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Perceptions of African American Male Junior Faculty on Promotion and Tenure: Implications for Community Building and Social Capital

by Brian N. Williams & Sheneka M. Williams - 2006

A qualitative online individual interviewing approach was used to explore the perceptions of 32 African American male junior faculty at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) on how to improve support systems and structures to navigate promotion and tenure. The findings from this study revealed that, beyond the political and financial capital needed to build, support, and maintain institutions of higher education, social (campus) capital is needed to further develop gemeinschaft campus communities and the development of all its members. Hence, an approach more centered on (academic) community building is suggested to better foster the sense of ownership and belonging for African American male junior faculty and other faculty of color.

During the last three decades, institutions of higher education have placed an emphasis on the recruitment and retention of faculty of color (Anderson, 1994; Banks, 1984). Notwithstanding this focus, recent statistics on the demographic makeup of full-time faculty employed by colleges and universities in the United States suggest that these efforts have not achieved their intended impact. According to the 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (U.S. Department of Education, 1999), 85.1% of full-time instructional faculty and staff whose primary responsibilities included teaching were White and non-Hispanic, while faculty of color constituted 14.9%— 0.7% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 3.3% Hispanic, 5.1% Black/African American, and 5.8% Asian or Pacific Islander—of full-time instructional faculty and staff who had teaching as their primary responsibility.

Consequently, people of color are still less likely to hold tenure-track positions in proportion to their White counterparts (Carter & O’Brien, 1993). The 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty also reported that African Americans possess the lowest percentage of full professorships (17.5%), but they maintain the highest percentage of assistant professorships (32.8%). These stark realities help to create and reflect a challenging, and in some instances, hostile, work environment (Caldwell & Stewart, 2001; James & Farmer, 1993; Smith, Wolf, & Busenburg, 1996; Watson, 2001).

Building from the Cultural Proficiency Model of Lindsey, Nuri-Robbins, and Terrell (1998) and extrapolating Burris’s (2004) and Bourdieu’s (1986) conception of social capital as networks and associations of social exchange, this study examined an issue central to this problem: the perceptions of African American male junior faculty on promotion and tenure. In particular, this study explored the question, What types of support systems should be in place at the university, college, and departmental levels to assist African American male junior faculty through the promotion and tenure process?


Previous research has found that when faculty of color are hired at predominantly White institutions (PWIs), it is not uncommon for them to find themselves the “only” in their department, or one of a mere two or three “others” (Blackwell, 1996; Hagedorn & Laden, 2000). As “onlys” or as “few others” in their departments, schools, and colleges, faculty of color often find themselves “working under the spotlight” (Hagedorn & Laden; Turner & Myers, 2000). This reality has facilitated chilly working environments in which lack of support is a reality, and at times, those in the majority have displayed indifferent and unwelcoming attitudes (Boice, 1992; Blackwell; De La Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1988; Hagedorn & Laden; Moody, 2000; Smith et al., 1996). These unwelcoming and indifferent attitudes make it difficult for African American male junior faculty to develop working relationships with majority faculty (Elmore & Blackburn, 1983; Hagedorn & Laden). In fact, some faculty of color stated that they felt so socially isolated by White colleagues that they were more comfortable interacting socially with their students of color, who often also feel isolated on these campuses (Hagedorn & Laden; Turner & Myers). Some scholars contend that faculty of color are “precious gems” in higher education because they provide students with diverse role models and assist in providing more effective mentoring to minority students (Antonio, 2002; De La Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1991). This differs drastically from the proverbial (or mythical) collegial environment of academe.

Over the years, many faculty of color have reported personal and professional discomfort regarding their research, scholarship, and ultimately, acceptance in the campus community. Researchers (e.g., Hagedorn & Laden, 2000; Turner & Myers, 2000) have found that faculty of color often perceive that their scholarly credentials are devalued or largely ignored by their majority colleagues and host institutions. Often typecast as “ethnic specialists” because of their interest in researching racial or ethnic issues, faculty of color have been frequently discredited and not regarded as qualified experts in their disciplines (Garza, 1988). Consequently, a stigma or taboo has been attached to “brown-on-brown” approaches to inquiry (Blackwell, 1996; De La Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1988) and further reinforces a sense of isolation, resulting in scholarship segregation and stagnation (Alger, 1998; Gregory, 1998). According to the 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (U.S. Department of Education, 1999), African Americans reported the smallest number of refereed publications and presentations per 2-year period, 2.5 and 9.6, respectively. These findings from past studies (Alger; Garza; Gregory; Hagedorn & Laden) reveal the need for support systems to be developed and fully implemented to better address the promotion and tenure divide experienced by faculty of color, such as African American males. In particular, the findings highlighted institutional and cultural barriers that were grouped with ineffective networks and associations of social exchange within higher education settings that hinder faculty of color.


Cultural proficiency and social capital provided a conceptual framework for this investigation and our subsequent reflections on the experiences and recommendations of African American male junior faculty at PWIs who participated in this study. In particular, we recontextualized the cultural proficiency model of Lindsey, Nuri-Robbins, and Terrell (2003) beyond its application in primary and secondary education to higher education. Likewise, we drew from the sociological framework of social capital, and applied it to higher education.


Cultural proficiency, as noted by Lindsey et al. (2003), is a way of being that enables both individuals and organizations to respond effectively to the changing social landscape of American society. The basis for cultural proficiency stems from the desegregation of schools and the effects of discrimination in the United States. As society began to invite marginalized people to assimilate into the dominant culture, they were expected to disassociate themselves from all vestiges of their primary or native culture (Lindsey et al.). However, integration and its accompanying melting pot did not work for all people. Many historically oppressed people did not want to have their differences melted away, but respected and appreciated (Lindsey et al.).

