Minority teachers’ absence is felt by many students

by Sara Goo

The lack of racial minorities in top faculty positions at the University irks both students and regents.
At a Board of Regents meeting last month, Regents Jean Keffeler and Patricia Spence said they were concerned that 39 percent of minority faculty up for promotion or tenure were denied. That percentage contrasts with a 6 percent rejection rate for white candidates.
When asked about the disparity, Jim Infante, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said most candidates for promotion were of “Asian extraction” and from the Carlson School of Management or the Institute of Technology.
Some faculty who would normally have been granted tenure in the past are no longer being promoted, Infante said.
Of the 174 faculty up for tenure during 1995-96, 10 percent were racial minorities. But the 39 percent rejection rate is twice what it has been in the last five years.
The low numbers for racial minorities did not go unnoticed among students. For many minority students in particular, the statistics reflected what they have already seen in the classroom.
“None of those stats really surprised me because you live and see it every day,” said Damon Tinnon, a senior majoring in political science.
Tinnon, who is African-American, said the lack of minority professors reflects the “blows” that students endure under University 2000, University President Nils Hasselmo’s plan for restructuring the University.
“I noticed (the lack of racial minority professors) right away,” Tinnon said. “Black students — you just notice those things.”
Valeria Dates, a freshman psychology major, said some professors make her feel like she hasn’t earned her way on campus because she is Latino.
“There’s a lot of animosity on campus in general from white professors,” Dates said.
Having professors of similar ethnic background makes some students feel more comfortable.
Others said that most of the few professors of color they have had teach in “minority” studies, like Chicano studies or American Indian studies.
Family social science major Sandra Lozano said she has only seen Chicano professors in her Chicano studies classes, and she likes the environment of these classes.
“I feel comfortable (in Chicano classes),” said Lozano, who is Mexican. “I can talk to the teacher more. With others, I don’t feel comfortable.”
Student Maria Villavicencio, who is Ecuadorian, agreed. “Other classes — they’re all Anglo.”
Some students never considered the racial backgrounds of their professors until they heard the statistics.
“Only when you think about it you say, ‘Wow, I’ve been here for two years and haven’t had a professor of color,'” said Enid Gonzalez, a Latino sophomore majoring in biochemistry.
In student Neil McKay’s four years at the University, he said he’s only had one minority professor outside of his American Indian studies classes. McKay, an American Indian studies and music major, said the University could improve its small number of tenured minority faculty.
“I just kind of see a teacher — instead of a woman or a minority,” said McKay, a Dakota tribal member.
For some white students, the ethnicity of their professors was never an issue, thoughmany noted they had not had many minority professors.
“I never really thought about it,” said Shannon Grahek, who is white. “I only have minority TAs, never minority professors.”
Eric Hanson, vice president of the Minnesota Student Association, said he has never had a minority instructor. When he came to the University, he didn’t notice the lack of professors of color.
“This is what my first 21 years have been like,” Hanson said.
Hanson said MSA wants to address issues about retaining minority faculty members.
“We need (professors) to bring their heritage. … Those are the people you want to keep,” Hanson said.
A disparity more distinct than race among professors was the lack of female professors. Students mentioned this was a more evident problem.
“I hear people all the time who have problems getting across to male professors,” said Emmanual Ortiz, a junior with an interdisciplinary major.
Ortiz said the lack of female representation ties closely with race and the overall changes with tenure because both women and minorities are underrepresented in leadership roles.
The lack of female professors — or the abundance of white male professors — is a complaint that Ortiz said he hears from both male and female students.