Abiding Impediments: A Call for Additional Research
by Cedric Bass - June 04, 2012
This research discusses the necessity for more research that seeks to improve African American faculty retention in institutions of higher education, especially at predominantly White institutions of higher education (PWIs). As such, until more research studies are done about African American faculty at PWIs, these institutions will likely continue to employ few African American faculty members because the limited number of studies specifically addressing African American faculty members makes it difficult to assess the factors that engender their retention.
The underrepresentation of minority faculty in institutions of higher education has received considerable attention in the research literature. Researchers have identified barriers, described discriminatory practices, and indicated that chilly climates await minority faculty at many institutions of higher education (Aguirre, 2000; Alexander-Snow & Johnson, 1999; Thompson & Louque, 2005; Turner, 2003; Turner & Myers, 2000; Weems, 2003). Other researchers have focused their attention on the recruiting strategies and retention practices used to attract minority faculty members (Sadao, 2003; Stanley, 2006; Trower & Chait, 2002; Turner & Myers, 2000). Although researchers present some of the obstacles uniquely faced by minority faculty, there is a need for additional research, for example, that describes various obstacles to faculty retention disaggregated by race (Thompson & Louque, 2005; Weems, 2003). Specifically, there is a necessity in general for more research that seeks to improve African American faculty retention in institutions of higher education.
Previous research tends to examine minority faculty collectively (Stanley, 2006; Weems, 2003). That research does not treat African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanics as distinct minority groups. Although researchers have addressed predominant themes, such as mentoring, collegiality, identity, racism, and service relative to minority faculty (Alex-Assensoh, 2003; Stanley, 2006; Watson, 2004), few have examined disparities in self-perceptions and coping mechanisms among these different and identifiably distinct groups of minority faculty. Such differences could account for the varying retention percentages among minority faculty in institutions of higher education (Weems, 2003).
Although retention strategies reported by minority faculty collectively include workshops, creating ethnic social groups, and pairing with senior faculty (Turner & Myers, 2000), more needs to be known about how distinct minority groups have been retained in institutions of higher education. Limited numbers and comparatively small percentages of minority faculty constitute a major limitation in the study of such experiences (Stanley, 2006). Scrutiny of this gap in the research literature dictates the need for research investigating minority faculty by racial group because issues of racial identity are integral to a consideration of retention in higher education (Caldwell & Stewart, 2001).
When minority faculty members are disaggregated by race, African American faculty members are one of the most underrepresented minority groups in institutions of higher education. There are disproportionately low numbers of African American faculty members employed in institutions of higher education (Aguirre, 2000; Alexander-Snow & Johnson, 1999; Sadao, 2003; Trower & Chait, 2002; Turner, 2003; Turner & Myers, 2000). Data from the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty indicate that African American faculty members constituted approximately 5% of the faculty at institutions of higher education (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). According to Branch (2001), There are significantly fewer numbers of African Americans, as compared to their white counterparts, serving as faculty members in the nations universities (p. 180). Turner and Myers (2001) posited that overwhelmingly, administrators believe that the reason for the under representation of African American faculty is that there are an insufficient number of qualified Blacks (p. 74). However, there is consensus that the problem abides in part because predominantly White institutions (PWIs) of higher education experience difficulty in retaining African American faculty members (Branch, 2001; Weems, 2003).
It is important to address the issue of African American faculty retention for several reasons. One reason relates to diversity. The American Council on Education (2000) reported, Diversity in student bodies, faculty and staff is essential to fulfill the primary mission of institutions of higher education, providing a high-quality education. Another compelling reason is the implications of low numbers of African American faculty for increasing numbers of African American students in institutions of higher education. Because there is a tendency at PWIs toward same-race selection for mentors of students, the increased number of African American students at PWIs will find themselves without mentors to whom they can relate. Research suggests that, more often than not, individuals tend to link up with mentors whose personal and racial affiliations are similar to their own (Willie, 2000). According to Jones (2004), African American faculty members who have spent time at PWIs have experiences similar to those of African American students. The ease with which African American students adjust to environments at PWIs is determined by the extent to which African American faculty members provide support for these students (Malone & Malone, 2000). Conversely, lacking a mentor and being white is a very different experience from lacking a mentor and being black (Bonner, 2003, p. 1).
The underrepresentation of African American faculty has often not been informed by the factors that African American faculty members report as relevant in becoming and remaining faculty members at PWIs. Instead, researchers focus on the reasons that African American faculty leave institutions of higher education. These reasons are what this researcher considers impediments to the retention of African American faculty.
IMPEDIMENTS TO RETENTION
The literature offers few specifics about the retention of African American faculty members at PWIs. The dearth of available literature about African American faculty retention at PWIs centers on discriminatory practices and/or reasons that African American faculty members leave institutions of higher education. In the period 19962006, the literature offers limited insight about African American faculty retention, and almost no attention is given to explaining why African Americans remain at PWIs.
The literature suggests that African American faculty member marginalization exists at most PWIs. Johnson (1997), for example, conducted a study to obtain African American perceptions about why retention efforts of African American faculty at some White colleges in Minnesota failed; it was noted that the cultural difference presented by African American faculty was not welcomed. Attempts to increase faculty diversity are often met with resistance at institutions of higher education, especially at PWIs. According to Aguirre (2000), instead of being a medium for institutional change, faculty diversity initiatives at PWIs often become a topic pregnant with controversy and debate. In addition, some White faculty members at PWIs consider African American faculty members as less qualified and unable to make significant contributions to the institution (Turner & Myers, 2001). In addition, Aguirre (2000) contended that White faculty members hold the view that the hiring of African American faculty members is based on their race rather than qualifications. The underlying implication is that the research and opinions of African American faculty members will not be valued by their White colleagues. More often than not, African American faculty members who are marginalized, disrespected, and not included in the influence or power feel compelled to leaveboth PWIs and higher education.
Because respect and support are important to African American faculty members, it is important to know to what degree these are demonstrated on PWIs campuses. Turner and Myers (2000) examined the experiences of faculty of color employed in PWIs and documented seven identifiable impediments to retention: chilly climate, denial of tenure, longer work hours than Whites, emphasis on ethnicity, tokenism, lack of support, and expectations that they will address minority affairs. At best, African American faculty members were being treated as visitors who were not valued by other-race faculty at PWIs. These visitors were often expected to divorce their own ways of thinking and assimilate to the norms of the majority culture. The devaluing of African American faculty members at PWIs was aggravated further in the promotion and tenure process. According to Branch (2001), disparity in promotion and the decline in the number of African American graduate students are major impediments to African American faculty retention. These impediments not only continue to deter retention but also limit the number of African American faculty members who desire to work at PWIs.
The persistence of underrepresentation, however, may be due to African American facultys perception that their retention is a problem at PWIs (Thompson & Louque, 2005). Studying relevant factors that African American faculty members perceive as having an impact on their retention could help address the African American faculty underrepresentation in academia in general and in PWIs of higher education. Regardless, until more research is done relative to African American faculty retention, their underrepresentation in institutions of higher education will likely persist.
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