Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missouri, Yale, and the UT System: A Call for Faculty Diversity and Other Opportunities

I can't help but think of UT System Chancellor McRaven's November 6, 2015 statement on diversity in the Daily Texan in light of what's going on at both the University of Missouri and Yale University.  While recent events at "Mizzou" are indeed "post-Ferguson," as the media frames it, not surprisingly, the stories coming forward reveal long-standing, cumulative kinds of grievances.  This November 9, 2015 PBS segment illuminates as much.  A "tipping point," with the involvement of the student-athletes, was reached.  Here is a good blog post that explains what led up to University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe's and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin's stepping down. 

The Mizzou students are making a specific call for educators to validate their struggles, and also for more faculty diversity.  Sadly, their hashtag captures it all:  #hateliveshere  Check out their list of demands here.

Here’s the list of demands from Mizzou’s protesting athletes, students

Things are heating up at Yale University, too. Essentially, Dean Burgwell sent out a note asking students to avoid offensive, disrespectful Halloween costumes, including "headdresses, turbans and blackface." He then caught some grief from a professor who defended “provocative” and “inappropriate” costumes.  So hundreds of students marched and here's a video recording of an emotional, angry exchange with that professor.

As the Mizzou students' list of demands express, there are a lot of things that we need to do to address systemic racism, microaggressions, white privilege, and other forms of oppression that are also further informed by the significant overlap of race and class in our country.  And a lot of this negligence stems precisely from the fact that our faculty are not diverse—not even in places like Texas universities, generally, where some might think that this would be less of an issue.  

I have not seen any data on this, but I sense that at least at UT Austin, our representation has declined. This would be due to incentivized retirements, faculty departures for positions elsewhere, and deaths.

Many of us faculty of color in the professoriate are aging, too, and we openly express our concerns to each other regarding who is going to replace us. Some of us run programs, policy centers, and carry out community-based research we wonder if upon retirement, our lifelong work and vision will be simply "absorbed" by our faculty administrations to "self-fund merit," as we are constantly required because of shrinking state budgets and a lack of political will among our state leaders to champion higher education funding.  These prospects are fearful and often discouraging, if not entirely overwhelming, to us at certain points in the year.

I am hoping that this call for more faculty diversity gets heard at Mizzou and Yale, as well as throughout Texas and the nation.  As the situation at Yale suggests, process is important. 

Our policies at our universities need to get re-visited if we are to make a positive difference.  Strategies for students and communities to influence policy should be developed if they are not present.  Regular contact with our stakeholder communities that convey a sincere desire for change within our institutions—a "more-than-once" kind of approach—would be taken ever so well.  Our students and our communities need to be heard and they deserve utmost respect.  Reciprocity and a little bit of humility that owns up to what's really problematic about our power-evasive, power-neutral, "ivory tower" mentality—not the least of which is a "possessive investment in whiteness," to use George Lipsitz' term from his book by the same name.

In any case, our numbers as faculty of color—and as Chancellor McRaven suggests below—should be trending in the opposite direction given the changing demographics in our state and nation.  Inasmuch as diversity is also about equity, it is also a moral issue, a matter of conscience.  As Ghandi once indicated, we can indeed be the change that we seek in the world.  Sí, se puede!  Yes, we can!

Angela Valenzuela


McRaven: UT System vision includes research, faculty diversity

On Thursday, Chancellor William McRaven presented UT System with a plan to increase UT's academic competitiveness and bring more diverse faculty to UT campuses.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Chancellor William McRaven presented new UT System projects and goals to produce top research and recruit diverse faculty members at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

McRaven, a former Navy SEAL credited for leading the mission to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, said he wants to drive collaboration throughout the UT System using his experience as a leader of multiple units in the military. McRaven, who has been in office for less than a year, said the System has been conducting a strategic assessment of the system’s academic competitiveness since May.

The information discovered serves as a basis for ways the System must improve, McRaven said.

“Today, I come prepared to show you how the UT System will use our size, our talent and our diversity to solve the difficult problems that face us,” McRaven said. “A rigorous and disciplined process will help us prioritize our efforts.”

The Board of Regents approved a plan on the first day of meetings to develop a campus of approximately 332 acres, south of the UT Health Science Center at Houston. McRaven said a task force has been formed to assess the options for this property, but for now the land should be open to all UT institutions.

“It will have a footprint that will hopefully be very similar to a university,” McRaven said. “We don’t know what that property is going to be, but it is an opportunity for us to have access into Houston and tap into energy, aerospace and medical [fields]. I would like to see it as an intellectual hub to bring all the campuses to Houston.”

Chairman Paul Foster said he applauds McRaven’s initiative for acquiring this property in Houston and expanding UT.

“Houston has 30 percent of the population of the state of Texas,” Foster said. “Many of our institutions will establish a presence there, just like as many of our institutions have presences throughout the state already.” 

As part of the strategic assessment, McRaven said all institutions will adopt the “Rooney Rule” to diversify the faculty. For senior-level positions such as dean or higher, the position cannot be filled without interviewing a qualified woman or minority candidate sometime in the future, McRaven said.

“What was clear is we need our faculty to reflect more of our student population,” McRaven said. “Where we are now, we have a very large Hispanic population. We are doing a great job serving the Hispanic community, but our faculty does not necessarily reflect that. This will take decades to begin move the needle, but if we don’t start now, our faculty won’t look too much different.”

Student regent Justin Drake said he appreciated the boldness of McRaven’s speech and his dedication to leadership across the System. Drake said this was the first time he heard about UT’s version of the “Rooney Rule,” but UT is heading in the right direction.

“Faculty diversity has been really acknowledged as being poor,” Drake said. “I think one of the numbers I saw up there for African-Americans was pretty disappointing and in terms of gender equality, it’s also disappointing. It will draft a lot of criticisms, but at the same time it reinforces UT’s dedication to diversity.”

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