“Doing Diversity” in Higher Education: Practical Challenges

Recent student demonstrations protesting lingering and persistent racism on college campuses have called attention to the fact that diversity progress in higher education remains at incipient stages. Student voices have called for structural changes such as the hiring of more diverse faculty, inclusive leadership, the creation of chief diversity officer positions and greater diversity in the student body, as well as a more welcoming climate for minoritized students. In essence, the call for change requires systemic attention and integration of all the components of a campus ecosystem rather than through short-term, cosmetic adjustments to individual departments, courses, or programs.

Surprisingly in a review of diversity strategic action plans conducted for Are the Walls Really Down? (2007), the chief diversity officers that my co-author, Alvin Evans and I, contacted told us that the plans developed at their campuses and that were showcased prominently on their campuses websites had not really been actualized. Similarly, in interviews for Diverse Administrators in Peril (2012), chief diversity officers and affirmative action officers expressed frustration regarding their roles and real uncertainty about the degree to which their work was supported by their institutions.

Recent college graduates we interviewed for a forthcoming study, Rethinking Cultural Competence in Higher Education, reported the same gap between the institution’s stated diversity mission and the curricular and co-curricular experiences they had on campus. Most of their experiences related to diversity learning outcomes were accidental and the students had to seek such experiences out themselves. And adding to this composite picture of disconnection between espoused institutional goals and day-to-day realities, interviews with department chairs for The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (2015) reveal the fractionalization around diversity issues in the academic department, the isolation of the one or two faculty members who are perceived to be the perennial diversity advocates, and the difficulty faced by chairs in moving beyond the emphasis on disciplinary specialization to “border-crossing” dialogue or cross-cultural discussions. As a Black chair of Hispanic background in an elite predominantly white university reported,

Most White colleagues assume ‘diversity’ is for people of color and do not do much in recruitment (p. 79).

Bringing together the strands of research across these different domains of the university or college environment, certain common themes emerge that can yield practical steps on the pathway to successful diversity transformation. A precursor of such transformation is the willingness and desire to move forward collectively and collaboratively on the pathway to more inclusive institutions. This willingness cannot be taken for granted as diversity remains a contested topic on many college campuses and even discussion of “anti-racist” training programs can be considered controversial. Developing a common understanding of what diversity means to an academic institution and why it is important (i.e. the “business case” for diversity) is critical.

Our investigation of the integration of diversity and human resource programs across the private and public sectors and in higher education in the New Talent Acquisition Frontier (2014) reveals 10 prominent themes that characterize successful diversity transformation across all sectors.Among these themes are

1) an actionable leadership commitment to diversity;
2) a power structure that supports the attainment of strategic diversity objectives;
3) creation of a systematic, phase-based approach;
4) cultural change that builds trust-based relationships and eliminates fear-based working and learning environments.

Using the metaphor introduced by Ralph Kilmann to describe organizational change, diversity is not a quick fix. Instead, it will require long-term, sustained, and systemic attention to infrastructure, culture, systems, and processes across the multiple, intersecting domains of a campus environment.

Like the widening ripples that result when a stone is thrown into water, diversity transformation can remain elusive and disappear from intentional consideration or it can take hold through the progressive and practical action of institutional leadership, faculty, staff, administrators, and students.

Dr. Edna Chun serves as Chief Learning Officer for HigherEd Talent, a national diversity and HR consulting firm, and has over two decades of strategic diversity and HR experience as Chief Human Resources Officers in public higher education. Two of her co-authored books have garnered the prestigious Kathryn G. Hansen Publication award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) and she is the recipient of a silver medal in the Axiom Best Business Books Award (2014) for another publication.

An Update on the Rooney Rule: The NFL, Facebook, and Universities

It’s been a busy week for the Rooney rule—the rule adopted by the National Football League (NFL) to help increase diversity at the senior level by requiring at least one minority candidate be interviewed for each senior position. Last week we published Warren Waren’s call to higher education to institute such a rule in America’s colleges and universities in order to address the consistent racial disproportions among faculty.

