Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

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 nation’s 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.


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 1996–2006, 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 leave—both 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 faculty’s 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.


Aguirre, A., Jr. (2000). Women and minority faculty in the academic workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Alex-Assensoh, Y. (2003). Race in the academy: Moving beyond diversity and toward the incorporation of faculty of color in predominantly White colleges and universities. Journal of Black Studies, 34(1), 5–11.

Alexander-Snow, M., & Johnson, B. J. (1999). Perspectives from faculty of color. In R. J.  Menges and Associates (Eds.), Faculty in new jobs (pp. 88–117). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

American Council on Education. (2000, June 15) Making the case for affirmative action in higher education. Acenet. Retrieved from http:www.acenet.edu

Bonner, F. (2003). The temple of my unfamiliar: Faculty of color at predominantly White institutions. Black Issues in Higher Education, 20(18), 1.

Branch, A. (2001). How to retain African American faculty during times of challenge for higher education. In L. Jones (Ed.), Retaining African Americans in higher education: Challenging paradigms for retaining African American students, faculty and administrators (pp. 175–205). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Caldwell, L., & Stewart, J. (2001). Rethinking W. E. B. Du Bois’ double consciousness: Implications for retention and self-preservation in the academy. In L. Jones (Ed.), Retaining African Americans in higher education: Challenging paradigms for retaining African American students, faculty and administrators (pp. 225–234). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Johnson, W. (1997). Minority faculty: Are we welcome on campus? Thought and Action, 12(2), 113–124.

Jones, J. (2004). Succeeding by any means necessary. Black Issues in Higher Education, 21(12), 102.

Malone, R., & Malone, J. (2000). African American faculty as part of the problem or part of the solution in the retention of African American students on White college campuses. Paper presented at the annual national conference of the National Association of African American Studies and the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies, Houston, TX.

Sadao, K. (2003). Living in two worlds: Success and the bicultural faculty of color. Review of Higher Education, 26(4), 397–418.

Stanley, C. (2006). Coloring the academic landscape: Faculty of color breaking the silence in predominantly White colleges and universities. American Educational Research, 43(4), 701–737.

Thompson, G., & Louque, A. (2005). Exposing the culture of arrogance in the academy: A blueprint for increasing Black faculty satisfaction in higher education. Herndon, VA: Stylus.

Trower, C. A., & Chait, R. (2002). Faculty diversity: Too little for too long. Harvard Magazine, 104(4), 33–37.

Turner, C. (2003). Incorporation and marginalization in the academy: From border toward center for faculty of color in academe. Journal of Black Studies, 34, 112–125.

Turner, C., & Myers, S. (2000). Faculty of color in academe: Bittersweet success. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Turner, C., & Myers, S. (2001). Affirmative action retrenchment and labor market outcomes for African American faculty. In B. Lindsay & M. Justiz (Eds.), The quest for equity in higher education (pp. 63–98). New York: State University of New York Press.

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Digest of education statistics, 2002. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Watson, L. (2004). Voice of senior African American faculty: Understanding the purpose and the pursuit of excellence through teaching, research, and service. In D. Cleveland (Ed.), A long way to go: Conversations about race by African American faculty and graduate students (pp. 191–200) New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Weems, R. (2003). The incorporation of Black faculty at predominantly White institutions: A historical perspective. Journal of Black Studies, 34(1), 101–111.

Willie, C. (2000). Confidence, trust and respect: The preeminent goals of educational reform. Journal of Negro Education, 69(4), 255–263.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 04, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16788, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 5:46:08 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Cedric Bass
    Winston-Salem State University
    E-mail Author
    CEDRIC BASS is an assistant professor of English and English education at Winston-Salem State University, where he also serves as the English Education Program Coordinator in the School of Education and Human Performance. Dr. Bass earned his Ph.D. from The American University and his MA from Howard University. He is most recognized for the creation of his presentations about and his publication of “Scotch-U-Lary: A Low Tech Vocabulary Game,” which is designed to expand the vocabulary of students who otherwise lack successful tools for learning new terminology. Dr. Bass has also written and published book chapters relative to children’s literature and methods and strategies for teaching English in the secondary classroom setting.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue