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Doing Diversity in Higher Education: Faculty Leaders Share Challenges and Strategies


reviewed by Frances A. Maher - March 24, 2009

coverTitle: Doing Diversity in Higher Education: Faculty Leaders Share Challenges and Strategies
Author(s): Winnifred R. Brown-Glaude (Ed.)
Publisher: Rutgers University Press, Piscataway
ISBN: 0813544475, Pages: 297, Year: 2009
Search for book at Amazon.com


In the introduction to Doing Diversity in Higher Education, the editor states that, “This book shares the stories of faculty leaders who are committed to diversity and educational excellence. It describes how they conceptualize the complex challenges of diversity on their campuses and develop various strategies for change” (p. 7). Brown-Glaude further observes that:


Barriers related to race and gender equality are embedded in institutions’ organizational structures and practices. Consequently, systemic change has been difficult to achieve, as evidenced by lagging rates of people of color and women who acquire advanced degrees and hold senior faculty posts or academic leadership positions. (p. 8)


This interesting and useful book is about both the challenges of diversity and the institutional barriers to change, explored in a collection of articles written by faculty leaders for a Ford Foundation sponsored research study, “Reaffirming Action,” of diversity initiatives in higher education. The articles describe campus efforts over a range of time periods to variously increase the levels and impact of gender, racial and ethnic diversity in curriculum offerings, programmatic structures, and faculty and staff representation in twelve universities nationwide. The articles are divided into four thematic areas: diversity as intellectual leadership, dismantling or challenging hostile climates, the challenges of incomplete institutionalization, and, finally, administration-faculty collaborations for diversity.  


While each of these themes treats an important topic, I found myself reading each chapter rather differently than they would imply. Encountering a full kaleidoscope of programs, initiatives, policies, and individual and collective commitments over many years, I found the book most valuable as a series of case studies in which the type of institution and the specific nature of the diversity project undertaken in it are the most important variables. For example, Smith College and Spelman College are the only two liberal arts colleges represented here – their diversity work differs from that in the large universities represented by the other chapters. UC-Davis advocates went to the state legislature for help in faculty hiring, not a relevant course of action for private colleges, and Columbia faculty were the beneficiaries of $15 million in 2005 for their diversity initiatives, a sum not on offer in any of the other settings.  


My own recent work with Mary Kay Tetreault examined faculty diversification efforts in three selected universities over a period of 40 years. (Maher & Tetreault, 2007). We came to recognize that while the issues of specific curricular and programmatic changes, as compared to changes in the actual composition of the faculty, are related, they are very different. Thus by far the most useful way to think about diversity initiatives, and about the articles here, is in terms of their focus – are they about specific curricular offerings and programs, or are they about policies and practices around hiring, and retention, for diversifying the faculty in an institution more broadly?


About half the chapters in the book describe specific programs organized around the intellectual and cultural promise of a diversity agenda. At the University of Maryland, for example, three separate “entities,” the African American Studies Department, the Curriculum Transformation Project, and the Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity, have teamed up to support faculty development initiatives, interdisciplinary research interest groups, and other means of connecting interested faculty across departmental lines. Along the same lines, the chapter on the University of Missouri focuses on the Women’s Studies Program, a “Theater of the Oppressed” program to engage faculty with issues of classroom diversity, and the Unity program, whose agenda is to “provide a space on campus where minority faculty members can be mentored and supported, where their intellectual perspectives can be supported and nurtured” (p. 73) and other similar goals.


In a related example, as well as its Comparative Women’s Studies Program and others, Spelman College has a nationally known African Diaspora and the World (ADW) two-semester required course “which is a defining experience for Spelman students.” The chapter on Spelman, indeed, reminds readers that,


looking at diversity in minority settings offers a useful lens [to see how] the expectation of conformity to race, class, gender and sexual orientation standards at black institutions not only suppresses difference but also creates structures of authority and silence that can stifle the rigor and excellence associated with diversity. (p. 56)


The other type of article in the book deals with diversity issues in faculty hiring across an institution. Thus the chapter on Smith College describes in minute, fascinating and extremely accurate detail the barriers to the hiring and retention of women and people of color within departments, the location where hiring ultimately takes place and where the real power for institutional change lies. Bullying, ignoring of new colleagues, and the lack of mentorship means that newcomers, even if hired, do not stay; conversely, explicit support systems are key to both the hiring and retention of people with new voices and perspectives. The University of Arizona chapter outlines a complex research initiative to identify colleges and departments with successful and unsuccessful diversification efforts. And Columbia, although blessed with the aforementioned $15 million grant, is a model of a systemic, purposeful institutional transformation undertaken in 2005 from the very top of the institution.  As a result of the appointment of a vice-provost dedicated to diversifying the university’s faculty and administration  “Underrepresented minorities made up 11 percent of the faculty hired in 2005 and 26.5 percent in 2006” (p. 257).


This review cannot possibly do justice to the complexities and layers of issues encountered and explicated by the very sophisticated authors of all these chapters. Each institution described is very different, and I found that while each approach has been carefully tailored to fit that institution, nevertheless the careful and inquisitive reader will find many ideas and examples of use for their own context.  


Nevertheless, my own research in three very different universities, bolstered by earlier research in six other institutions of higher education, leads me to one final editorial statement on the overall lesson of this book. In any economic period, and especially in our own, the road to fully realized diversity in higher education does not lie in the underfunded, necessarily marginalized, programs and activities created for and by a persisting small minority of faculty members who are women or people of color. Every single chapter here about such programs laments their lack of funding and their marginal status as illustrated by the following excerpts:  (1) “The university should acknowledge and credit all those involved in collaborative activities” (p. 36); (2)  “[The initatives] all involved faculty time and effort that was outside their institution-defined work loads” (p. 75); and “Preoccupied with the demands of fund-raising and sorely lacking in institutional support, the IWL (Institute for Women’s Leadership, Rutgers-New Brunswick) … continues to operate under severe constraints” (p. 164).  


I find it an open question to what extent these initiatives have a positive effect on the institution as a whole, and/or whether they “carry” diversity for the institution and allow the norms of the wider institutional culture to continue to be defined in traditional ways. However, unless faculties are systematically diversified from the center outwards, department by department, school by school, with leadership from the top and commitments in every unit, a shrinking university, in offloading its less central staff and programs, is simply going to go backwards in terms of its diversity commitments. Therefore, ultimately, I particularly recommend the chapters on Smith and Columbia to all readers. Approaches like theirs, focusing on faculty hiring and retention above all, are the only approaches sustainable over the long haul.  


References


Maher, F.A., & Tetreault, M.K. (2007). Privilege and diversity in the academy. New York: Routledge.


Maher, F.A., & Tetreault, M.K. (2001). The feminist classroom: Dynamics of gender, race and privilege (expanded ed.).. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.  





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 24, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15597, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 3:11:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Frances Maher
    Wheaton College
    E-mail Author
    FRANCES A. MAHER is the author of numerous works on various aspects of gender, diversity and higher education. She is co-author, with Mary Kay Tetreault, of The Feminist Classroom (1994, second edition 2001); and, most recently, Privilege and Diversity in the Academy, 2007.
 
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