In the case of colleges and universities, culturally proficient leaders (e.g., college deans, departmental chairpersons, and tenured faculty) help to foster a working environment that closes the door on tokenism and, in essence, stops the revolving door through which highly competent, motivated underrepresented faculty enter briefly and exit quickly (Blackwell, 1996; De La Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1988; Lindsey et al., 2003). Culturally proficient leaders develop a conscious awareness of the culture of their communities or schools, and they understand that each has a powerful influence on all parties associated with the learning environment— educators, students, parents, and the community (Lindsey et al.). It is the job of such educational leaders to ensure that they recruit, retain, and promote junior faculty members who are respected for what they contribute, thus embracing diversity across all cultures (Lindsey et al.).


Not only should leaders within colleges and universities employ hiring practices that build on cultural competence, but they should also encourage networking among faculty members of all ranks. Networking, or the exchange of ideas within and across academic disciplines, constructs a broader knowledge base. The concept of social capital designates the position of individuals or groups within networks of association and social exchange (Burris, 2004). One of the distinctive aspects of Bourdieu’s concept of social capital is his notion of the fungibility of different forms of capital, in which social capital is exchanged with, transformed into, or used to acquire other forms of capital (Burris). In the case of academic status hierarchies, the exchange of PhDs between departments is a process by which social capital is used to gain privileged access to economic capital—jobs for one’s graduates—which in turn provides the foundation for further accumulation of social capital (Burris).

Networks of association are extremely important to junior faculty members, especially African American males, who feel a sense of isolation due to distinct physical characteristics and negative media images. African American academicians have frequently expressed perceptions of existing in a hypervisible and invisible state. They are hypervisible because of their color and their advocacy for diversity, yet invisible because they do not fit the campus “norm” (Sutherland, 1990; Turner, Myers, & Creswell, 1999). These dynamics impede and affect social capital and the leveraging of social capital to acquire other forms of capital.

In an effort to break the isolation barrier and build networks with colleagues, both the dominant group (tenured White males) and the oppressed group (nontenured African American males) must understand their roles. For people in dominant groups, their role requires a moral choice to assume personal responsibility and to take personal initiative (Lindsey et al., 2003). For people in dominated groups, their role is to recognize oppression and to commit themselves to self-determination (Lindsey et al.). Once these roles are established, faculty members of all ranks are capable of building ties that bind and build knowledge. For instance, African American male junior faculty members gain access to the informal rules of mentoring and publishing, while their White counterparts better appreciate the need for them to research issues germane to their particular race or ethnicity.

Using cultural proficiency and social capital as a conceptual framework (you may want to include a depiction that illustrates this model) allowed a better understanding of the dimensions and dynamics associated with the experiences of African American male junior faculty. In particular, it facilitated the process of highlighting the institutional and individual tensions and challenges surrounding cultural disassociation, associational networks, and integration and acceptance of participating African American male junior faculty at PWIs. Consequently, this fostered an exploration and understanding of the types of support systems that should be in place at the university, college, and departmental levels to assist African American male junior faculty through the promotion and tenure process.

Even though previous studies have explored this topic, our approach is unique because it focuses exclusively on African American male junior faculty from diverse disciplines and uses a conceptual framework that draws upon the cultural proficiency model and the concept of social capital and its fungibility. Consequently, this article adds to the existing body of literature by offering a deeper understanding of the various institutional, cultural, and associational barriers and challenges that these faculty face.



A qualitative approach to data collection was used to explore the perceptions of African American male junior faculty on how to improve support systems and structures that address the promotion and tenure divide facing faculty of color. Akin to other researchers (e.g., Flowers & Moore, 2003; Krueger, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 1985), a comprehensive interview guide with both open- and close-ended questions was developed. The initial interview guide was piloted to a group of five researchers, who offered meaningful suggestions in terms of wording, layout, and sequencing of questions. The final structured interviewing protocol consisted of 13 questions, including both close- and open-ended questions.

Drawing from Patton’s (1990) three basic approaches to collecting qualitative data, three standardized open-ended questions were used in the interviewing protocol:

1. What are the obstacles that African American male faculty face in navigating the promotion and tenure process?

2. Please describe in detail and give specific examples of the types of support systems that should be in place at the departmental, college, and/ or university levels to help African American male faculty through this process.

3. Please share any additional information that I should consider when exploring this topic area.

Moreover, the questions were designed to foster free-flowing “conversational” responses of participants.

In addition, 10 close-ended questions were included in the interviewing protocol. These questions reflected demographic information, such as the following:

1. What is your age?

2. What is your faculty rank?

3. Using the old Carnegie classifications, how would you classify your institution?i

4. How many African American male colleagues are in your department?

5. How many African American male colleagues are in your school or college?

6. What is the percentage of African American male faculty in your university?

7. What is your academic department?

8. In what college or school is your department housed?

9. What year did you earn your terminal degree?

10. Did you have an African American male mentor as you pursued your terminal degree?

These questions were selected to provide a profile of respondents, their departments, schools/colleges, and universities, as well as any evidence of a mentoring relationship with African American male faculty within their departments as they pursued their terminal degrees.


