The Hechinger Report: After colleges promised to increase it, hiring of black faculty declined

The Hechinger Report, October 2, 2018: After colleges promised to increase it, hiring of black faculty declined

Ebony McGee, a Vanderbilt University associate professor who studies diversity in education, in her office at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Often hired as “eye candy,” McGee says, black faculty are often made to feel uncomfortable and leave.

Ebony McGee, a Vanderbilt University associate professor who studies diversity in education, in her office at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Often hired as “eye candy,” McGee says, black faculty are often made to feel uncomfortable and leave.

Robert Palmer knows how uncomfortable it can feel to be a black professor at a predominantly white college.

He recalls speaking with a white student he was advising at public Binghamton University in upstate New York, where just 4 percent of tenure-track instructors in 2016 were black, according to federal figures.

“He comes out of nowhere and says he used to be a bouncer and would keep his friends from saying … he actually said the word,” said Palmer, still taken aback by the memory. “He didn’t say ‘the N-word.’ He actually said the word.”

The awkwardness of that encounter and others like it helped push Palmer to Howard University, an historically black institution in Washington, D.C., where he’s now an associate professor of education and on a faculty that is 58 percent black.

There he joined the disproportionate number of black, tenure-track college and university instructors — one out of every five — who are clustered at 72 historically black four-year institutions that report the race of their employees. This despite the fact that those schools account for just 1.7 percent of all faculty nationwide.

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