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Equity for Hispanic Professors

UT Austin faculty group wants the institution to fix what it says is a system that marginalizes Hispanics.

October 30, 2019
 
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A group of eight professors at the University of Texas at Austin is calling on the institution do more -- much more -- to address documented inequities in pay, promotion, leadership opportunities and recognition for Hispanic faculty members.

In a new report on the topic, the self-appointed committee of full professors urges the university to develop a three-year, multimillion-dollar equity plan that would prioritize the hiring of Hispanics from underserved backgrounds. It would also bring current professors’ pay in line with that of their white colleagues.

The cat is out of the bag, the report says, and allowing various documented disparities “to continue is tantamount to discrimination.”

Already, the report says, a “lack of action to correct inequities for Hispanic faculty has disturbed and demoralized faculty, staff, students and members of the community at large.” At the same time, it adds, “Our critique is aimed not just at UT Austin but at other universities. Equity problems are widespread. We regularly meet with Hispanic colleagues at other institutions and have received numerous comments voicing similar concerns.”

Hispanic faculty members are indeed underrepresented across academe. But in Texas the gap is especially pronounced. In 2017, according to the report, just 7 percent of Austin’s tenured and tenure-track faculty were Hispanic -- some 119 of 1,706 total. That’s compared to 21 percent of students. Statewide, the disparity is bigger: 39 percent percent of Texans over all are Hispanic, as are 46 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

The gap is bigger in some areas of campus than others. In eight colleges and schools, there were two or fewer Hispanic professors with tenure-line positions. There were no tenure-line professors in programs including advertising and public relations, human development and family sciences, and nutritional sciences.

Moreover, the report says, there exist substantial salary gaps between tenure-line Hispanic professors and their white counterparts, even when controlling for rank and scholarship. Hispanic full professors in 2017 were paid $25,342 less than white full professors, on average. Hispanic associate professors were paid approximately $10,647 less than white associates. And Hispanic assistant professors were paid approximately $19,636 less.

The committee analyzed salaries and CVs of 90 full professors -- 13 of whom are Hispanic -- in the College of Liberal Arts’ four largest departments: anthropology, history, sociology and psychology. Most, or 77 percent of those 13, were at the low end of the pay scale. That’s despite the fact that these 13 are among the most published faculty, with half being one of the top-10 most published professors in their departments.

In a more advanced analysis, the faculty committee also found no correlation between compensation and publication rates for Hispanic professors. There was, however, a correlation between pay and publication records among white professors.

Hispanics are also severely underrepresented in leadership positions, according to the report. As of earlier this year, Austin had 130 deans, vice deans, associate deans and assistant deans -- 10 of whom were Hispanic men. Zero were Hispanic women.

Within 98 academic departments, six chairs are Hispanic. All of those serve in the liberal arts, education and fine arts. Of 220 centers on campus, eight are led by Hispanics.

The report notes that it was inspired by Austin’s major gender-equity initiative from 2008. Yet that initiative “did not work” for Hispanic women, who are by certain measures worse off on campus than they were before.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given prior research finding that women of color often face a double bind of discrimination, Latinas, as a group, had the lowest salaries of all faculty members in the group’s analysis. Again, no Latina served as a dean at the time of the analysis. Among 98 departments on campus, three had Latina chairs. And among 220 centers and institutes on campus, just one is run by a Latina. Significantly, with one exception, Latinas don’t lead departments or centers that don’t center on Hispanic issues.

Even in shared governance leadership roles, Hispanic professors are underrepresented, and this is a bias “that must be recognized as such,” the report says. In the last 50 years, for example, just four Hispanic professors have served on the Faculty Council’s executive council.

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, professor of history at Austin and a member of the faculty committee, said he was inspired to study equity with respect to Hispanic professors following a shared governance review in his department. He said he realized that after going on two decades at Austin, he’d never been elected as a chair or appointed to head a significant committee. He connected with some other Hispanic faculty members who had had similar experiences, and they began talking to and collaborating with colleagues in other departments. They discovered the problem was widespread.

“We are not talking about North Dakota here,” Cañizares-Esguerra said. “We are talking about Texas, and an institution that is mostly all white when it comes to power. So we are talking about a civil rights issue.”

From 2010 to 2018, Hispanic faculty members at Austin also saw the lowest rates of promotion to associate and full professor. About 63 percent of Hispanic tenure applicants got it, compared to about 85 percent of white and Asian professors and 73 percent of black professors.

Regarding retention -- which inclusion advocates say is the missing piece in many diversity initiatives -- the study found a 40 percent retention rate among assistant professors between 2013 and 2018. The rate has since improved somewhat.

Just 5 percent of endowment recipients in 2018 were Hispanic. Three percent of all teaching awards given to professors spanning the last 60-plus years on campus went to Hispanics.

