED: April 04, 2016, 7:00 am

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A national higher education advocacy group, the PhD Project, has called on the nation’s universities to engage in a coordinated approach to achieve the goal of more diversity across academic disciplines in higher education. The organization cites the ineffectiveness of “go-it-alone” diversity initiatives at individual institutions at changing the numbers of diverse faculty members on campuses across the country.

"It is laudable that several universities have recently launched independent programs to address students' concerns about diversity on campus," said Bernard J. Milano, President of The PhD Project. "But they are playing a zero-sum game."

Much like the continuing concern over the dearth of African-American students on the campuses of traditionally white institutions, the absence of Black faculty has many in higher education troubled given the demographic projections for the country in coming decades. According to 2015 data from the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, Blacks earned just 8% of doctorate degrees awarded in 2012-2013. During that same period whites earned 76% of all doctorate degrees. By contrast, Asian-Pacific Islanders, a smaller subgroup of the nation’s population than African-Americans, earned 12 percent of doctorate degrees earned in 2012-2013.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education

The reasons for this disparity are many and have plagued higher education for decades. Were it not for the existence of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) the presence of Blacks in academia would be far worse than even the dismal picture we see today. Many African-American students are faced with financial hardships that make pursuit of graduate education a pipe dream, and there are few mentors for those students on non-HBCU campuses to provide the encouragement to pursue a PhD. With economics and the isolation of higher education looming large in the decision-making of African-American undergraduates, a doctorate degree is often seen as an unattainable luxury. The assault on affirmative action is also a factor in the low numbers of African-American doctoral degree holders. If Black students are blocked at the undergraduate admissions ‘gate,’ and the number of African-American baccalaureate degree recipients dwindle, there is little hope for a more diverse faculty population on college campuses. Should opponents of affirmative action succeed in dismantling that policy tool, any improvements in faculty diversity will not include African-Americans or Latinos for that matter.

In recent months, Mr. Milano noted, four major universities have announced their own go it alone programs, totaling $200 million, to attract diverse faculty through enhanced recruitment and increased compensation.

"Because minorities are severely underrepresented on college faculties, the only possible result of 'go-it-alone' efforts by individual colleges will be to relocate minority faculty from one school to another. That may help the schools that 'win' the game, but it does not address the country's interest in a more diverse higher education landscape nationwide," Milano said.

Several individual initiatives to increase campus diversity have included professor recruitment because of growing recognition that a more diverse faculty can attract a more diverse student body. As State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher has noted, "Minority faculty are a magnet for minority students."

Research shows that minority students do not perform up to their potential when the environment is uncomfortable or unfavorable for them to flourish. Often in these cases there are few, if any, minority faculty or administrators for students to reach out to. Dr. Claude Steele, Provost at University of California - Berkeley, has said, "Studying this problem of under-performance has morphed into solving the diversity problem. It's one thing to numerically integrate a setting. It's another thing to make that place, a place where everyone feels comfortable and can flourish."

"The schools with resources to attract minority faculty may diversify their campuses further – but at the expense of other schools, and students, lacking those resources," Mr. Milano said. "The nation needs a comprehensive effort by colleges working together on programs that will attract, encourage and support African-, Hispanic- and Native Americans to choose college teaching as their profession – and then populate faculties on hundreds of campuses nationwide."

The PhD Project is a national program that has increased faculty diversity at hundreds of colleges and universities. It is the only nationwide program aimed at diversifying university faculty. It attracts and enables African-, Hispanic and Native Americans to choose college teaching as a career, and succeed in the rigorous process of obtaining a Ph.D. which qualifies them to be professors.

Since its inception in 1994 The PhD Project has been responsible for the increase in the number of minority business professors from 294 to 1,312. An additional 296 minorities are currently enrolled in doctoral programs, and will take a place at the front of the classroom over the next few years.

There are over 300 participating colleges and universities; among them a diverse array, including Jackson State University, Morgan State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lehigh University, University of Chicago, and the University of Washington. The PhD Project's founding organizations are KPMG Foundation, the Graduate Management Admission Council, Citi Foundation, AACSB International.

Mr. Milano said, "The PhD Project model was developed for business schools, but any discipline can partner with the appropriate professional organizations in its field to do what we do: market an academic career in that discipline, and pre-qualify, prepare, and support the doctoral students – tomorrow's professors – we attract."

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