Wash. U. doesn’t care about minority faculty

Matthew Wallace | Staff Writer

Guess what? It’s still Black History Month, and I’m still writing. In addition to its subpar relationship with its minority students, Washington University has issues with its minority faculty—the main argument being that they represent only 10 percent of the tenured or tenure-track faculty on the Danforth Campus and six percent of the School of Medicine’s full-time faculty. Unlike students, faculty have traversed the difficulties of undergrad and graduate school as underrepresented minorities, achieved the highest degree in their field and actually wish to pursue a career in academia instead of taking their immense talents and skills and pursuing a potentially more lucrative option. Like many universities, Wash. U.’s administration gives weak, invalid excuses when asked about the absence of a reasonable number of minority faculty, which is perfectly in line with what I think are their true feelings and motivations about diversity as it relates to the future of this university.

The reason we don’t have more faculty of color among college faculty is that we don’t want them. We simply don’t want them.”

This is a quote from Marybeth Gasman, University of Pennsylvania professor and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Her bluntness can be attributed to the fact that she is tenured, so she can say whatever she wants without fear of losing her job (like a certain physics professor here, but to a different effect). She lists five primary reasons university administrations give for not having more minority faculty and how they are excuses. If you have asked any administrative official at Wash. U. a question about faculty diversity, you would undoubtedly come across these same reasons. Reasons like the “quality” of institution isn’t high enough, or there aren’t enough in the “pipeline,” they aren’t the right “fit,” or—my personal favorite—“we don’t know how to attract faculty of color.”

No s—, Sherlock.

These excuses reek of what Wash. U. is known for: elitism, reactionary decision making, avoiding responsibility and a fear of giving a non-white, non-male any position of decision-making power. Wash. U. is so afraid of change that the chancellor, current provost and previous provost are all white male chemists. Of the three other executive vice chancellors, all old white males, the one with the least amount of time at Wash. U. has been here for 10 years, and one has been with the University since the 1960s. I thought college was supposed to be about getting outside of your comfort zone and expanding your worldview—but apparently, that doesn’t apply once you get a big enough title.

The number of underrepresented minority faculty has not significantly changed in the last 10 years. In 2007, 3.5 percent of the faculty in the Danforth Campus identified as an underrepresented minority, compared to 6 percent in 2017. That may seem impressive, until you find out where that change happened. More than half of these new hires went to the College of Arts & Sciences, while the Brown School was the only other school the Danforth Campus to have more than 10 total minority faculty. The School of Engineering is especially bad, as there are only two departments where you are guaranteed to have a minority professor at least once in your four years, and as of now, that stands at one class. Think of it this way: It would take a combined 20 years to get a degree in each engineering department, and you would only have two classes taught by a minority professor.

This glacial pace is nothing new. Brown v. Board of Education is what the average American thinks was the turning point in ending school segregation, but it specified they do it “with all deliberate speed,” code for “take as long as you want.” And we all know racists in 1954 (some of whom are still alive today) were just waiting to open up their arms to the melanin-abundant population. Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 finally forced schools to integrate or face real punishment. Wash. U. taking its sweet time in making a diverse educational environment is nothing new, but it is racist.

Yes, I am calling the University racist, but I am not calling any individual racist. I am calling the institution and its actions as a whole racist. There is a difference between institutional and individual racism, and the higher education system in America is as racist as you can get.

You know what else attracts minority faculty? A student population to which they can relate. No matter how many degrees they have or awards they win, professors are still human. They feel the isolation and pressure to be the representative of their community just like students at Wash. U., so why should they be ignored? Having taught for a year in Chicago, I have personally seen how much more interested and hungry for learning students are when their teacher looks like them. It brings a sense of calm and demonstrates that there are avenues to success for people of color that do not involve a ball or a microphone. From the teaching perspective, you feel more engaged and motivated because you see yourself in your students, and you want to do all you can to help them thrive in a system constantly fighting against their success. And the Wash. U. community is in critical need of student diversity in order to attract more faculty diversity.

Why am I writing about faculty? Is it because 96 percent of black tenured faculty are at three percent of universities? Or is it the fact that I am tired of having to actively search for professors to prove to myself that the school I call home actually values people of color beyond keeping its name out of the national media? Or maybe, I’ve kept my own promise to speak out against injustices I see in the world, just like so many others did Nov. 9, 2016.

No matter what you may think about it, Wash. U. lags behind other elite institutions in student and faculty diversity. Having more varied backgrounds contributing to the growth of a university is only beneficial. For the longest time, I did not know why Wash. U. wasn’t on par with everyone else. Now, I know it is because it just don’t care.