Using a snowball technique (Patton, 1990), personal e-mail addresses (e.g., friends from graduate school and colleagues who attended the same regional and national conferences of the researcher), professional networks, and e-mail lists, African American male faculty were forwarded interviewing protocols and solicited to participate in the study in February 2003. In March and April 2003, 20 additional interviewing protocols were hand-delivered at professional conferences and meetings. Recipients were encouraged to copy and forward the interviewing protocol to other African American male junior faculty at their home institutions or through their respective personal and professional contacts. This approach was similar to the process outlined by Moore and Flowers (2003) for soliciting participants and conducting qualitative research online.


As of June 15, 2003, 40 completed interviews were received by e-mail, fax, or the postal service. A total of 32 were received from junior faculty at PWIs, while the remaining 8 were from junior faculty at predominantly Black institutions (PBIs). This information was gleaned from multiple sources, including return e-mail addresses, faxed cover sheets and other fax identifiers, and department envelopes, which also identified university affiliation. Because the overwhelming majority of completed interviewing protocols were received from African American faculty at PWIs, these responses emerged as the sole unit of analysis.


The analysis of close-ended data revealed a profile of the typical respondent—an isolated assistant professor at a Research I or II institution without the benefit of, or close (departmental) proximity to, an African American male mentor during doctoral training or as a faculty member. In particular, 29 of the 32 (90.6%) respondents were in the 25-34 age range, and the remaining 3 were in the 35-44 age range. Likewise, 27 of the 32 (84.3%) had received their terminal degrees within the last 5 years. In terms of university classification, 68.7% of respondents classified their institutions as Research I universities, and 12.5% classified their institutions as Research II universities. Additionally, 6.25% of respondents classified their universities as Doctoral I institutions, an additional 6.25% of respondents classified their institutions as a Doctoral II, and 3.125% classified their universities as Master’s I and Baccalaureate I institutions, respectively. In terms of departmental or disciplinary affiliations, the majority was from schools or colleges of education. In particular, of the 32 respondents, 59.4% had departmental affiliations within colleges or schools of education; 31.25% had departmental affiliations with disciplines in the arts, sciences, and humanities; and the remaining 9.4% had departmental affiliations within a school of public health, a department of library science, and a school of journalism, respectively.

As noted above, all were fairly isolated both at the doctoral student and professoriate levels. Only 5 of the 32, or 15.6%, noted an African American male faculty mentor within their department as they pursued their terminal degrees. Similarly, only 4, or 12.5%, had an African American male colleague within their department, coupled with an average of fewer than three African American male colleagues within their school or college. In terms of the percentage of African American male faculty within their institutions, all respondents except for 2 noted less than 5%. One selected 5%-10%, while the other noted (within the margins) that he was the only African American male faculty member at his institution.


An interrelated three-phase process consisting of (a) data display, (b) data reduction via emergent themes, and (c) resulting conclusions and implications facilitated the analysis of data from the close- and open-ended questions and the generation of findings (Keeves, 1988). An overview of this process is described below.

Completed interviews were divided into two components for analysis: close-ended demographic information questions and the open-ended questions. Data from the close-ended questions were analyzed to illuminate findings from open-ended questions. This was useful in creating a personal and professional profile of respondents. Moreover, this approach was also beneficial in establishing a profile of respondents’ work environments.

Narrative responses to open-ended questions were subject to a combined ethnographic-content analysis approach. Hence, the use of direct quotes from responses of completed protocols (i.e., the ethnographic summary) were coupled with the precise coding of information through the content analysis. This combination mirrored the technique advocated and used by previous researchers (e.g., Krippendorff, 1980; Morgan, 1988; Williams, 1998) and enabled the researchers to count or code the frequency of words and phrases and describe protocol responses by using direct quotes. These aided in the identification of themes and issues. However, the identities of participants were protected by numerically coding all received responses.

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Data breakdown was a two-step process and was facilitated by the structured continuum approach, which allowed the researchers to ask the same questions in the same order to all participants (Flowers & Moore, 2003; Krueger, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). First and foremost, a “cut-and-paste” (or “scissor and sort”) technique was used to physically organize and subdivide the responses to the three open-ended questions (Morgan, 1988; Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990). This approach has been successfully employed in the analysis of transcripts derived from individual interviews and focus group discussions (Knodel, 1993; Williams, 1998). Preceding this step, however, was an interpretative process that aided in determining the criteria for arranging the textual data into analytically useful subdivisions. This approach yielded two major categories for each completed protocol: major incidents or experiences and prevailing perceptions.

A descriptive approach was then used to compare answers of individual respondents. This allowed the researchers to compare and contrast responses (e.g., perceptions, opinions, and experiences) across individuals, and where possible, across institutional classifications. This aided in the identification of common statements, preferences, and viewpoints to allow for similar responses to be categorized according to common themes and issues (see Figure 1).

This descriptive-interpretive approach produced emergent themes and issues that were then analyzed using two types of content analysis: the semantical and sign-vehicle approaches (Krippendorff, 1980). The semantical content analysis sought to classify signs according to their meanings. This was executed by employing an assertion analysis, an approach that determines the frequency with which certain phrases, concepts, characterizations, and descriptors were noted (Krippendorff; Webe, 1980). The sign-vehicle approach was then used to count the number of times a specific word or phrase was used.

To get a more intimate feel for the collected data, a manual approach to capturing the content and context of individual responses was used instead of a keyword-in-context or other computer-assisted approaches. These strategies are consistent with the analytic strategies for qualitative data (Patton, 1990). In short, these approaches to analyzing the open- and close-ended questions allowed the researchers to focus on how respondents were the same and how they were different in terms of their professional training, personal and professional experiences, and perceptions of support systems needed for African American male faculty to better navigate the promotion and tenure process.



