Some faculty call for more diversity

CThis is the second story in a four-day series about diversity on campus. Wednesday’s story will focus on diversity in the student body.

Comments such as “Why do you work so hard? Aren’t you Chicano?” are examples of racism professor Eden Torres has encountered at the University.

Torres, a Mexican-American professor in the women’s studies

department, said even the department is “just a microcosm of the larger society” and contains the same forms of racism and sexism as the rest of the world.

But Torres, who was an undergraduate and graduate student at the University, said she can see positive changes in terms of increasing diversity.

She said there are more unconscious barriers for women and minority students.

Recruiting and retaining faculty members from different backgrounds became a concerted effort for the University in 1998 with the opening of the Office for Multicultural Affairs, said Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration.

Recruiting faculty members is a centralized and decentralized action. The University administration provides the resources for the University’s colleges to hire diverse faculty members, because it is the college’s responsibility, Jones said.

Fourteen percent of the faculty members at the University are minorities, which is up from 7 percent in 1998, according to University statistics.

Jones, who is black, said the University uses a variety of methods to retain and recruit minority faculty members.

The administration assists colleges in recruiting diverse faculty members by paying new employees salaries for the first year through the Faculty of Color Bridge Fund Program.

In the second year, the administration pays 75 percent. And in the third year, it pays 50 percent of the faculty member’s salaries, according to the University’s Web site.

Another source for recruiting minority faculty members is the visiting scholars program, in which faculty members can experience the school before committing to it, Jones said.

The postdoctoral fellowship program is another source used to recruit minority faculty. The University hires people who have just finished their doctoral degrees so they can gain experience before getting tenure-track jobs, Jones said.

Faculty members are hired through nomination or recruitment, he said.

When employment applications are filled out, the applicant’s race and ethnicity are unknown, unless someone knows the person personally, Jones said.

Everyone who is hired receives a form, which is completely voluntary, that indicates race and ethnicity on it.

“(We) need to know how effective our recruitments are,” Jones said.

Retainment

To retain minority faculty members, there is the President’s Faculty Multicultural Research Award, Jones said. The award encourages and supports research by minority faculty members and promotes research on issues related to minorities.

Other ways to retain minority faculty members include orientation workshops that deal with issues such as promotion, continuing processes and writing grants.

E. Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said diversity among faculty members is important because it helps people’s understanding of knowledge, which is what a university tries to do, he said.

“We all benefit from having diversity,” he said.

Sullivan, who is white, said the University has the highest percentage of minority faculty members and students in its history, but there is still more work to be done.

“We are making progress but need to be mindful that diversity is a priority,” Sullivan said.

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action isn’t part of the hiring process, but it addresses individual concerns or complaints about discrimination. The office, which began in 1972, also works on affirmative-action plans and programs.

“We are not part of any hiring decision,” said Julie Sweitzer, the office’s director. “We give advice to search committees and deans regarding recruiting.”

More work to be done

Avelino Mills-Novoa, Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs associate vice president, said he felt there was still work to be done when it came to the University’s number of minority faculty members.

“Of course, there’s work yet to be done, especially in areas where there might not be many faculty of color in the discipline,” he said.

Mills-Novoa, who is from Cuba, also said it’s important for there to be a diverse faculty at the University.

“We want faculty to reflect diversity in the student body,” he said.

Minority faculty members can face problems at the University, he said. For example, a social-science class might discuss controversial issues, which could lead to poor teaching evaluations, and that professor might not receive tenure, Mills-Novoa said.

Other problems minority faculty members might face include being expected to inform others about diversity issues, which might not be of interest to them but is forced, he said.

Louis Mendoza, a professor and chairman of Chicano studies, said the campus is “severely lacking” diversity in the faculty.

After working at the University of Texas at San Antonio for eight years, where the majority of students and faculty members are minorities, he said, “a more diverse setting offers a broader range of experiences.”

Mendoza, who is Chicano, said the continued lack of diversity at the University of Minnesota is not “malicious.” But, he said “the (University of Minnesota) does not value diversity enough to attain and maintain diverse faculty.”

International faculty members

Mendoza said the international presence at the University of Minnesota could skew diversity statistics. He said a minority who grew up in the United States and a person who came to the United States for college have very different experiences.

International faculty members have not gone through the social and economic struggles minorities in this country grow up with, he said.

“This institution has a history of exclusion,” Mendoza said. “An institution usually needs social pressures to motivate change.”

Institutions are like power structures, he said. Their first objective is to sustain themselves. To do that, they must maintain the values of their faculty members.

New faculty members will most likely reflect the ideas and demographics of previous ones, unless there is a conscious effort to change, he said.

“Racism is built into this university’s founding, just like this country,” he said.

Torres and Mendoza said minority faculty members often confide in one another about encounters of racism.

Torres said she doubts there is a minority faculty member at the University of Minnesota who has not dealt with racism.

Different viewpoints

Roberta Humphreys, a professor and associate dean for the Institute of Technology, said each department has a search committee for hiring faculty members. That committee must ensure it is actively seeking qualified minorities and women for faculty members.

She said there are no requirements for race on the application, but names can sometimes be used as a gender indicator.

Douglas Ernie, an electrical and computer engineering professor, said he trusts the University of Minnesota administration with diversity.

“I think the (University of Minnesota) is putting out a good effort to get ethnic and gender diversity,” he said.

Ernie, who is of Western European descent, said he feels the campus is somewhat diverse but not necessarily ideal.

“It is not where I’d like to see it,” he said.

He said his department strongly encourages gender diversity to make up for the lack of women within the department.

Keith Mayes, a professor in the African American and African studies department, said this is an era in which people are demanding diversity and multiculturalism.

Mayes, who is black, said that is why the University of Minnesota embraces diversity on an abstract level.

“They will pay it (through) lip service, but it needs to be reflected in the policy,” he said.

Mayes received an education at the City College of New York, which, he said, has embraced diversity in its policies. That reflects in the demographics of its staff and students, he said.

Mayes said that with increasing diversity within the Twin Cities, the University of Minnesota should be striving to attract minority students.