A survey of college presidents by the American Council on Education has found that many report having taken actions to deal with diversity concerns on campus. Among the findings:
Nearly half of four-year presidents and 13 percent of two-year presidents say students have organized around concerns about racial diversity.
Eighty-six percent of four-year presidents and 71 percent of two-year presidents have met with student organizers more than once.
More than half of presidents say the racial climate on their campuses has become more of a priority compared to three years ago.
The most common action over the last five years, for both two-year and four-year institutions as well as public and private institutions, has been initiatives aimed at increasing diversity among students, faculty and/or staff members.
An Inside Higher Ed survey of presidents released this week found that many college presidents see problems with race relations in higher ed nationally, but most think their own campuses are doing well.
Black students at the University of Missouri at Columbia set off a nationwide protest movement last year over conditions facing minority students in higher education. On Monday, the Concerned Student 1950 movement at Mizzou again marched through campus, finding a locked door to the interim chancellor's office on the way, protesting what members call inadequate efforts to improve the climate at the university, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. A task force has been appointed by the university, and officials say it is making progress, but the student protest movement questions whether it is sufficiently involved in shaping the task force's agenda, and whether it is working speedily enough. Spike Lee, the film director and producer, joined Monday's protest, filming it for ESPN.
Roxane Gay (right) says she rewrote the talk she gave at Saint Louis University last week to focus on abortion rights -- as a protest against a last-minute "reminder" that she shouldn't talk about abortion. Gay, a feminist writer and an associate professor of English at Purdue University, says that her speaking agent received a notice the morning of her talk, saying that the university, as a Jesuit institution, didn't want her speaking about the "pro-choice agenda." Her response was to rewrite her speech to focus on a pro-choice agenda, and to talk about the importance with which she views abortion rights.
She says she thought about calling off the talk, but instead gave the new version to take a stand against censorship. "My temper flared immediately. I don’t like vague threats of censorship. I hate the word 'agenda' when it is used as a blunt instrument, when it is used to imply that one with a so-called agenda is up to no good. I am a deeply flawed person, but I pride myself on being concerned with the greater good, and seeking out goodness in myself and others. I thought about canceling my appearance, but then I reconsidered because really, what would that accomplish?" she wrote.
Martha Minow, dean of the Harvard University law school, has endorsed the recommendations of a panel she appointed to change the law school's seal, a major demand of minority students and others. The seal (visible at right in a logo used by the student group) shows three bundles of wheat. Students say the seal is inappropriate because it was the family seal of Isaac Royall Jr., who was honored as a major early donor to the law school but was also involved with the slave trade in the 18th century.
In announcing her recommendation to end use of the seal, Minow wrote that the debate raised many issues. "Whatever was known in the past, powerful and challenging questions now arise about the Harvard Law School shield," she wrote. "Designed in 1936 as part of the university’s tercentenary, it contains a design based on a bookplate used by Isaac Royall Sr., who passed his wealth -- including enslaved persons -- to his son, the initial donor to the school. What role should history play in defining who we are? What was the genesis of the shield and how does that history influence our path forward? Do we better remember our connection with the Royall family and with slavery by preserving the shield or by retiring it? What role do symbols play in the school’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging inside our community and in the world at large? Does consideration of the shield’s future put into question the names of buildings, endowed chairs, the nation’s capital and other embodiments of the past?"
Minow also gave her rationale for asking Harvard's governing board to vote to change the seal. "There are complex issues involved in preserving the histories of places and institutions with ties to past injustices, but several elements make retiring the shield less controverted than some other issues about names, symbols and the past," she wrote. "First, the shield is a symbol whose primary purpose is to identify and express who we mean to be. Second, it is not an anchoring part of our history: it was created in 1936 for a university celebration, used occasionally for decades and used more commonly only recently, and does not extend back to the origin of the school or even much beyond recent memory. Third, there is no donor whose intent would be undermined; the shield itself involves no resources entrusted in our care."
I have been in higher education for 25 years, teaching at high-ranking and elite predominantly white universities. In my role as a tenured professor, often the only black or one of few blacks with tenure, I have had the privilege and responsibility of sitting on hiring and promotion and tenure committees. That is a tough position to be in, as one must be proactive, on guard and diligent about advocating for professors of color. One must be fearless in supporting those under review and in taking the heat for doing so.