Several limitations are associated with this study. First, the use of e-mail to administer the protocol has unknown effects on the results of the study. Second, the response of participants from multiple and disparate institutions may not permit equitable comparisons. Third, the use of the protocol could have attracted biased respondents with extreme feelings about promotion and tenure. These shortcomings prevent the findings from being generalized beyond the scope of this study. However, despite these limitations, the qualitative method permitted the researchers to study this issue in depth and detail, which facilitated a deeper understanding of the perspectives of African American male junior faculty on support systems needed to better navigate the promotion and tenure process.


The content analysis of the open-ended questions revealed emergent themes and issues pertaining to (a) the obstacles facing African American male junior faculty navigating the promotion and tenure process; (b) support systems needed at the departmental, college, and university levels to successfully facilitate the advancement of African American male junior faculty within the academy; and (c) other related factors affecting this professional development process. Emergent themes are those dominant perceptions that surfaced and were expressed by the participants.


The content analysis of the first open-ended question revealed four emergent themes. These themes included (a) lack of an African American male senior faculty mentor; (b) lack of knowledge of the unwritten and unstated rules of promotion and tenure; (c) lack of respect for research and scholarship; and (d) service quagmire.

Lack of an African American Male Senior Faculty Mentor

Respondents noted lack of an African American departmental senior faculty mentor as the dominant theme of and obstacle to navigating the promotion and tenure process. All respondents noted the real and potential benefits of having a senior African American male scholar within their departments and made reference to the shortcomings associated with such an absence.

There are a number of obstacles facing African American male faculty in navigating the promotion and tenure process. First, there are few role models, other scholars to emulate. Having a senior, tenured scholar who has traversed the course at my particular University would be an invaluable resource. (Participant 22)

Lack of role models who look like you, who have been down the tenure track in your own discipline ... others in your immediate area who know what it’s like to be black, male, and in academe. (Participant 15)

It is very helpful, if not crucial, that nontenured faculty have someone to guide them and take them under their wing. Publishing is difficult enough and the situation is compounded when there’s no support or guidance. (Participant 30)

Participants did acknowledge that non-African Americans could serve as role models and guides but seemed to question if they could be as effective in that capacity as those who have experienced being Black in America and could share those experiences, in addition to the lessons learned from them, with junior African American male faculty.

Lack of Knowledge of the Unwritten and Unstated Rules of the Game

Lack of knowledge of and preparation for the informal rules of promotion and tenure emerged as the second most dominant theme. This was most evident in the responses related to the institutional ambiguity associated with what is required for promotion and tenure.

One of the major issues that African American male faculty face in navigating the promotion and tenure process is not being clear as to what is needed to get P&T What I mean is how many articles are needed? How important are book chapters, if at all? Grants and contracts? In my experience it’s the “hidden agenda” and the issue of “fair” play that bothers me the most. (Participant 17)

As a doctoral student, I was exposed to “gamesmanship theory,” which talks about the importance of one understanding the formal and informal or stated and unstated rules of the implementation of the public policy game. In the promotion and tenure “game,” it is difficult for me as an African American male assistant professor without a senior scholar of color in my department to have complete knowledge of the formal rules of this game, much less an inkling of the informal or unstated ones. (Participant 6)

I have just gone through my second-year review. I had to do a dossier and a narrative statement. The dossier was pretty straightforward ... However, the narrative statement was a subjective document, in which I was supposed to tell my story. I let some of my white colleagues (I don’t have African American colleagues) read my narrative statement. Some were very supportive, however one read the document and he suggested that I was trying to make a “political” statement, and this was not the place to do that. Now, he may or may not have been correct, but the point is I didn’t have an African American tenured faculty member to run it by. (Participant 26)

Requirements for tenure remain fuzzy at best. Looking across the nation, there have been tenure cases that should not have been close but were, and cases where the candidate should not have even come up. (Participant 14)

These excerpts highlight an overall impression that promotion and tenure are much more political than merit based, more practical than theoretical. In particular, respondents expressed and alluded to promotion and tenure as being more aligned with an amalgamation of the art- or creative-based, craft- or skill-based, and science- or knowledge-based understanding and application of departmental, college, and university-level politics. Hence, only by understanding and applying the unwritten and unstated rules of the promotion and tenure “game” can one be successful.

Lack of Respect for Research and Scholarship

A perceived lack of respect for research and scholarship also emerged as a dominant theme and obstacle to successfully navigating the promotion and tenure process. This theme surfaced in one of three forms: (a) research interests and topics beyond the mainstream; (b) the use of nonconventional research techniques to better address research questions; and (c) publishing in outlets beyond “their” (or more traditional) top-tier journals.

If you happen to do research that is nontraditional in methodology, approach, conceptual framework, etc., it may take some convincing of senior scholars who may or may not be of the same race that you are. This is a common concern for those who research issues of race, gender, and class. (Participant 8)

As an African American male junior faculty member with an interest in more qualitative questions and methodological approaches, I find myself in a precarious position as a “double outsider” or a “double other.” In my department, the qualitative approach seems to be tolerated more than respected and fully accepted. Coupled with being the lone “brother,” these two strikes against me, or at least fully understanding my perspectives, really scares me. (Participant 26)

I have had some difficulties in getting my work published in the “top-tier” journals. I think this is more of a reflection of my research interests and methodological approaches than the quality of my work. I have had greater success in a couple of mid-tier journals and I think that is because of their willingness to entertain the exploration of new questions and the utilization of different, but equally as rigorous approaches—at least from my perspective. I hope that when I go up, especially at the college and university levels, they will have an appreciation for the quality of my scholarship even though it hasn’t been published in the top 2 or 3 journals in my area. (Participant 12)

These quotes represent the general sentiments of participants and reflect their perspectives on the flaws of (a) the conventional, more exclusive and selective definition of “scholarship”; (b) the more traditional and acceptable “standards” or “principles” on rigorous research techniques; and (c) the biased orientation toward more mainstream publishing outlets. Accordingly, participants expressed their desire for a more flexible and creative approach toward and acceptance of research and scholarship.

