U hosts national conference

by Nichol Nelson

What began as an idea for a course on the challenges of recruiting and retaining faculty of color has ballooned into a three-day conference attracting more than 300 faculty from 36 states.
Associate professor Caroline Turner said minority faculty often face difficulties attaining tenure and often feel culturally isolated in university settings.
Faculty members, administrators and students from colleges across the nation filled the University Ballroom of the Radisson Metrodome on Sunday and Monday, hoping to find solutions to the difficulties of maintaining a diverse campus; the conference will continue today.
“Keeping our Faculties: Addressing the Recruitment and Retention of Faculty of Color in Higher Education” is a three-day conference sponsored by the Office of the Associate Vice President for Multicultural Affairs. Faculty of color includes ethnic groups outside of the predominately white culture including African-Americans, Asian-Americans and American Indian faculty.
The conference features a number of large- and small-group discussions designed to facilitate conversation about diversity.
At the University, faculty of color counted for approximately 11 percent of faculty last year, said Robert Jones, vice provost for faculty and academic personnel. According to the Summary of Academic Personnel Actions for the 1996-97 academic year, 302 faculty members of the 2938 total belonged to minority groups.
Designed to bring together academic professionals from institutions throughout the state and beyond, the conference attracted attendees from 36 states, according to attendance figures.
The first day of the conference was designed to pinpoint issues of importance to faculty, said Turner. Monday was set aside to develop strategies and implement new ideas, as is today.
Difficulties in attaining tenure, feelings of isolation and cultural differences were all addressed in Sunday’s opening session.
Turner credits the University for its support of the conference; University offices financed the entire event.
“I see this as an indication of what universities can do to support thinking about this issue,” Turner said.
On Sunday, Turner used photos of her childhood as a farm laborer to illustrate the diversity within institutions of higher learning.
“A diverse faculty invigorates the University as a whole,” she said.
Jones, who welcomed the attendees on the first day of the conference, said that although the 11-percent rate marked the highest number of faculty of color since his arrival at the University, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We’re trying to find the best programs around the country and link them to our University,” Jones said.
Jones said the University has made a lot of progress in recruiting and retaining faculty due to a commitment from “the top” and resources now available to individual departments. He pointed to programs like the $1.1 million Faculty Bridge Fund, which began in 1988 to give financial support to colleges within the University to hire exceptional candidates of color.
William Hogan II, chairman of the Board of Regents, spoke openly about the challenges facing the University and other college campuses. Hogan, who is African-American, told the crowd he has learned the value of remaining receptive to new ideas when dealing with diversity issues.
“I’m beginning to believe that the more you open yourself up, the more they’ll follow you,” Hogan said
Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo, associate vice president of the Office of Minority Affairs, said she has seen institutions of higher education change for the better over the last 30 years. She praised the conference for giving faculty a chance to talk about the pressing issues surrounding recruiting and retaining faculty of color.
“It’s nice for us all to hear each other so you don’t think you’re alone,” Barcelo said.
The conference is open to the public and runs through today.