That same week, Facebook announced it would include a similar rule in an effort to increase its diversity. And this week, the NFL itself updated the rule to include consideration of female candidates.

However, the biggest news in the Rooney rule comes from the University of Texas. Last Thursday, the new chancellor of University of Texas system announced a broad application of the Rooney rule to all administrative positions at the dean level and above.

In a presentation accompanying the formal announcement, Chancellor McCraven said,

This slide [referring to the racial gap between students and administrators] makes it very clear that we are not doing the job we ought to be doing in driving equal opportunity and fairness in our hiring and promotion processes. This is particularly disappointing because education is all about opportunity. Making sure our faculty and staff reflect the changing look of Texas is not just about fairness. It’s also about effectiveness. We need faculty, administrators and campus leaders who understand the people they’re serving, who come from the same kinds of places.

Which other college or university would be ready to implement such a program? Some other large public university? Perhaps one of the Ivy League? An elite research institution? One of our many small private colleges or universities? One of our community college systems? I hope my university (Texas A&M University) is next.

Test-ocratic Merit vs. Democratic Merit?

What are the benefits of a college education in a diverse democracy? Research indicates that these benefits include the ability to strengthen critical thinking, to provide students with the capacity for leadership, problem-solving, and creativity, and to strengthen social agency and pluralistic orientation for careers and citizenship in a global society. Yet is the inordinate emphasis on college entrance aptitude tests really a measure of merit and of the abilities of potential college students to develop these needed competencies?

Lani Guinier’s new book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015) describes how higher education has drifted from a mission-driven to an admission-driven system, focused almost exclusively on the predictive value of the SAT-type tests for success in the first-year of college. In fact, as she notes, the SAT only has a modest correlation with freshman-year grades, whereas grades in the four years of high school are a much stronger predictor of academic success. Guinier asserts that the SAT’s most reliable value is as a proxy for wealth in its norming to white, upper-middle class performance, as shown by the average SAT test scores based on ethnicity.

Alluding to the “Volvo effect” in Andrew Ferguson’s book, Crazy U Professor Guinier refers to the inordinate amount of funding and effort placed by wealthy parents on preparing their children for college entrance exams. As she explains, “Aptitude tests do not predict leadership, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to work with others to contribute to society” (p. 26). As a result, she calls for a culture shift in terms of how we evaluate merit in terms of “democratic values” rather than “testocratic machinery.”

An important insight from this thought-provoking book is that democratic merit within an institution of higher education is defined by context. As such, the definition of merit crystallizes the mission and purposes of the institution and necessarily involves choices about which characteristics of the applicant pool are valuable. This definition is particularly germane to discussions about affirmative action in the wake of the 2013 Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Supreme Court case that will be reheard this fall on appeal.

In the Fisher ruling, the Supreme Court has determined that colleges and universities must exhaust race-neutral alternatives before consideration of race-conscious factors in a holistic admissions process. Guinier indicates that Fisher and other affirmative action opponents have singled out race, before any other admissions criterion such as musical ability or athletic accomplishment, as undeserving of consideration. A perhaps unintended benefit of the Court’s ruling, however, is that colleges and universities must proactively re-examine their mission statements for the ways in which these statements articulate the importance of diversity. As Alvin Evans and I point out in our new book, Affirmative Action at a Crossroads: Fisher and Forward (Jossey-Bass, 2015) the Fisher decision brings the institutional context for diversity into the foreground, since a college or university’s specific rationale for a diverse student body needs to be framed in the context of mission, vision, and values statements.

In Guinier’s view an “obsessive culture of testing” obscures the emphasis on developing student potential and results in institutions that lack meaningful race and class diversity. From this perspective, the attainment of democracy learning outcomes in the undergraduate experience cannot rely on a single, weak predictor of first-year success such as the SAT, but instead requires an educational focus consistent with institutional mission that nurtures individual talent and fosters the access and success of a diverse student body.

Redefining the Vocabulary of Microaggressions

A new report by Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity Project (VoD) draws on interviews with at least 50 African-American, Latina/o, Asian-American and Native American students at each of four universities regarding their on-campus undergraduate experiences related to their racial/ethnic background, sex, or both. The co-authors, Paula Caplan and Jordan Ford, report on the students’ experiences of racist and sexist mistreatment that took shape in “microaggressions” or subtle, cumulative, and repetitive acts of marginalization and stereotyping.

The concept of “micro-inequities” has received considerable research attention and refers to small incidents of everyday discrimination that have replaced the more overt acts of discrimination characteristic of the pre-Civil Rights era. Micro-inequities can be unspoken, repeated messages that may be invisible to others but send devaluing messages to the targets that hinder these individuals’ performance and impact self-esteem. The vocabulary of micro-inequities dates back to the 1970’s when Mary Rowe, Ombudsperson at MIT, noted the ephemeral, difficult-to-prove events that she saw as the “principal scaffolding for discrimination in the United States.” A more extensive taxonomy of these day-to-day behavioral indignities was developed by Gerald Wing Sue and others that includes microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.

Yet at what point do “micro-aggressions” become “macro-aggressions”? Take the experiences of mistreatment cited by a Latina senior quoted in the VoD study: “I go nuts. I do….it hurts so much, so much, it’s indescribable the way it makes you feel” (p. 40). The Latina senior goes on to say, “My whole body becomes hot, and your eyes automatically become glassy, because you just feel so inferior….” Or the commentary of an African-American male student, “What can I do? I feel useless. I’m being hurt by this person. It’s messing with me emotionally.” The profound psychological damage caused by racism is not adequately captured in the term “micro-inequity” or “micro-aggression.” As Joe Feagin points out in Systemic Racism (2006), the pain of racism is part of lived experience and to begin to even calculate its costs “one would need to add…the other personal, family, and community costs over the centuries—the intense pain and suffering, the physical and psychological damage, the rage over injustice, and the huge loss of energy” that could have been used for other purposes (p. 20). Perhaps we need a new vocabulary to identify these high costs.

Similarly, consider the example that Alvin Evans and I cite in our new book, The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (2015) of an African American faculty member who became the first African American department chair at his religiously-affiliated university. When he was first hired as one of the few African American faculty at that institution, a religious studies professor whose office was next to his refused to speak with him for 10 years:

He didn’t talk to me for 10 years, not a word. . . . He didn’t believe I was qualified, he didn’t believe that I was a real intellectual, I was only hired so that the university could say that we had Black professors.

In fact, the religious studies professor would talk about the African American faculty member with his door wide open so he could hear. Later, when the African American faculty member became chair, the religious studies professor had to speak with him. The chair would regularly ask him a question about diversity. The religious studies professor would inevitably answer, “I think we’re already diverse.” Needless to say, the chair was not invited to the religious studies professor’s retirement dinner.

Or in another interview study in 2012, we similarly found examples of the pain caused by exclusionary practices and behaviors in the workplace. For example, Claudia, an African-American administrator, was singled out in a staff meeting by her white male supervisor who was speaking of African-Americans in general: “Oh, I don’t mean you. You’re different, you’re an Oreo.’ Claudia responded, “You know, I’m sorry I think that most people would recognize that as being a racial slur.” The supervisor replied, “Oh I don’t mean that. You are one of them that has common sense.” The repeated actions of the supervisor caused Claudia extreme physical and psychological anguish:

When I had that very discriminatory supervisor, I had extremely high blood pressure. I was on three medications. They were at the maximum dosage and my blood pressure was still uncontrollable. My doctor kept telling me I needed to quit my job because he was said I was going to die. He said I was going to just have a stroke or heart attack because my blood pressure was so high.

These examples across the spectrum of students, faculty, and administrators illustrate the long-term psychological and physical damage resulting from what are more than microaggressions (actually, macroaggressions).

To counteract such practices, the Harvard VoD Project identifies the proactive work undertaken by Missouri State University, one of the institutional participants, to address the “silent suffering” of targets of racism and sexism and ensure that the experiences of minoritized students, faculty of color, and women are heard.

As Mark Warren indicates in Fire in the Heart (2010), building community is a process that must move us from passivity to positive action by “breaking down that separateness and achieving something that is more than the sum of the parts” (p. 229). To do so, we must first face the difficult realities that the VoD identifies and then move toward a deepened collective understanding and common vocabulary that help us activate and operationalize practices that enhance inclusion on our campuses.

Racial/Gender Homogeneity in Corporate Board Leadership

In response to criticism from two major shareholders about the lack of diversity in its board of directors, Apple Inc. recently added language to its governance charter committing to seek women and minorities for consideration. The board currently consists of seven white males under the age of 50 and one Asian American woman. In an industry known to be built on the need for innovation, the singular homogeneity of Apple’s board is surprising, although far from unusual.

Other Silicon Valley companies have faced similar questions about their male-dominated leadership including Facebook and Twitter who were criticized for not having female directors prior to their initial public offerings.

The biannual report of the Alliance for Board Diversity reveals that both women and minorities are underrepresented in Fortune 500 boardrooms. Only about 17 percent of the 5,488 board seats are held by women. And minority women comprise 3.2 percent of these positions, while minority men hold 10.1 percent. The report also notes that African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and Asian/Pacific Islanders have experienced losses or only small gains in corporate board representation in the past year.

In our new book, The New Talent Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy in the Private and Public Sectors and Higher Education , Alvin Evans and I argue that talent is the primary strategic asset needed for organizational survival in a globally interconnected world. As a result, organizations need to optimize their talent resources by building synergy between HR and diversity programs. Maximizing organizational capability requires that organizations respect, nurture, and mobilize the contributions of a diverse and talented workforce.

In an article entitled, “Does a Lack of Diversity among Business Leaders Hinder Innovation?” Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin share the results of a survey conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation of 1800 men and women in white-collar professions that also included Fortune 500 executives. The authors found that due to homogeneity in the leadership ranks, the majority of companies fail to realize their full innovative potential. Fifty-six percent of the respondents indicated that leaders at their firms failed to find value in ideas that they have difficulty relating to or don’t see a need for. As a result, senior leaders lose revenue-generating opportunities when they do not create a “speak-up culture” in which employees can contribute innovative or out-of-the-box ideas. The findings appear to support a strong correlation between inclusive behaviors and acquired diversity.

As Joe Feagin eloquently observes in Racist America:

When Americans of color are oppressed in this country’s institutions, not only do they suffer greatly, but the white-controlled institutions and whites within them often suffer significantly if unknowingly. Excluding Americans of color has meant excluding much knowledge, creativity, and understanding from society generally. A society that ignores great stores of human knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.

In this sense, the exclusion of minorities and women from the board rooms of American corporations indeed irresponsibly risks the future of American entrepreneurialism by overlooking the innovative contributions of diverse leadership.

Striking Lack of Diversity in Ivy League’s Top Positions

The June 14 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education (“At the Ivies, It’s Still White at the Top”) presents a remarkable pictorial display of the individuals in the top levels of university administration in the Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale). This pictorial display is more powerful and compelling than any statistical report in portraying the absence of diversity in university leadership. It reminds us of the dimensions of the administrative landscape as it exists today and emphasizes the fact that we are truly only at the beginning of the long journey toward inclusion in the top tiers of our nation’s educational institutions. This journey begins with representation as its first phase, next proceeds to the development of a representative bureaucracy that reflects the changing demography of student populations, and ultimately requires the creation of inclusive cultures at all levels.

The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the top administrative ranks is not limited to the Ivies, but also pertains to public and private research universities as well as four-year colleges throughout the United States. A 2008 King & Gomez study found that close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males. Similarly, a NACUBO (2010) survey, found that Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male.