The Service Conundrum and Quagmire

The final theme that emerged from the content analysis was a general theme related to the service conundrum and its resulting quagmire. In particular, participants expressed the grand expectations of, yet token appreciation for, university service (e.g., mentoring students; serving on university, college, and departmental committees; recruiting other minority faculty and graduate or undergraduate students, and so on).

Far too little credit is given to black male faculty (and other faculty of color) for mentoring students of color. I spend several hours a week as the token member of my faculty department mentoring students of color from various departments who want to talk about issues that are unique to our experiences. (Participant 10)

I had a white colleague share with me that time management is the key strategy to successfully navigate the promotion and tenure divide, in particular, the skill of when to say yes and how to say no to university and departmental service. I have found it difficult to continue to say no, hopefully in a non-tenure threatening way, to departmental and university requests for me to serve on this “diversity” committee, attend this “public” event, help recruit this new African American candidate or graduate student, in addition to the other non-diversity related requests for my time. I see this as an obstacle that I face in getting promoted and tenured at my institution. (Participant 21)

After my first year on the tenure clock, I reflected upon the amount of time I spent serving the university or my department and reviewed the formal document that divided, in percentages, my responsibilities toward research, teaching, and service. Then, I realized that my department chair didn’t have a clue of the extra amount of informal time I spent mentoring African American undergraduate and graduate students, in addition to white and other students of color. (Participant 3)

Having too much time committed to service responsibilities, which take away from the time for research, is a major obstacle. The nature of diversity we bring as African American men means some will naturally be interested in having you join their team or project, whether they are in the community or on campus. There are causes to which you should be interested in subscribing. Then, there are those who are glad to have you there and want to be “involved.” The not-so-simple answer is “no.” But that is especially hard if you’ve come from a tradition of community that expects you to be caring and concerned and willing to help out. (Participant 10)

Figure 2 provides a visual depiction of the interplay of the perceived obstacles to promotion and tenure that African American males may face. Of note is how each theme affects (not in a causal way) and connects with the others. For example, theme 1, lack of an African American male senior mentor, affects and connects with themes 2, 3, and 4.


The content analysis of the first open-ended question also revealed one issue related to perceived obstacles that African American male faculty face in navigating the tenure and promotion process. This issue was expressed in terms of the negative image of African American males grounded in history, yet broadcast, e-mailed, and printed in real time.

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Images and resulting perceptions of African Americans in general, and African American men in particular, have been distorted as one of the many consequences of American chattel slavery (Anderson, 1990; Ellison, 1953; Patterson, 1998). Moore (2000) has noted, “From infancy to adulthood, images of inferiority are communicated. These images, which often contribute to social inequalities, have a profound effect on the lives of African American males” (p. 249). In particular, this has facilitated the social construction and social marketing of Black males as being dangerous, criminal, low achieving, and substance abusers (Blake & Darling, 1994; Potts, 1997).

The perceived popular and overwhelmingly negative image of African American males in the media (Gilliam & Iyengar, 2000) and throughout the pages of America’s history was not a primary or dominant theme that cut across survey responses, but it was a noteworthy peripheral issue that emerged. The following quotes help to elucidate and contextualize the concerns echoed by some participants.

The present-day image of the black man, of the Hispanic man, white man or Middle Eastern man for that matter, is one that has been filtered through the various lenses of the media. In particular, black men have been cast not as intellectuals, but as athletes and entertainers, at best, and as pimps, drug dealers, and “thugs” at worst. This is not a recent phenomenon, but a historical one as well. Because of the impact and influence of the media, I think it is difficult for people within American society, in general, and the academic community, in particular, to see and respect us. Much like Ellison’s thesis, we are invisible men. (Participant 6)

I think one of the obstacles African American faculty deal with is the perception that others have about African American males in general. The age-old stereotypes regarding African American men not being intelligent and articulate. If one is intelligent and articulate and displays these characteristics, he is likely to be considered “arrogant” or “cocky.” For example, I’m at a PWI and I’ve heard students refer to me in this way. I’ve also had other students (black and white) tell me that their classmates have referred to me as arrogant. However, my white male colleagues are called smart, bright, intelligent. ... This has a direct impact on the P&T process, because these attitudes and perceptions become a part of teaching evaluations. (Participant 11)

It is difficult for us (African Americans) to step out of the shadows of American history. In my opinion, the reality that a system was in place that denied our humanity still has present-day ramifications. I think others, at a subconscious level, struggle with rejecting the fallacies of the distant and not so distant past. That may be a hidden obstacle out of our view. (Participant 23)


The content analysis of the second open-ended questions revealed three emergent themes. These themes included the need for (a) structured mentoring programs; (b) the effective allocation of resources; and (c) valuing and rewarding “hidden” or nontraditional service. Each theme will be elaborated upon below through the use of direct quotes from the responses of participants.

