Faculty's Diversity Lags Behind Student Body's
By by DYANNAH BYINGTON, Contributing Writer
This year's freshman class is Amherst's most diverse class ever; diversity among the faculty, however, has not reached nearly the same level.

"We have a serious problem that we need to face up to as a faculty and as an institution," said Professor of English Barry O'Connell.

In the last five years, the College has tenured 22 new faculty members. Of those, 19 identify themselves as white, two as black, one as Hispanic and none as Asian. Of the College's 153 tenured and tenure-track faculty members, eight are black, six are Asian, and four are Hispanic, according to the dean of the faculty's office.

The College currently has only one tenured East Asian faculty member, Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations Wako Tawa.

"I think we still find that we haven't made as much progress as we want to," said President Tom Gerety. "We've had difficulty balancing departmental effort with overall college need."

While efforts to enhance gender diversity have been very successful, creating and maintaining an ethnically diverse faculty has been difficult. In the last few years, the College has lost a number of minority faculty members, while it has hired relatively few for tenure-track positions.

"Although I haven't checked the numbers lately, I feel as if the College has experienced a net loss of minority faculty over the last five years," said Professor of English Rhonda Cobham-Sander, who is a member of the Committee of Six.

"Does Amherst need to do more to recruit faculty of color? Absolutely," said former Assistant Professor of English E. Patrick Johnson, who left Amherst for Northwestern University after his leave of absence in the 1998-1999 school year. "While the student body is quite diverse, that diversity is not reflected in the faculty. It should be far more aggressive in that area."

"In coming years, the school's efforts to diversify faculty will directly affect the school's ability to retain its strength as a leading academic institution," added Cobham-Sander.

Retaining Minority Professors

There are both external and internal obstacles that prevent the College from creating and maintaining a diverse faculty.

Amherst competes with other colleges and universities for the best academics; a natural side-effect of this is that other schools often "steal" from the College's faculty, particularly the faculty of color.

"Amherst is a very good spot for people from all backgrounds, but there is not a longstanding Latino or African-American community of any size in the immediate area," said Gerety.

"We should never become an institution where people stay only because they have no other choices," said Cobham-Sander.

Minority faculty also experience difficulties within the College that could influence a decision to leave.

"We need to maintain an institutional culture that will make Amherst a place where minority faculty feel comfortable and supported once they get here," added Cobham-Sander, who said that she knew of other minority faculty members who left in recent years after feeling unsupported by the school. She added, however, that she had always felt supported by the College.

Minority faculty can be lost in short periods of time due to uncontrollable circumstances, including recruitment by larger universities. Williams College, for example, has comparably low levels of minority faculty.

As a result, the College may have to increase minority recruitment to an even greater degree in order to compensate.

Though many minority faculty members are lured away by other institutions, the College has also failed to retain faculty members by not granting them tenure. The school has had particular difficulty in maintaining Asian and Asian-American faculty.

"We've had an unfortunate set of circumstances where a number of Asian professors have left," said Dean of the Faculty Lisa Raskin. "I don't think there's a pattern, but I think we need to make an effort in that area. I agree that we need to make a strong effort in diversity."

"We have not done well on that; they mostly have not stayed," added President Tom Gerety.

"We've had some real losses so that's a part of the challenge too," said Affirmative Action Officer Hermenia Gardner.

In addition, at least three Asians have left the College within the last few years, including former Assistant Professor of Economics Xiaonian Xi, who resigned after the 1997-1998 academic year, and former Assistant Professor of Physics Jian Ma, who left after being denied tenure last year. Former Assistant Professor of Sociology Jan Lin went to Occidental University after he failed to receive reappointment.

The College also denied tenure to Senior Lecturer in Asian Languages and Civilizations Lan Hua in 1998, though he has stayed on at the College.

Several professors pointed out that minority faculty are disproportionately expected to fulfill expanded mentoring roles and to play a more active role in issues of diversity on campus.

What Administrators Can Do

Though individual departments have the responsibility for recruiting new faculty candidates and the initial interview processes, the dean of the faculty's office ultimately selects which departments may fill new positions, either approving or denying the recommendations of the Committee on Educational Policy. In addition, either Gerety or Raskin meets with all potential new faculty hires. As a result, administrators can have substantial influence in the development of a diverse faculty.

"The administration must make strong and steady signals to the faculty that this is, in every faculty search, an urgent institutional imperative," said O'Connell, who is a member of the Committee on Educational Policy. "They have not been steady."

Once a department is granted permission for a new faculty spot, members of a departmental search committee proceed by accepting applications for the position and scouting out possible candidates at conferences. Department committees narrow down the candidates to a semi-final candidate pool of approximately 15 to 20 Ph.D.s.

"Our expectation is that their pool will represent whatever the diversity is of the pool of candidates in the field," said Raskin. "If for some reason their pool is skewed, they have to let me know."

"The key to all of this is getting a diverse pool," said Gardner. "What we're looking for is rich pools."

"This requires leadership and substantial support from the administration," said O'Connell.

"We watch searches very carefully," added Raskin. "I've asked chairs to tell me what their pool looks like before they begin."

Cobham-Sander said that a diverse faculty was a necessity for a good education. "An institution in which Asian faculty teach Asian students about Asian literature and black faculty teach black students about black culture and white students go to classes taught by white professors about dead white males is not diverse," she said.

Going Forward

Most administrators and faculty agreed that the College needs to take additional measures in increasing the diversity of the faculty.

"We need to go further," said Gerety.

"There should be no faculty searches going on without the most careful assistance on the part of the administration in all aspects of affirmative action," added O'Connell.

Gardner emphasized that much of the responsibility for attracting a diverse pool of applicants lies with the individual departments. "The bottom line is that the challenge is for the faculty to do broad outreach," she said.

Raskin suggested that current faculty should make more of an effort to survey the conferences that they attend and maintain awareness of the networks and associations of minority scholars that exist within their field.

"In order to get the pool properly represented, you have to do some networking," said Raskin. "You have to identify people, call people, put ads in the right places."

"This kind of diligence should be part of the way in which we approach searches in all fields and not just the ones related to those disciplines with a specific interest in race or ethnicity," added Cobham-Sander.

Gardner recommended that allowing additional time for the appointment of new faculty members would give the department time to become familiar with the qualified minority candidates.

"In some instances, the dean of the faculty has encouraged departments to really take their time in the search," added Gardner. "If the pool is not diverse, some schools give the search another year."

Gerety said that the College is considering ways to help departments hire qualified minority professors when they find them.

"One barrier is that Amherst tradition is strict allocation of FTE [full-time equivalent] spots by year and there are also legal concerns," said Gerety.

Issue 03, Submitted 2000-09-20 19:29:06