U’s minority faculty: recruited, not rising

Kelly Wittman

Despite problems retaining faculty of color, the Board of Regents opted to deny tenure or promotion to several minority candidates.
When the Board of Regents reviewed tenure and promotion recommendations during this month’s meetings, only 18 of the 174 faculty up for review were people of color.
Seven of the 18 faculty of color were refused a change in their post — a rate of 39 percent. This rate compares with the 6 percent refusal rate for white candidates.
Tenure is the system that ensures faculty cannot be fired for researching or teaching unpopular ideas. Tenure is usually granted after a period of six years, during which candidates are evaluated on their teaching, research and community outreach activities.
During the ongoing discussion about tenure revision, it has been suggested the probationary period for granting tenure be extended for up to three more years.
There are 2,961 tenured and tenure-track faculty at the University, according to a document provided by the Office of the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs with Special Responsibility for Minority Affairs and Diversity; of those, 2,672 are white. Only 289 tenure or tenure-track faculty are people of color.
The University has made increasing the numbers of faculty of color on campus a critical measure under U2000 — University President Nils Hasselmo’s plan to increase the overall quality of the institution.
The plan details a goal to increase the number of faculty of color on campus to 9.5 percent of total faculty. In January, regents heard a report titled, “A Progress Report on Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty of Color: Recruitment and Retention” from the campus diversity office. The study found the University had exceeded its goal by .3 percent. Moreover, documents provided by the Office of Human Resources indicate that though the total number of tenured or tenure-track faculty has declined since 1990, the overall number of faculty of color has increased.
It won’t be evident until next fall how the decision to reject the seven minority faculty will affect U2000-driven diversity initiatives. That’s when Academic Affairs will begin compiling new faculty-diversity data.
The same report cited a “revolving door” problem at the University. One section reads: “The University is able to recruit faculty of color but is not always able to retain them.”
Even though the University recruited 27 faculty of color between October 1994 and October 1995, it lost 19 faculty members of color during the same period. And the faculty of color who stay at the University are spread unequally among colleges and departments.
Asian-Americans make up 6 percent of minority faculty at the University. African-Americans and Chicano/Latinos are represented at about 1 percent each and Native Americans at just .4 percent.
In addition, students are less likely to encounter minority faculty members at the University’s outstate campuses. Eighty-five percent of the University system’s minority faculty are at the Twin Cities campus, 10 percent are at Duluth and 4 percent at Morris. There are presently no tenured or tenure-track faculty of color at the Crookston campus.
When Regents Patricia Spence and Jean Keffeler voiced concern over the high rate of rejection for minority candidates, Vice President for Academic Affairs Jim Infante provided an explanation.
The high rejection rate of minority candidates corresponds directly to the high rate of faculty of color up for evaluation in the Institute of Technology and Carlson School of Management, he said.
Infante added that because the total number of faculty is decreasing — because of hard financial times in higher education, departments are being more selective in granting tenure.
This year is unusual, said Provost for Professional Studies Gene Allen about the high percentage of rejection for tenure candidates of color. Allen said he didn’t act any differently in making his promotion and tenure recommendations this year than he has in the past. There were no borderline cases among those up for evaluation in the units he oversees, he said.
“Those who were turned down would have been turned down before,” he said.
Provost for Arts, Sciences and Engineering W. Phillips Shively considered the matter more serious. “Anytime we see a difference in success rates (between minority groups and whites), it’s something to look at and be concerned about,” he said.
All of the candidates with unfavorable recommendations were from units that Shively oversees.
An unusual number of cases in which tenure was not recommended for Asian-American faculty in IT caused the high rejection rate for faculty of color, Shively said. In cases where the candidate did not rate reappointment, he continued, two out of three were in units where the heads of the departments are Asian-American.
The University has begun to look closely at teaching ability as a requirement for tenure. Teaching ability figured heavily in this year’s decisions whether or not to grant tenure, Shively said.
Jessica Bailey, vice president of diversity in Academic Affairs, said her office is looking into the high rejection rate for minority candidates and is concerned about the high rate of nonreappointment and refusal of promotion among faculty of color.
The report on faculty of color suggests several ways to rectify the problems surrounding the retention of faculty of color, including continuing a minority faculty research award program, encouraging interaction with high school and elementary students and enhancing outreach efforts.