Diversity in University Administration – Myth or Reality?

[Note: I am posting this anonymously for someone who knows these issues very well from the inside.]

Frequently on college campuses you will hear people say that there are too many administrators and their pay is too high. Few understand the fragile and precarious working conditions of administrators. Unlike faculty whose careers promote individualistic accomplishments solidified through tenure, university administrators typically serve without employment protection or tenure to support the success of the whole institution.

Diverse administrators are only beginning to break the glass ceiling in the 277 American research universities. Only a decade ago, no Hispanic female administrators had been appointed, and between 1997 and 2007 this number increased 207 percent to 2665 a decade later. Over 80 percent of the incumbents in administrative roles are white, with white non-Hispanic women now outnumbering their male counterparts in 41% of these positions.

Yet women and minorities tend to be clustered in lower ranking administrative positions. For example, a revealing study by the American Council of Education in 2007 indicates that only 10 percent of chief academic officers are minorities, and women represent only 23 percent of incumbents in senior academic roles, the typical pathway to the presidency (See pdf here).

These statistics still indicate that leadership and decision-making in the research university mirror the racial stratification of our society. As social theorist Joe Feagin points out in The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing (2010), “we still live in a very hierarchical society in racial, class, and gender terms, one where white men continue to make the lion’s share of major decisions about our economic development, laws, and major public policies” (p. 193).9780415994392

Going beyond the numbers, however, new research on micro-inequities, micro-invalidations, and micro-aggressions illuminates how forms of everyday discrimination can still isolate, marginalize and exclude diverse individuals in the workplace. Take Stephen Young’s ground-breaking book on Micro-messaging. Micromessages are small, cumulative behaviors with monumental impact. These micro-inequities can take place through facial expressions, hand gestures, choice of words, eye contact, and tone of voice and reveal what is behind the masks that connect myths of incompetence with race, gender, and other factors. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University describes the cumulative impact of micro-aggressions, micro-invalidation, and micro-assaults that create unfair disparities between minority and majority individuals.

In the effort to develop new leadership models within the university that emphasize empowerment, collaboration, and equity, women, minority and LGBT administrators have an important role to play in the change process. Through collective action and mutual support, they can lead institutional efforts to create systemic organizational learning initiatives, institutional policies and processes that help overcome subtle forms of discrimination and foster inclusive excellence.