Furthermore, as Bryan Cook, former director of the American Council of Education, notes in the lead article by Stacey Patton in this Chronicle special edition, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at 149 four-year colleges has persisted for 25 years. Cook also observes that institutions rarely replace a minority member with another when he or she leaves. As Ms. Patton perceptively notes, the frequent argument about “lack of qualified candidates” for these top roles becomes a loaded and coded divergence—a smoke screen that feeds stereotypes of minorities as less capable, intelligent, or experienced (p. A4). The few minorities that are selected for these highly visible roles experience what researchers William Tierney and Robert Rhodes call the double-edged sword of “a perverse visibility and a convenient invisibility.” For example, in her essay, “The Making of a Token,” in the edited volume Presumed Incompetent Yolanda Flores Niemann reports her “inordinate visibility” as a minority female professor in a mainly white male department. Subjected to overt racism and isolation, her negative self-perceptions and lowered sense of self-efficacy in the academy increased, until, as she reports, “I no longer recognized the person in the mirror.” Hiring one or two minorities at high levels within our institutions of higher education cannot be expected to solve the sense of exclusion, perceptions of token status, heightened visibility, or differential expectations that can accrue to the singular individual or nominal number of individuals in these top roles.

There are, however, some promising developments on the horizon. David S. Lee, professor of economics and public affairs and the director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University, was just named provost last week, as the current provost (Christopher Eisgruber) ascended to the presidency. Unlike its Ivy comparators, Columbia University had the highest percentage of minority administrators (42 percent), although only 3 of its senior-level administrators are minorities. And women have certainly attained the highest levels with female presidents at all of the Ivies except Yale (Dartmouth has an interim female president).

As Alvin Evans and I share in our forthcoming book, The New Talent Acquisition Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy, diverse talent is an accelerator of innovation, demanding a shift in the structures of top-down, command-and-control leadership that characterized the Industrial era. In this era of globalization, universities can no longer afford to ignore the need for diverse, collaborative, intergroup leadership. The leadership of diverse executive teams will create common ground in an environment of shared governance, promote inclusive campus climates, and position the university to respond to the changing educational needs of students in an interconnected, global society.

College Presidents Weigh in on Affirmative Action in Admissions

The pending Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas presents a new challenge to the Court’s decision of a decade earlier in the Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger cases at the University of Michigan. In the Michigan cases, the Court clearly recognized the value of student body diversity in the educational process and upheld the inclusion of race as one factor among others in a narrowly tailored holistic review process. Numerous expert studies support the Court’s position on diversity and student learning outcomes. For example, four studies presented at the most recent meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) provide empirical support for the benefits of diversity for college students, using longitudinal assessment of the scores from the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency and the Collegiate Learning Assessment.

Yet a recent Inside Higher Ed survey of 841 college presidents conducted by Gallup found that 70% agreed that consideration of race in admissions has had a “mostly positive effect” on education in general, while only 58% agreed that such consideration has had a “mostly positive effect” on their campuses.

Dr. Benjamin Reese, president of the National Association of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and Vice President for Institutional Equity at Duke University, suggested that framing the question around race rather than the benefits of diversity resulting from a holistic review of applications may have elicited less positive responses. In reporting Reese’s perspective in his March 1 article, editor Doug Lederman writes, “That, though, is not the question before the courts.” He then cites Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who indicates that “the Presidents are completely out of step with where the courts seem to be heading and where the American public is on this issue.”

A closer reading of the Grutter decision suggests that the Court was focused on the overall benefits of diversity. It specifically reaffirmed the opinion of Justice Powell in the landmark 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision who found that “diversity is a compelling state interest” essential to the university’s mission. Writing for the narrow 5-4 Grutter majority, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor focused on the concept of “critical mass” in summarizing the positive impact of diversity at the University of Michigan’s Law School. She noted the effects of diversity on learning outcomes and the preparation of students for a diverse workforce, society, and legal profession:

But the Law School defines its critical mass concept by reference to the substantial, important, and laudable educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce, including cross-racial understanding and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.

The crux of the issue in Fisher relates to critical mass. How is it defined? How will we know when we reach it? What benefits derive from it? We have seen the concept of critical mass in the research literature as it refers to a substantial presence of women and minorities on campus. It refers to the sufficient presence of underrepresented groups to be able to overcome isolation, defeat stereotypes, and provide a welcoming atmosphere for diversity.

The concept of critical mass is a qualitative rather than a quantitative concept. Yet justices sympathetic to Fisher have been asking for quantification of the attainment of critical mass, even though quotas are not permitted under prior judicial rulings. Chief Justice Roberts repeatedly questioned Gregory Garre, the lawyer for the University of Texas asking: “What is that number? What is the critical mass of Hispanics and African Americans at the university that you are working toward?” When Garre argued that the school did not have a specific point of critical mass and would make this determination, Roberts responded, “So I see, when you tell me, then it’s enough.”

From this perspective, the responses of the college and university presidents to the Inside Higher Ed Survey do not appear to be “out of step” with the American public. Rather these responses reflect a very real awareness of the complexities and nuances relating to the implementation of affirmative action in admissions processes. Support for affirmative action was strongest among presidents of public master’s (81%) and public doctoral universities (80%). In Alvin Evans’ and my review of institutional diversity plans in Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Diversity , we found that public universities have been in the forefront in the development of institutional diversity plans, perhaps due to their legal reporting requirements, size, resources, and requirements for public accountability.

Although the outcome of Fisher v. Texas remains uncertain, the fact that numerous legal briefs have been filed by associations and groups asserting that curtailing affirmative action would hurt the quality of the education students receive is promising. The voices of educational leaders, professional associations, and scholars are critical in the ongoing debate of how education can continue to serve as the gateway to opportunity and the great equalizer in our richly diverse society.

In the March 8 edition of the Chronicle Review, Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, sums up the importance of presidential voice as “the most influential public voice of the institution”:

I have always believed that courageous views, thoughtfully expressed, are actually less risky than silence in the face of serious wrong. I have spoken out, in my role as president of Macalester College, on many contentious issues, and I have chosen to remain silent on others. What has guided my decision-making, and what I believe guides that of most of my colleagues, is not cowardice or self-interest, but careful judgment about what is in the best interest of the institutions we hold in trust.

Does Cultural Diversity Promote Economic Growth?

Diversity has sometimes been considered as an abstract principle, divorced from macro-economic trends and global realities. Research by Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor of Brown University, suggests otherwise. In a paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2011, Ashraf and Galor crystallize their findings on the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion in relation to economic development. They theorize that pre-industrial societies in agricultural stages of development may have benefitted from geographical isolation, but the lack of cultural diversity had a negative impact on the adaption to a new technological paradigm and income per capita in the course of industrialization. This “Great Divergence” in the developmental paths of nations has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.

Ashraf and Galor indicate that cultural assimilation enhances the accumulation of society-specific human capital, reducing diversity through standardization of sociocultural traits. Cultural diffusion, by contrast, promotes greater cultural fluidity and flexibility that expands knowledge allowing greater adaption to new technological paradigms.

One of the prominent questions long debated by scholars is why China failed to industrialize at the time of the Industrial Revolution and suffered from “economic retardation,” a question raised by Joseph Chai in Chapter VI of his new book An Economic History of Modern China. In their paper, Ashraf and Galor outline the early benefits of China’s geographical isolation as the “Middle Kingdom” or the center of civilization as evidence of the benefits of cultural assimilation in the agricultural stage of development. They also refer to the state-imposed isolation throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching eras (1644-1911) that caused China to remain impervious to external influences. Although Ashraf and Galor do not expand upon the further ramifications of their theory in this example, the absence of cultural diffusion was clearly a major factor in China’s late development in the sciences and technology.

What does all this mean for diversity practitioners in the United States today? Clearly, the important benefits of cultural diversity need to be understood in broader, global, and historic terms. As Alvin Evans and I argue in Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in in Higher Education, globalization is a catalyst for diversity change, representing an urgent mandate that can no longer be ignored. With the erosion of barriers of time and place, rapid evolution of technological modes of communication, increasing diversity of the American population, rising demands from diverse consumers, and importance of talent as a differentiator in organizational performance, organizations now must focus upon creation of inclusive talent management practices. In our forthcoming book, The New Talent Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy (Stylus, 2013), we examine this global imperative and the emergence of common themes in diversity transformation across all sectors including private corporations, not-for-profits, and institutions of higher education.

As Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, puts it in his blog that discusses Ashraf and Galor’s contributions:

It’s time for diversity’s skeptics and naysayers to get over their hang-ups. The evidence is mounting that geographical openness and cultural diversity and tolerance are not by-products but key drivers of economic progress. . . . Indeed, one might even go so far as to suggest that they provide the motive force of intellectual, technological, and artistic evolution.

Stemming the Tide: Underrepresented Faculty Turnover

For roughly the past two decades, the percentage of African American faculty holding full-time faculty positions has hovered persistently between 5 and 6 percent. Taking into account the number of these faculty that teach at historically black colleges and universities, this percentage falls to just four percent, according to a 2008-2009 report in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE). And a 2007 JBHE survey of 26 high-ranking institutions finds that the representation of black faculty at our most prestigious universities ranged from only 1.4 percent to 6.8 percent with Emory University, Columbia University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leading the way.

What are the factors that have caused this flatline? We know with certainty that the most significant barriers are the hiring process, the tenure process, and attrition through the revolving door. None of these barriers are inconsequential. First, the hiring process. In the current polarized climate within the United States, we have seen considerable backlash against affirmative action and the rise of claims of reverse discrimination. In an allegedly post-racial society, recognition of the existence of discrimination has eroded. In fact, as Girardeau Spann points out, “the Obama presidency has served to embolden those who wish to deny claims of current racial injustice.” Hiring committees still ask about quotas, interpret affirmative action to mean hiring “less qualified” minorities, and refer to the lack of diversity in candidate pools as the reason for not selecting minority candidates. Minority candidates face additional hurdles in conforming to the dominant culture and norms of the hiring department and in overcoming the similarity-attraction paradigm that can persist in the hiring process.

Once hired, the perils of the tenure journey are comparable to the twists and turns of whitewater rafting, since structural, behavioral, and cultural factors that affect the decision-making process coalesce in a single administrative action that impacts a faculty member’s career trajectory. As Alvin Evans and I note in our book, Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Faculty and Staff Diversity (2007), the cultural environment of the academic department determines how underrepresented faculty are welcomed and supported, how power is shared, and how conflicts are resolved. Department chairs play a key role in influencing organizational outcomes and tenure committees may often be made up of predominantly male, majority group members. Lack of sponsorship, differential standards, and stereotypes can influence the faculty evaluation process.

And the third barrier–the revolving door– has been well documented, as in the landmark study of 28 colleges in California conducted by Moreno, Smith, Clayton-Pedersen, and Teraguchi (2004) which found that 58 percent of all new underrepresented minority hires were replacing similar faculty who had left the institution. Stereotyping, isolation, and marginalization still can pervade the day-to-day experiences of diverse faculty on our campuses. Pearl Stewart’s article in the July issue of Diverse Magazine highlights a number of incidents of blatant racial intolerance affecting minority faculty members that have poisoned the collegial atmosphere of higher education.

What then can institutions of higher education do to promote a more welcoming and inclusive climate for minority faculty and create a sustainable talent proposition for higher education? In our recent book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education (2012) Alvin Evans and I highlight key components of building an architecture of inclusion that apply to both faculty and staff. These components include the design of formal processes to ensure equity and fairness, the creation of integrated conflict management systems, the preservation of due process and procedural rights, opportunities for coaching and mentoring, creation of institutional safety nets, support for professional development, and organization of support and affinity groups. We also emphasize the need for broader minority representation in leadership positions, since, for example, over 93 percent of Provost positions are held by majority group members.

The Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity undertaken at MIT in 2010 under the leadership of then-president Susan Hockfield represents one of the most definitive efforts to address and ameliorate the experiences of minority faculty. The Initiative provides structural, mentoring, and climate recommendations as well a concrete plan for institutional implementation and assessment. As Susan Hockfield explains:

Creating a culture of inclusion is not an optional exercise; it is the indispensable precondition that enables us to capitalize on our diverse skills, perspectives and experiences, so that we can better advance the fundamental research and education mission…. A productively diverse community…will make us better at what we do: broader and deeper as thinkers; more effective as collaborators; more creative as teachers; and more understanding as colleagues and friends.