“We worry that departments are not considering qualified Hispanics for these honors and that instead of merit some appointments are made by favoritism and unconscious bias,” the report says. Beyond that, using student evaluations of teaching as a major criteria for teaching awards “marginalizes Hispanics disproportionately because studies have shown that student evaluations exhibit gender and racial biases.”

Alberto A. Martinez, professor of history and chair of the equity committee, said in U.S. colleges and universities, "many discussions about diversity are focused on black and white. By often saying that Hispanics are not a race, academics often fail to realize that there is real racism against Hispanics, say, that by not being white, Hispanic faculty are often excluded from governance. We just don’t get the same opportunities, invitations, resources, salaries."   

There isn’t enough diversity in faculty hiring, "and there isn’t enough done to extend trust and real inclusion to minorities once hired," Martinez said. "Too often minorities are tasked with marginal roles such as being the minority liaison, rather than appointed to chair committees and administer a department’s resources."

Recommendations

The committee makes several requests. It asks the provost, in particular, to develop a three-year Hispanic Equity Plan to reduce or eliminate the documented differences between Latinx professors and their colleagues in pay, hiring, promotion and governance. The plan should include a timeline, annual budget and goals, and ongoing accountability mechanisms.

With regard to hiring, in particular, the group recommends that Hispanic men and women be hired as tenured professors or onto the tenure track in all divisions, but especially where they are not already represented -- including in the natural sciences, public affairs, business, law, engineering and medical fields.

Significantly, the committee says that administrators should prioritize hiring Hispanics who are Tejanos, or native Texan Mexican Americans, “and who originate from disadvantaged groups and who labor to improve the inclusion and academic advancement of Hispanic students.” That is, “we do not recommend recruitment of privileged White Hispanics of wealthy Latin American backgrounds.”

The committee estimates that $2.3 million in annual funding is needed to achieve equity in pay for Hispanics with respect to white colleagues. The minimum sum required is $1.9 million, but $400,000 more is needed for endowments, chairs and more.

Professors approaching retirement should also receive back pay for at least 10 years, or a package including a two-year salary.

To address gaps in departmental leadership and governance positions, the group recommends that the university appoint interested parties by rotation, instead of relying on votes.

Austin should also study promotion disparities, to better understand the underlying mechanisms, the group recommends. It urges better mentorship for junior Hispanic faculty members, as well, and the vice provost for diversity’s participation in the president’s committee for promotion and tenure.

As for merit awards and other recognitions, the report says that professors should be able to self-nominate, in part to offset the lack of “social capital that undermines the advancement of Hispanics on campus.”

The committee also has some thoughts on students admissions -- also controversial, given that Austin was the setting for a major U.S. Supreme Court case involving affirmative action. It wants the admissions office to publicly share annual enrollments and yield data on race and ethnicity in both the campus’s admissions processes, automatic and holistic review. The group’s contention is that holistic review negatively impacts Hispanic students.

“Contrary to what UT Austin argued before the Supreme Court,” the report says, “admissions via Holistic Application Review systematically reduce the numbers of Hispanic and black students enrolled. To become a Hispanic Serving Institution, UT Austin should modify the process of Holistic Admission Review.”

The university says that it is currently working to address the facts cited in the report. It’s meeting with the committee today. But it also notes that underrepresentation of Hispanic faculty members is a nationwide problem.

A spokesperson for the university also shared a note from Provost Maurie McInnis to all eight committee members sent earlier this month. "You are right. Action is needed, and I am committed to working with the campus to do so,” McInnis wrote. "The institution faces many faculty-related equity issues. We are aware of the impact on Hispanic faculty and have begun work to address some of the concerns. Much work remains to be done.” 

Over the past year, Austin has "been working to better understand faculty equity challenges with the help of our faculty equity councils -- race and ethnicity and gender -- and in close collaboration with the deans,” McInnis also noted. "While both the issues and their solutions are complex, we can make progress.” She added, "I understand that when inequities exist our action doesn’t feel fast enough. I hear that clearly in your report. We are focused on taking real action, action that will lead to sustained change, and that requires real care and a deliberate approach.” 

Even in California, which has the biggest Hispanic population by state, ahead of Texas, Hispanics are underrepresented. At the University of California, Los Angeles, last year, for example, about 6 percent of “ladder,” or tenure-track and tenured faculty members, were Hispanic.

Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education, an advocacy group for Hispanic students and faculty members, said that underrepresentation is, in fact, widespread. Some 65 percent of Hispanic students are enrolled in Hispanic-serving institutions, where 17 percent of the faculty is Hispanic, she said.

Santiago praised the Austin committee for coming up with creative, “intentional” fixes to each documented concern. And while upwards of $6 million is a lot of money, she said, other institutions have devoted much more to less detailed diversity initiatives in recent years.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” she said of what the committee found. “These recommendations are trying to get at what has not been fair historically, to arrive at the equitable side of it.”

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