The student population is becoming increasingly diverse, but while the ranks of college and university faculty have also diversified to some degree, faculty diversity lags behind student diversity. Faculty from underrepresented groups comprised only 10 percent of the instructional workforce in 2005, while students from underrepresented groups comprised 23 percent of total higher education enrollment. AFT members, both as educators and unionists, are deeply concerned about the pace of efforts to recruit and retain higher education faculty and staff from underrepresented groups, and AFT Higher Education is determined to weigh in aggressively to accelerate progress on this front.
As educators, we know that in order for all students to succeed academically, they need role models and mentors with whom they can identify. The classroom is a more welcoming place when the diversity of the student population is represented in the faculty. In this context, students from underrepresented groups feel less like “strangers in a strange land” and more at ease to share ideas, listen to other perspectives and formulate their own conclusions. Students from the majority population also benefit from learning and exchanging ideas in a multicultural environment that offers a wider range of scholarship and representation of alternative perspectives.
Faculty and staff diversity is also a union issue, essential to achieving union goals of economic and social justice. In particular, we are concerned that a disproportionate number of ethnic and racial minority faculty members continue to be hired as contingent rather than full-time tenure-track faculty members, which often marginalizes their contributions and provides them with disproportionately low pay and inadequate working conditions.
While there are dozens of activities already under way on campuses around the country to address diversity, AFT Higher Education believes more needs to be done. To this end, we will expand our efforts to support programs and policies that promote diversity. AFT Higher Education is in the midst of preparing new policy recommendations in this area. Among other things, we will maintain and expand the union’s continuing efforts to defeat anti-affirmative action initiatives in the states. We also will develop information on ways to promote diversity through collective bargaining. In addition, AFT Higher Education is developing recommendations about what unions themselves can do on campus to promote diversity. Our initial focus will be on diversity in the ranks of ethnic and minority faculty members, and we hope to move on from there to explore gender and professional staff issues. Building further connections between preK-12 and higher education affiliates also may play a key role in this effort.