Obama Administration Brief on UT Affirmative Action Case

The Obama administration just submitted their amicus brief in regard to the Fisher v. University of Texas (Austin) affirmative action case, which our substantially conservative Supreme Court has decided to hear in the fall.

The brief is indeed fairly brief and mostly sticks to fairly narrow affirmative action arguments based largely in the language and logic of the University of Michigan Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) Supreme Court decision and a few related decisions, such as by arguing that the University of Texas (UT) remedial admissions plan tried unsuccessfully other admissions approaches first, only uses “race” as one variable among several “diversity” variables, is limited in time (reviewed every five years), and has had a modest but good effect in improving UT campus diversity. The brief lays out these conditions and the Grutter perspective allowing “race” as on variable among many pretty well, as a historically rather mainstream and white-centrist position on these university affirmative action issues.

The central arguments, and main rationale, of this brief use common but tepid “diversity” language and cite various important legal cases and agency/research studies (see here for one other study) to back up the argument that diversity helps (especially white, but they don’t use the word in that context) people adjust to and work with (including in the military and business) people who are different from them. The brief is generally cast in that more modest “diversity is important to student careers and success in the ‘real world'” rationale for adding some (modest, actually) “race” diversity to the student body.

What is not here in the rather timid Obama administration brief is rather striking. The brief never uses the word “racism,” nor does it directly reference the fact that UT was for many decades a prominent Jim-Crowed university. It still was firmly segregated, like all historically white southern universities, when I attended college in Texas in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed, UT’s football coach then famously said he would not have an “N-word” on his football team, one of the last teams in the old southwest athletic conference to be racially desegregated. That prominent view of the coach was well-known in Texas’s black communities and indeed alienated many black parents and students from considering going to UT. I know that from personal efforts when I was a UT faculty member trying to recruit black students to this university in the 1970s and 1980s. Relatively few black students went to UT until the 1970s.

None of this long and extreme racist segregation background is noted in the administration’s brief, and the very high level of racial segregation still obvious in Texas high schools, from which UT draws most of its students, is only noted briefly and is not analyzed as to why that racial segregation was created or still persists.

Striking in this connection, too, is that there is no mention of the numerous white policymakers who historically and openly created (even into the 1960s), and still often create or maintain less blatantly, the state’s segregated high schools. White elite decisionmakers are only implicit in this brief, as they are in almost all discussions of U.S. systemic-racism issues. Clearly, the authors were afraid to call out and assess frontally the white racism that is foundational and systemic for Texas’s educational system, as elsewhere in the U.S. educational system.

Even the word “white” appears just four times in the document, once in reference to the plaintiff’s identity and only in vague passing comments for the other three cases. The reality of whiteness and white private in connection with such university cases, especially in the South, is nowhere addressed.

A major underlying structural and systemic issue ignored in this brief is the white-created system of Jim Crow racial segregation that dominated the state’s educational system from not long after its establishment by Reconstruction era state constitutions in the 1860s (ironically, shaped significantly by white and black “radical Republicans” then) for nearly a century, indeed until the mid- to late-1960s. The many impacts of that educational Jim Crow and other Jim Crow oppression cannot be undone by even more aggressive “affirmative” action than this modest plan of UT. That is especially true because a great many whites abandoned the public high schools as a reaction to the end of legal segregation. Whites have set up private overwhelmingly or completely white high schools across Texas, from the 1960s to the present, to avoid contacts with black (often Latinos too) students, and thus have usually destroyed much of the economic support and viability of all but the most well-funded public schools, and those mostly in white suburban areas of Texas cities.

The brief goes just as far as it had to go with its “diversity is essential” perspective in order to support the rather modest UT affirmative action program, and does that pretty well. Only a non-centrist, far-right white perspective would find the brief’s main arguments and this modest UT affirmative action program in admission really objectionable. It is but a very modest first step in the large scale change necessary for real and meaningful diversity in higher education.