*Main image taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Throughout my academic career, I have often listened to, or been a part of, discussions about how to build a more inclusive academic community. To this end, academics of all disciplines sometimes consider the issue of racial representation among college or university faculty with the main concern being a disproportionately high number of White professors. Indeed, I was recently following a discussion among academics online in which one participant referred to academia as “suffering” from this over-representation of Whites among full time faculty.
The concern is that a college or university faculty without proper racial representation will not reflect the views of either the broader general U.S. population or the college student population, of which in both cases minorities are carving out larger shares due to changing demographics. Professors and students of different backgrounds (racial, ethnic, class, gender, etc…), it is argued, bring value to college campuses in that they bring different experiences and, thus, different perspectives on issues. This viewpoint diversity is essential to the mission of a university to seek truth through consideration of issues from multiple perspectives. I believe this argument makes sense and is fundamentally sound, as I have seen it play out on smaller scales in classroom discussions of complex issues among students of varying demographic backgrounds. Moreover, I see higher education’s first mission as the disinterested pursuit of truth, regardless of who holds it, who is offended by it, or how we arrive at it (within ethical bounds). So I certainly see value in having diverse voices in academic debates, even if I doubt perfect representative parity is always possible or needed.
Returning to my colleagues’ concern that higher education is “suffering” from a disproportionate number of white full-time faculty members, the statement struck me (anecdotally) as not having quite the resonance that it might have had nearly two decades ago, when as a student I first began to turn my attention toward a career in academia.
Consequently, I decided to check some current statistics and the numbers surprised me. This is what I found. Continue reading