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.
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