Active recruitment brings new minority faculty members to U

Sam Kean

Although the University has increased minority faculty from 7 percent to 12 percent in the last decade, officials say the numbers are not as high as they should be.
Last night, the University held its fifth annual Faculty of Color Reception to honor new minority faculty members at the Carlson School of Management’s private dining room.
“It’s not where we’d like to be, and not where we’ll ultimately get to,” said Vice Provost Robert Jones about the increase in minority instructors.
Jones, University President Mark Yudof and Executive Vice President and Provost Bob Bruininks attended the event to welcome minority faculty members.
But it was more than just a formal welcome. The reception allowed the faculty members to build rapport with one another. Indeed, the speakers talked for only an hour, allowing new faculty to mingle and network on an informal basis.
And of the 60 people in attendance, a large number were current faculty of color who came to show support.
General College Dean David Taylor said this sense of community is crucial for both attracting and retaining minority faculty members.
Taylor said the lack of minority faculty members is a problem of numbers. Relatively few minorities come through graduate school and even less continue in academia. Thus, thousands of universities across the country are scrambling for the same scarce candidates.
So, in contrast to non-minority faculty members, the University must aggressively recruit minorities. Jones said this active recruitment means reaching out beyond just the obligatory phone calls. The University stresses community support and its world-class academics.
Associate architecture professor Arthur Chen said he came to the University in part because of the active recruitment. He said the University provided a strong commitment to him as a minority.
But Taylor said progress can still be made. During his career, the number of minority applicants has not improved. He cites the challenge of academic life and job availability in the private sector as contributors to the continual shortage.
Taylor added that sometimes keeping qualified faculty members proves as difficult as attracting them.
Jones agreed, but pointed out that this was true for all faculty members, not just faculty of color.
He cautioned against other stereotypes of faculty of color as well. The assumption that qualified professors in hard sciences do not exist is simply not true, he said, citing the Institute of Technology’s recent hiring of three black faculty members less than one year after they began active recruitment.
Jones said his 22 years at the University have been generally positive because his department kept him from feeling marginalized. This support, he said, was the most critical factor in retaining faculty.
Landscape architecture head John Koepke reinforced this message of a generally positive experience at the University. But he added that stereotypes still linger. Most of all, he said he wished the University had more resources for explaining the contributions of minorities in all fields.
Unless a faculty member pushed to present such material, students would never be exposed to it. While this problem is national, Koepke said it is slightly worse in Minnesota than on the coasts.
The University’s goal is to eliminate any uneasiness in its 353 minority faculty members and let them focus on issues — low pay and Minnesota weather — that all faculty deal with.

Sam Kean covers faculty and can be reached at [email protected]