Structured Mentoring Programs

Structured mentoring programs were noted as the primary support system that should be in place at the departmental, school/college, and university levels to assist African American male faculty through the promotion and tenure process. The majority of participants recommended the need for an African American to serve as a mentor, but others expressed that the race of the mentor was not as vital as his or her level of awareness and sensitivity to the issues and concerns that face African American junior faculty.

The major support system that should be in place is that of a mentor. A mentor should be assigned to an assistant before the junior faculty member comes to campus. The mentor should be well published as well as actively publishing. It would be very helpful, but not necessary, that the assigned mentor is African American. (Participant 1)

My first year out, I was really feeling lost, isolated, and in a figurative way, visually impaired. I couldn’t see or find my way and I didn’t feel comfortable turning to my “new colleagues” for help. If I had the benefit of a mentor, a senior, battle-tested colleague who I knew was sensitive to my reality, cared for my personal and professional growth, and was there to serve as a sounding board and a guide, I probably would have been more productive in terms of scholarship, a better instructor, and more adept at getting out of some of the service assignments that took up a lot of my time. (Participant 19)

Mentoring vehicles or committees that are made up of supportive colleagues would be beneficial, especially during the first few years at the university. This system can help guide you through the P&T process, arrange colleague observations, coach, etc. (Participant 11)

Even though there was some variation in the definition and degree of formality of mentoring programs by participants, the underpinning message was the same: A mentoring support structure was of paramount importance in helping African American male junior faculty and other minority faculty traverse the new terrain and ease the transition from one side of the lectern to the other.

The Effective Allocation of Resources

The second theme that cut across individual responses was the effective use or allocation of resources. Much like the preceding theme, there was some variation in categorizing resources, but overall these resources took two major forms: (a) internal grants and (b) graduate research assistants. Without proper resources and funding opportunities, participants found it difficult to garner financial support for their research agendas. Because research is directly linked to promotion and tenure, the effective allocation of resources is vital to the survival and success of African American junior male faculty.

I believe it would be helpful to have research funds available, such as mini-grants that nontenured professors can use to assist them in publishing, conference presentations, and possible course buy-outs. (Participant 3)

Funding beyond the normal start-up monies to get one’s research established ... graduate assistants for at least the first three years ... reduced teaching loads, or assisting junior faculty in securing their own grants. Many African American male junior faculty leave their doctoral programs without this level of exposure and experience. (Participant 30)

A supportive department and chair who are willing to invest in and cultivate the talents of rising African American star colleagues by arranging opportunities to buy out courses, reduce [teaching] loads, etc. (Participant 7)

I think direction, coupled with support from the top, will go a long way in addressing this problem. If a university truly values and is sensitive to the challenges that face African American males within the academy, then at the university level, support systems like funds to buy-out courses, to provide summer research grants, to provide “research project” graduate student assistants are needed. Much like the devolution of governmental responsibility, it seems as if presidents and provosts of universities are providing a tremendous amount of lip service to valuing diversity but are leaving it up to the deans and department chairs at the college and department levels to implement and fund “their” visions. (Participant 6)

I have had some success in getting published, but much of that success is due to those graduate and teaching assistants who have been assigned to me. In both capacities, they have allowed me to devote more time to do research, to write, and to prepare a lecture—all of these factors directly relate to what my institution values. Without their help, my outlook towards “going up” wouldn’t be as positive. (Participant 26)

Recognizing and Rewarding Nontraditional Service

The final theme that emerged from the content analysis of the second open-ended question was recognizing and rewarding “hidden” or nontraditional service. This theme was the least dominant of the three themes but cut across most responses.

African American faculty at my institution tend to be in demand within the local black community (this may be because we are so few), from speaking at churches and schools to helping design a survey or providing feedback and direction for a community project. However, the service that we provide isn’t recognized and definitely not rewarded by our institution. A support system that captures that aspect of service and integrates it within the promotion and tenure process would be ideal. (Participant 2)

When I finished my first year, I put together a “Year in Review” packet and forwarded it to a senior colleague in my department. He encouraged me to continue to “work hard” and “do good work” but suggested that I shouldn’t include information about my community service. He thought it might send the wrong message, that I was wasting too much time on things that really didn’t matter and not enough time on the things that do. His feedback solidified my stance that service BEYOND college, department, and profession, should be included and rewarded. (Participant 8)

One type of support system that is needed is to have an expanded conception of service count toward tenure at each level of the tenure process. (Participant 4)

Figure 3 represents the visual depiction of the interplay of participants’ perceived support systems needed to successfully cross the promotion and tenure process. Even though theme 1 was the most dominant of the three, theme 2, the effective allocation of resources, serves as the conduit that can facilitate and actualize the development and implementation of structured mentoring programs and a system and process that reward nontraditional service.

The content analysis of the needed support systems question also revealed two issues that emerged from the responses of participants. These issues include (a) the development of an assistant professor’s handbook or guide to success and (b) the development of local (where possible) or statewide/regional organizations that can serve as a support system and structure for isolated African American male junior faculty in particular, and other minority faculty in general. These issues transcended only a few of the responses but were considered significant enough to warrant notation.

Developing a Handbook or Guide to Success

Three respondents noted the need for a resource or bridge to span the pre-and posttenure divide. Institutions vary in the promotion and tenure process; therefore, some respondents feel that a “guide” or general handbook is necessary for African American junior male faculty members. These faculty members agree that a detailed list of do’s and don’ts, especially regarding publications, would be beneficial to their success as they navigate the promotion and tenure process.

click to enlarge

A road map that shows me how to get from my present-day location or status as an assistant professor to full professor and how to overcome those obstacles that I will encounter would be great. With the lack of colleagues who look like me or can relate to me at my institution, a resource like that would be helpful. (Participant 4)

A “bridge,” or at least a guide, is needed to cross the troubled waters of promotion and tenure. I know that I can’t rely upon the human resources (others who look like me and hopefully can relate to me) at this institution because they are nonexistent, especially within my department or college. (Participant 21)

One respondent in particular noted the need for developing an “assistant professor’s handbook” or “guide to success.”

