Take a Look in the Mirror: Should the Diversity of Our Faculty Reflect the Diversity of Our Students?

May
2015
Robert (BJ) Snowden, Cosumnes River College, Equity and Diversity Action Committee

This Rostrum article is not intended to be exhaustive review of literature and research but rather to serve as a working document that can help guide the efforts of academic senate leaders.  The purpose is to discuss the importance of a diverse faculty and its positive impact on our student body.  It should serve as a beginning to this discussion and as a call to action for local senates as they question their status quo in regard to hiring practices and the current makeup of their local senate leadership. 

The student body in California community colleges is more diverse than it has ever been.  We have a wider breath of students taking courses, earning degrees or certificates, receiving job training, and filling our classrooms.  As a system, we are making extraordinary strides in attempting to meet their increasing demands.   Between innovative approaches to teaching and learning and much needed financial support from the state, we have attacked many of the challenges associated with serving our students head-on and with great vigor.  Yet, while we are attempting to meet these needs, we must also be proactive in shaping the overall college experience of our students.  We should always work to create the best environment to produce well-rounded citizens that will leave our institutions and be able to truly contribute to society and not to shield them with like-minded and outdated perspectives and experiences.

According to the CCC Chancellor’s Office Faculty and Staff Demographics Report, 17,059 tenured or tenure track faculty were working in the system during the fall of 2014.  Of that number, 10,726 self-identified as White Non-Hispanic, which translates to 62.88% of our faculty.  During that same semester, our student headcount was reported as 1,571,534.  Only 440,974, or 28.06% of those students self-identified as White Non-Hispanic, which clearly is a stark contrast to our faculty ratio.  The students’ statistics are not an anomaly and will only continue to increase in the future. If presenting a diverse collective of thought and reflecting the social diversity of our state is of importance to us as leaders, we must take action now.

The greater the diversity among faculty, the greater our diversity in class assignments, mentoring, course content, and, even more importantly, scholarly ideas.  A diverse faculty brings to campus a way of thinking that may have been unexplored; it brings a voice to decision-making that has historically been absent. It brings authenticity to the experience of the underrepresented students who have navigated the educational system and now stand on the other side ready to serve.   A diverse faculty will not only directly impact students but also add value and perspective to shared governance practices, to planning efforts, and to the campus community.  Institutions as a whole will benefit when a wide range of ideas and outlooks are included and valued.  When we limit ourselves to what we know and whom we know, we are in danger or doing a much greater injustice that permeates beyond our campuses and into our communities. 

One of the most critical decisions a campus can make is whom it hires as a tenure track faculty member.  Unlike administrators, faculty members rarely move from campus to campus.  We commit to our college and our department often spending whole careers at one institution.  We must therefore take steps to diversify our faculty for the benefit of our colleges and our students.

Recruitment

The recruitment of a diverse faculty pool for an open position requires districts and institutions to publish and distribute vacancies as widely as possible.  The expansion of recruiting efforts allows for the position to reach all possible potential candidates.  Connections to local universities are also critical to recruitment.  Faculty chairs should be in regular contact with graduate programs in their field encouraging promising students to apply for fulltime or adjunct positions after graduation.

Hiring Committees

Colleges should examine their hiring practices and specifically their hiring committees.  They should consider who they place on committees and what strengths and perspectives those individuals bring.  And they will need to show courage in the face of opposition, understanding that many may not see the value of looking for input outside of the discipline or from newer faculty.  In essence, in order to cast a wider net, we must diversify our vision of hiring.  This vision is important not only in regard to ethnicity but also in a broader context including seniority, discipline, age, and background.  As leaders, we must motivate those who might not normally serve and communicate to those who are limited in their perspective.

Mentoring

Perhaps one of the most important elements in diversifying our faculty is to mentor prospective full-time applicants in our adjunct pools.  An adjunct position is often the gateway to a fulltime job in community colleges.  Because of this natural pipeline, faculty leaders have a responsibility to encourage and guide adjuncts into contributing roles on campus and in the discipline.  When we make our adjuncts solid candidates, we have a better opportunity of hiring the best colleague.

Diversifying our faculty ranks can have a multitude of benefits, but none more important than the impact it can have on our students.  Having a faculty more reflective of our student demographics can reduce anxiety for many students as they are the first in their families to attend college, and it can also generate a sense of connectedness to the institution that is impossible to fabricate.  Academic senates should foster an ongoing dialogue concerning these difficult conversations while addressing the benefits to diversifying our faculty ranks, as well as continuing to acknowledge how important it is for those in leadership to act now.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.