To advance in academe in this era, scholars must publish in high-impact journals. Yet scholarly work by faculty members of color is usually shut out of those journals. They are predominantly mainstream outlets, not necessarily because of rigor but because of readership. The majority (white) journal editors and authors are catering to the majority (white) people in the ranks of academe. Supply and demand. I get that. Publishing is a business, and the competition is fierce. But in an increasingly diverse nation, we cannot discount scholars and readers of color. The work we do must reach the mainstream in order to have the greatest impact.
Meanwhile, the minority journals that do publish our work are devalued, not valued and/or viewed as not scholarly. I have had the unfortunate experiences of seeing highly published faculty of color not “earn” promotion and tenure because their work in minority journals was deemed subpar to mainstream journals. I have seen how too many predominantly white colleges and universities relegate scholarship published in “minority” journals to second-class status. The probability of promotion and tenure is diminished. The hands of scholars of color are tied. Perish or publish comes full force as decision makers evaluate our work.
I have fought this pervasive and entrenched mind-set. Our journals are more than excellent; they are viable and rigorous scholarly outlets. They allow us to add another refereed publication to our highly scrutinized vitae. And sometimes, they may be only publication option. We want to reach all audiences, but we find that some do not want to hear from us.
Even with some 200 publications in urban education and gifted education, I have personally experienced my own work being rejected in mainstream journals but accepted in minority journals. Seldom were the criticisms from the editors and reviewers of the mainstream publication about quality or rigor; they were more about denial, silencing and color blindness. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, that was tantamount to not wanting to talk about race, racism and difficult topics. It should be clear why minority journals are vital to the professional lives of scholars of color.
Had I not been on promotion and tenure committees to share such views and realities, the applicants of color might not have gotten promotion and tenure, which was earned. Some might have not gotten an interview. Publications in minority journals would have gone discounted or uncounted -- and thus dismissed from consideration.
I’m certain that the same situation exists at many, if not most, other higher education institutions. With that in mind, I offer a few suggestions.
First, it behooves faculty of color to educate and enlighten other people at higher education institutions. Our colleagues must know how and why some or much of what we write may not be accepted in mainstream journals. We must not allow fear to prevent us from supporting minority journals and readers, as that will ultimately diminish our true reach and impact.
Second, administrators must provide training to hiring as well as promotion and tenure committee members on the aforementioned problems. For such committees to be held accountable, a designated member must be assigned to evaluate policies and meetings, to review discussions and decisions, and to make sure that decision makers are informed and proactive. As part of those responsibilities, this person should advocate for faculty of color.
Third, in the recruitment and retention process, administrators must not penalize faculty of color for writing in minority journals, which may have lower impact factors and rankings. Such journals are a viable outlet -- sometimes the only outlet -- for faculty of color, many of whom are challenged to get their work published in mainstream journals as a result of persistent biases and a lack of receptivity to the topics they study. Minority journals are legitimate and must be valued in the recruitment, retention and promotion/tenure process. Once minority journals are valued more highly, their numerical impact factor will increase, along with their readership. Minority journals must be read by nonminority scholars, as we often have solutions to issues plaguing people of color.
The bottom line is that colleges and universities must not penalize faculty of color for their work in such publications. Rather, they should support and applaud those faculty members for reaching a variety of audiences and readers. If higher education institutions are truly committed to recruiting and retaining more faculty of color, as they profess they do, minority journals, brimming with rigor and relevance, must not be discounted.
Donna Y. Ford is a professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University.
Juan Meraz, assistant vice president for multicultural services at Missouri State University, issued an apology Friday after a press conference at which minority students accused him of discriminatory statements. The News-Leader reported that students at a press conference accused Meraz of intimidating them, of making discriminatory remarks about black people and of sending inappropriate texts.
The university released a statement from Meraz that said in part: “It was never my intent to hurt this student or other students at Missouri State with language that was unprofessional and offensive. As a member of a historically excluded group, I have felt the sting of words and actions many times in my life, which is why I understand that I let the students down with my words. I have been disciplined by [Vice President for Student Affairs Dee] Siscoe and I accept it as an appropriate university response to my actions. This has been a regrettable but powerful learning opportunity for me and I will continue to strive to ensure all students on campus feel welcome and valued in my presence.”