Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Does Tenure Impede Diversity?

Chronicle of Higher Education, Does Tenure Impede Diversity?:

Does tenure increase or decrease racial diversity in the faculty ranks? The question is imbued with fresh urgency on the heels of recent controversies involving Nikole Hannah-Jones and Cornel West.

Pose the question to some scholars, however, and they tend to bristle, but for starkly different reasons.

Peony Fhagen, senior associate dean of equity, inclusion, and faculty development at Colorado College, thinks it’s somewhat insidious to ask the question now, just as a critical mass of diverse academics are making professional progress. “You’re going to take this away when we come on board?” she asks.

In contrast, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, cringes at the question because he doesn’t think it’s relevant. “Racial diversity should have no bearing on tenure decisions,” says Wood, a former tenured anthropologist, associate provost, and president’s chief of staff at Boston University. “Anyone who owes his or her tenure to such considerations has advanced in the academic world via racial discrimination and is rightly to be looked upon by colleagues as having vitiated academic standards.”

Some observers look to statistics for an answer.

“Based on recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, it appears tenure may be a potential barrier to accelerating the pace of greater diversity,” says Bob Atkins, chief executive and founder of Gray Associates, a higher-education software and consulting company. “Among full-time professors, a whopping 80 percent are white and 53 percent are white males.” But, the data show, Black males, Black females, and Hispanic males each account for only 2 percent of full-time professors, and Hispanic females even less. Given that, Atkins says, “tenure makes it more challenging to create open positions for new faculty of any type, including underrepresented groups.”

A number of scholars said in conversations with The Chronicle that while tenure offers valuable protections of academic freedom, however porous those protections may be, the way tenure is practiced is in tension with efforts to diversify the faculty.

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