This is not necessarily germane to just African Americans, but other academic faculty who are just starting out. Somewhere it ought to be written down what it takes to be successful in tenure and promotion. (Participant 17)

The analysis of responses to the needed support systems question also revealed an interesting but divergent issue: that the university should not provide structures or systems of support for African American male faculty. This perspective differed in a glaring way from all other responses of participants, who highlighted the need, role, and responsibility that universities have in developing and maintaining a system or structure to support African American and other minority faculty.

I’m not sure the university should engineer support systems for black male faculty (remember, we are only .372% of the black male population—it might, for example, be more fruitful in the long run to engineer programs to get black males into college). On one hand, I accepted an offer from a university that has a questionable record on promoting and tenuring people of color. This was my choice. On the other hand, I want some support and advice about surviving and thriving in such an environment. I don’t think the university bears that responsibility. I know what I need to do (e.g., publish) and I know what support I need (both social and professional), and seeking these is my responsibility. (Participant 10)


Like the theses of Coleman (1988) and Putnam (2000), the African American male junior faculty who participated in this study seem to be “bowling alone” in an environment with selective, at best, and nonexistent, at worst, social or “campus” capital. Hence, social capital—those social ties and shared norms often made manifest in webs or structures that facilitate cooperative and coordinated relationships and collaborative problem solving (Putnam)—seem to be absent, at least as it relates to those issues vital to promotion and tenure. Consequently, much like Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City (1996), the findings of this study create an image of “invisible men” (Ellison, 1947) who, ironically enough, bear the stigma of second-class academic citizenship wandering about in gesellschaft campus settings that have yet to fully embrace and practice the virtues of community.

Prior studies suggest that slow progress is being made by higher education to diversify its faculty (Antonio, 2002). This slow progression is affected by the following factors: disproportionate tenure rates and rates of pretenure departure (Finkelstein, 1984; Menges & Exum, 1983); the devaluation of the qualifications of minority PhDs not trained in the most elite, prestigious colleges (Mickelson & Oliver, 1991); and the difficulties of surviving in a predominantly White academy because of poor mentoring, disproportionate advising and service loads, an isolating work environment, and lack of scholarly recognition given to research that focuses on ethnic minority populations (De La Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1991; Garza, 1988; Turner & Myers, 2000; Turner et al., 1999).

The promotion and tenure obstacles faced by participants in this study— isolation, in most instances; poor to nonexistent mentoring; lack of acceptance, appreciation, and scholarly recognition; and high service loads—mirror the experiences of other underrepresented faculty in previous research studies conducted by Antonio (2002), Blackwell (1996), Boice (1992), De La Luz Reyes and Halcon (1988), Garza (1988), Hagedorn and Laden (2000), Moody (2000), Sutherland (1990), Turner and Myers (2000), and Turner et al. (1999). These findings, both past and present, reflect the continued need for support systems to be developed and fully implemented to remove those ever-present obstructions that continue to hinder the effective navigation of the promotion and tenure divide. In particular, participants in this study expressed the need for the development of an internal institutional support system that is more skilled and self-reflective in recognizing its own behavior and attitudes as impediments to promotion and tenure. As such, it reflects the convergence of the models proposed by Louque and Quezada (2002), Jackson and Flowers (in press), and Moody (2000).

Louque and Quezada (2002) have proposed that education programs become more sophisticated and perceptive in recognizing their own incapacitating behavior in forestalling the professional growth and development of a more diverse faculty and providing systemic, multicultural programs. Their construct, which extends the Cultural Proficiency Model, stems from a “physician heal thyself” approach and provides individuals and institutions with a framework for systemic change.

Similarly, Jackson and Flowers (in press) have developed a framework to build “a gestalt for success for faculty of color.” Derived from the insights of posttenure and promotion faculty of color into departmental practices and politics, Jackson and Flowers have proposed eight isolated praxes that, when integrated, can better facilitate the success of faculty of color in navigating the promotion and tenure process. These praxes include

Praxis 1—To polish and refine the faculty recruitment process.

Praxis 2—To provide a clearly written document detailing the promotion and tenure process.

Praxis 3—To provide a promotion and mentoring committee.

Praxis 4—To promote collegiality among all members in the department.

Praxis 5—To guard faculty members’ time from frivolous service opportunities.

Praxis 6—To provide assistance to junior faculty regarding stress management.

Praxis 7—To encourage the development and implementation of a structured research schedule.

Praxis 8—To provide the appropriate level of financial support and resources.

The sentiments of Louque and Quezada (2002) and Jackson and Flowers (in press) also mirror the findings and recommendations of Moody (2000). Moody assured that the following six steps would demystify the tenure process and make it fairer:

(1) Senior faculty and department chairs must announce their clear, unambiguous criteria for earning tenure.

(2) Stop the tenure clock and do not penalize faculty whose family concerns prompt them to request a timeout.

(3) Ensure that junior faculty (especially nonmajority professors) receive instrumental mentoring, inside information, and an equitable share of research and travel stipends, lab space, release time, and the like.

(4) Match the criteria for tenure to the mission of the institution.

(5) Break away from a narrow view of what constitutes scholarship by including the integration and application of knowledge, and the scholarship of teaching.

