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AFT Highlights Lack of Diversity in Higher Education

Colleges and universities have not done enough to recruit, retain and support faculty and staff from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, according to a new AFT report. The report makes recommendations for engaging higher education unions in vigorous efforts to promote faculty diversity.

Racial and ethnic diversity among both students and faculty has been shown to have a positive effect on education, says Derryn Moten, co-chair of the Alabama State University Faculty-Staff Alliance and vice chair of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council.

"While we've made headway in terms of increasing the diversity of the student body, we have not done nearly as good a job in recruiting and retaining faculty of color," Moten says.

According to the most recent data, approximately 5.4 percent of faculty members are black, 4.5 percent are Hispanic and 0.04 percent are Native American. These groups make up 12 percent, 14 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, of the total U.S. population.

The report highlights various barriers that have prevented people of color from attaining faculty positions. It also points out that faculty from underrepresented groups, once hired, are often placed in nonpermanent positions rather than tenure-track jobs.

The report recommends ways faculty and their unions can promote faculty diversity, including:

  • Conducting an inventory of an institution's current racial and ethnic breakdown.
  • Establishing a standing diversity committee to build coalitions with other stakeholders, including preK-12 unions, community groups and the administration.
  • Educating the public about the value of affirmative action.
  • Creating a more welcoming atmosphere for academic searches and hiring.
  • Developing peer mentoring programs and other support in navigating the promotion and tenure process.
  • Strengthening the connection between preK-12 and college.

"As educators and unionists, we are deeply concerned about the pace of efforts to diversify higher education faculty and staff. This simply cannot be a back-burner issue," says AFT vice president Sandra Schroeder, who is chair of the AFT Higher Education program and policy council and president of AFT Washington. "If we are to keep up with changes in the 21st-century job market and changes in our country's demographics, we need to take steps to ensure we are growing the pool of underrepresented faculty."

The AFT has passed numerous policy resolutions and has supported legislation to promote diversity and equity in higher education. [AFT press release]

March 23, 2010