U faculty lags behind nation in diversity

The number of faculty of color has only increased by 3 percent since 2005.

Jill Jensen

 

As diversity increases across the nation, the University of Minnesota faculty continues to play catch-up.

Just 16 percent of faculty was of color in 2010, according to University data, which is up from about 13 percent in 2005.

This is on par with the percent of people of color in Minnesota, but lags behind the country as a whole.

About 72 percent of Americans are white nationwide, compared to more than 85 percent in Minnesota, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data.

But in the Twin Cities, minority populations are expected to grow. Between 2000 and 2010, the stateâÄôs population of color grew by 55 percent.

The University continues to have a âÄúseverely underrepresentedâÄù faculty when it comes to minority groups.

âÄúItâÄôs a slow process,âÄù said Louis Mendoza, associate vice provost for the Office for Equity and Diversity.

âÄúI do think that sometimes thereâÄôs this perception by faculty that we cannot succeed in diversifying faculty because people donâÄôt want to come to a region thatâÄôs cold or they donâÄôt want to come to a region thatâÄôs not as diverse as other parts of the country,âÄù Mendoza said.

But Mendoza disagrees with that perception. He said part of the problem is a lack of openness in the curriculum.

He said the academic programs at the University need to reflect diversity, like the University of Illinois, which, despite its rural area, has managed to draw diverse faculty.

Jigna Desai, an associate professor in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies who is South Asian-American, said hiring practices are to blame for underrepresentation of faculty of color.

âÄúThereâÄôs a lack of ability in hiring and few opportunities to expand in places that need to be,âÄù Desai said.

She said hiring and promoting faculty of color to leadership positions is âÄúcriticalâÄù to attaining the UniversityâÄôs mission.

Diverse faculty can bring unique perspectives on issues, said Omar Espinoza, who was hired as an assistant professor in bioproducts and biosystems engineering in August.

âÄúSometimes it helps to feel like youâÄôre not the only one that is not speaking perfect English,âÄù he said.

Espinoza, who is originally from Bolivia, said he has firsthand knowledge on important topics, like deforestation in tropical countries. While many hear how it damages the environment, he said he also knows the number of jobs that depend on that industry.

âÄúSo you can have both sides of the story,âÄù Espinoza said.

He said the University stressed the importance of and respect for diversity at his orientation.

Mendoza said the biggest challenge to diversifying faculty is to get faculty at the department level âÄúon board with the need for this change.âÄù

âÄúWe have to change our mindset about being more inclusive,âÄù Mendoza said.

Diversity is a âÄúpriorityâÄù for the College of Liberal Arts, said Walt Jacobs, professor in African American and African studies, via email. He also said that he expects increased momentum around diversity given University President Eric KalerâÄôs support.

 âÄúI can think of no community, no challenge, no classroom that is not enhanced by diversity,âÄù Kaler said at his inauguration Sept. 22.

Kaler has made statements publicly about his plans to increase student and faculty diversity.

The Office for Equity and Diversity offers support through bridge funds for departments to hire diverse faculty. The fund is to help fill available positions which departments are not able to fully support at the time.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity and Advocacy, which Mendoza directs, was created in 2008 to establish an inclusive climate for diverse faculty.

They do this through programs like the Faculty of Color Initiative, which provides opportunities to socialize and network with faculty of color.

Through these efforts to retain and recruit diverse faculty members in departments, Mendoza said they have been able to hire six faculty of color in the College of Education and Human Development and CLA over the past few years.

âÄúThe question is, âÄòAre we doing everything we can to make people feel like this is the place they want to be?âÄôâÄù  Mendoza said.