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Ask Dr. Lynch: Is Faculty Diversity in Higher Education Important?

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is a department chair and an associate professor of education at Langston University. He has researched topics related to educational policy, school leadership and education reform, particularly in the urban learning environment, and he is interested in developing collaborative enterprises that move the field of education forward. Visit his Web site for more information. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Michelle F. asks:

I am an African American woman who works as a guidance counselor for a medium-sized high school on the west coast. One of my close friends, who is also African American, asked me for some advice concerning which university her son should attend in the fall. I chose university A, chiefly because university B lacks diversity, especially within the professorial ranks. She acknowledged my concern, but didn't think it was a deal breaker. Dr. Lynch, am I right to think that faculty diversity benefits the students, the school, the surrounding community, and society in general?

ANSWER:

Michelle, thank you for your important question. In order for colleges and universities to truly prepare students for the real world, these places of higher learning need to cultivate diverse populations. There is a lot of attention placed on the changing face of college students, but I feel that for college campuses to truly remain effective in the long term, diversity in faculty needs to be of paramount concern.

Why is Diversity Important on College Campuses?

Student bodies are no longer composed of primarily white male students. Some estimates show that half of America’s current workforce now passes through college first, and 75 percent of students in high school spend at least some time studying in a higher education setting. That number is up from an elite four percent in 1900. What’s more, the number of college students from low-income and minority families continues to rise. More Americans of every color and creed are now earning college educations, so college faculty should reflect that. While students can certainly learn from people outside their own sex, ethnicity and belief system, faculty with similar backgrounds provide stronger role models.

Diversity in faculty should be sought out not only for the students’ advantage, but also in order to benefit the college legacy as a whole. Yes, it is important to have diversity in student populations, but those groups are temporary college residents. Faculty members have the long-term ability to shape the campus culture and make it more in sync with the rest of the real world.

How Diverse are College Campuses Today?

The short answer is “not very.” A report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that full-time faculty on college campuses heavily favor white candidates (just over 1 million) over black (not even 100,000), Asian (86,000) and Hispanic (under 60,000) faculty. These numbers may not mean much out of context, however, so let’s take a closer look at why they matter.

While nearly 30 percent of undergraduate students around the nation are considered minorities, just over 12 percent of full-time faculty are minorities. That number drops to around 9 percent for full-time professors of color. Though half of all undergraduate students are women, roughly one-third of full-time professors are women. In 1940, the number of women faculty was at 25 percent, showing just how slowly this particular minority group is climbing. The numbers are going in the right direction, but not quickly enough.

So, What’s the Problem?

Faculty positions are extremely competitive. Colleges and universities often value professors who have publishing ability, or a strong past of publication, over actual teaching skills. This is not to say that there are not women and minorities with high qualifications, but rather, that sometimes sex and race are simply not part of the hiring equation. Facts and figures on a resume are tangible ways of showing what a particular candidate can bring to the job. It is more difficult for higher education decision-makers to gauge the benefit of a person’s background or life experience.

That being said, many colleges are stepping up their diverse hiring games. Schools such as the University of California, Harvard and the University of Washington study faculty diversity issues and try to piece together the most well-represented group of educators possible. Even Historically Black Colleges and Universities are trying to bring in students and faculty members outside the traditional population, especially since the original mission of those schools has changed. Certainly there are strides being made, but in order to best serve each generation of college students, the push for faculty diversity needs to continue. 

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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