(6) Provide workshops for senior faculty and department chairs to improve their interpersonal communication skills and to help them recognize gender and racial schema that undervalue nonmajority professors.

Although the above models, praxes, and recommendations are helpful to junior faculty as they navigate the promotion and tenure process, higher education institutions and their administrators should consider other external factors. Institutional leaders should keep in mind that faculty members of color have different personal histories, cultural values, and priorities that are often linked to the needs of the community (Gregory, 1998). In addition, faculty of color are looking for opportunities not only to advance their own careers with possibilities of growth and leadership but also to be a part of an institution that is strongly committed to the advancement and support of minority students in particular, and the overall minority community in general (Gregory). The findings of this study, like the findings of Jackson and Rosas (1999), suggest that institutional and departmental interventions can be effective strategies to navigate the promotion and tenure process and foster scholars of color.


There are shortcomings associated with this study. In particular, its limited focus—African American male junior faculty—and lack of generalizability. Nonetheless, by examining the findings from this study and previous studies, it is clear that African American males and other faculty of color have experienced a degree of exclusion from their respective campus communities. This finding implies the need for effective (academic) community building—the renewal from within the institution that enhances the sense of ownership, belonging, long-term stability, and sustainability of all of its members (Berman & Bonczek, 1998)—to transcend the institutional, cultural, associational, and social exchange obstacles that these junior faculty face. The findings from this study and previous research that unearthed the often marginalized existence of faculty of color (De La Luz Reyes & Halcon, 1988) highlight the need for (academic) community building to better facilitate the success of African American male junior faculty in particular, and faculty of color in general.

These findings also speak to the need for additional research and subsequent action to address these issues. In particular, more longitudinal quantitative and qualitative exploration is needed to better understand the depth and breadth of this phenomenon (e.g., research that explores the sense of community that exists on college and university campuses). Continued comparative exploration is also needed. Are the issues facing African American junior male faculty similar to those facing African American female junior faculty, given the higher percentage of African American females in academe, Hispanic junior male faculty, or female faculty in general? Do the experiences of African American male junior faculty at Research I and II or Research Extensive/Intensive institutions differ from those at Research II or Research Intensive institutions? Do the experiences of African American junior male faculty differ from those at Master’s Colleges and Universities I or II institutions? These research undertakings, however, should not encumber continued affirmative action taken by colleges and universities.


Hagedorn and Laden (2000) have noted that the presence of faculty of color in the academy is bittersweet and may be likened to the Greek god Janus with two faces. The first face depicts faculty of color as satisfied with many aspects of work and as planning to remain in academe, whereas the second face of Janus indicates that all is not well in academe. This study seems to partially diverge from the findings of Hagedorn and Laden by reflecting more of the second face of Janus, with a more bitter, rather than sweet, aftertaste.

The findings from this study speak to two general challenges—one institutional, the other individual. First, institutions must embrace the contributions that faculty of color can make and must do so in a way that brings about more affirming visible and tangible results. Second, African American male junior faculty in particular must transcend the present-day anatomy of racial inequality (Loury, 2002) and effectively manage the socially constructed stigma or spoiled identity (Goffman, 1963) that they undeservedly carry on their respective campuses. To effectively address both challenges, the institution and the stigmatized individuals must work in concert and realize the benefits of a symbiotic relationship.

In closing, this study explored the perceptions of African American junior faculty on promotion and tenure. Thematic perspectives and a resulting profile emerged of the individuals who participated in this study and their institutions. By integrating the concepts of stigma, social capital, and community building—concepts traditionally found within the disciplines of political science, sociology, and community and social psychology—with the findings of this study and previous research on faculty of color, one general conclusion is obvious and noteworthy: Beyond the political and financial capital needed to build, support, and maintain institutions of higher education, social (campus) capital is also needed to further its development and the development of all its members. However, the perspectives expressed by participants in this study, coupled with the recommendations of Moody (2000), Louque and Quezada (2002), Jackson and Flowers (in press), and others, advocate an approach more centered on (academic) community building in which renewal from within must take place to better foster the sense of ownership and belonging that is currently missing. Even so, more research is needed to ascertain if colleges and universities can be effective as mediating structures to facilitate the needed social (campus) capital to bring about gemeinschaft campus communities and address those promotion and tenure obstacles facing African American male junior faculty and other faculty of color.


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i During the piloting stage of this interviewing protocol, the old Carnegie classifications were preferred over the new classification system because piloting participants were more familiar with the old system.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 2, 2006, p. 287-315
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12311, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 4:23:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Brian Williams
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    BRIAN N. WILLIAMS is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at The University of Georgia. His primary areas of research explore the relationships between bureaucratic units and communities, in general, and community policing efforts within communities of color, in particular. Related areas of research include the impact of racial profiling on the co-production of public safety and public order, and community oriented governance and the personal and professional journeys of African American Law Enforcement Executives. He is the author of Citizen Perspectives on Community Policing: A Case Study in Athens, Georgia (State University of New York Press, 1998), among other research articles, book chapters, and governmental reports.
  • Sheneka Williams
    Vanderbilt University
    SHENEKA M. WILLIAMS is a doctoral student in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Her broad research interests include the social context of education—the connection among schools, families, and communities—and rural education. Currently she is writing her dissertation which is tentatively titled, Let’s Be Friends: Adolescent Perceptions of Cross-Racial Friendships in Racially-Mixed Schools. Ms. Williams is a nominee for the David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in Educational Administration and Policy. She intends to pursue an academic career upon graduation.
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