Do leadership and decision-making processes in the research university mirror the racial stratification of American society? The structure of higher education is strikingly white male-dominated in its senior leadership ranks. According to “Pathway to the Presidency” published by the American Council on Education , close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males (King & Gomez, 2008).
The only exception to this pattern is the Chief Diversity Officer position–70.8 percent of these positions are held by African-Americans, with white incumbents holding 12.3 percent, And according to a NACUBO (2010) survey, Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male, a demographic that is considerably similar to Chief Academic Officers who are 85% white and 60% male.
In our forthcoming book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education, (Paradigm, 2011), Alvin Evans of Kent State University and I examine the fragile and unstable working conditions faced by women, minority and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) administrators in the highest ranks of the research university. Unlike faculty who pursue individualistic accomplishments solidified through the tenure process, university administrators generally serve in an “at will” status without employment protection to support the success of the entire institution.
In our survey and followup interviews with administrators from public and private research universities at the level of director and up, we discovered remarkable similarity in how the process of subtle discrimination unfolds through acts of marginalization, exclusion, and social closure. These patterns of discrimination transcend geographical location, institutional prestige, and public/private research university status. What it tells us that power is still highly concentrated in the hands of a few, and that the covert, difficult-to-prove nature of subtle discrimination heightens the vulnerability of diverse administrators to forms of differential treatment.
Joe Feagin, reminds us of the high cost of wasting talent and creativity in The White Racial Frame, indicating that “a society that ignores such a great store of knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.” And he also reminds us of the need for moral thinking and action that “frees up the knowledge and energy” of those who have faced barriers to achievement, knowledge-generation, and prosperity.
Based on the poignant yet courageous testimonials of diverse administrators shared in our study, structural changes that strengthen employment stability for administrators will help ensure more inclusive leadership practices. These changes will not only enhance the success of diverse administrators but immeasurably contribute to the dynamism, viability, and competitiveness of our American institutions of higher education.