Black faculty still scarce at University of Missouri
Almost four years after University of Missouri students demanded the college hire more black faculty, those numbers are up on the Columbia campus. But the official hired to make it happen has left for another job, and there’s no word on when he will be replaced.
Minority faculty hires at MU have been creeping up every year since 2015, when student protests against systemic racism on the campus came with a list of demands, topped by a call for more African American and other faculty of color.
In 2016 the numbers showed the hiring effort was slow. But the latest numbers have picked up: In 2018 there were nine more black faculty working at MU than there were two years before.
“It is impressive because these numbers haven’t been increasing in years past,” said Christian Basi, spokesman for MU.
Faculty give credit to Kevin McDonald, who was hired four months after the November 2015 protests as the first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the University of Missouri System and the Columbia campus.
“Kevin came soon after 2015 and righted the ship,” said Clark Peters, a professor of social work who chairs the MU Faculty Council. “He provided thoughtful leadership” and pushed the folks doing the hiring to “cast a wider net.” His formula was to embed diversity, inclusion and equity into the fabric of the university, every aspect, including the surrounding community.
Black faculty numbers soon ticked up, along with the Hispanic, Asian and multi-race numbers. At the same time, the much higher white faculty numbers have decreased every year, from 1,503 in 2015 to 1,446 in 2018, the most recent numbers available on the university website.
The percent of black faculty on the campus has only improved slightly — from 3% in 2016 to 3.4% in 2018.
But the small increase is better than statistics from the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, all of which showed declines in the number of black faculty over the same period.
McDonald recently took a similar job at the University of Virginia. He did not respond last week to The Star’s requests for comment.
Higher education leaders across the country acknowledge that changing the hiring culture and looking outside the norm is a challenge. For years universities have relied on faculty recommending professors to fill vacancies, drawing from what’s comfortable, their social circle of people who look like them and share their experiences.
McDonald’s plan called for each of the university’s 14 academic units to “go back and look at the work they were doing and see how inclusivity could be woven in,” said Inya Baiye, who worked with McDonald for more than a year and is now assistant vice chancellor in the inclusion, diversity and equity office.
That meant each area of the university had a part to play in becoming more diverse.
“I think a very honest effort is being made to recruit faculty of color at this institution,” said Johanna Kramer, a member of the Diversity Enhancement Committee of the Faculty Council.
She said a major concern, however, is not just hiring more faculty of color but retaining them. “My understanding is that one of the things we are working on is getting people to feel that they are not just welcome but that they belong at this institution. That’s something that has been missing here in the past.”
The concerted effort to increase the black faculty at MU started after a predominantly black student group, Concerned Student 1950, pushed the issue of low minority faculty numbers into the light in 2015. Their series of protests included a weeklong tent city occupation, a hunger strike and the football team’s threat to boycott a game.
The protests, which ultimately toppled two top administrators, came with a list of demands, and high on the list was hire more black faculty. That same demand had been on a list that black student activists at MU had taken to the administration in 1969.
A study of national data by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit education publication, found that “many predominantly white four-year public and nonprofit colleges and universities that have been promising for years to improve the diversity of their teaching ranks have made almost no progress in doing so.”
Across the country, less than 6 percent of full-time faculty members are black. Administrators at MU and elsewhere say part of the problem is that the pool of black candidates holding a doctoral degree is shallow. Baiye said that part of the diversity effort at MU is guiding more black students into doctoral programs that ultimately feed the national pipeline filling faculty posts.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Why did The Star write about this topic?
Mará Rose Williams, The Star’s education reporter, had covered the protests at the University of Missouri in November 2015, when students called for the school to hire more black faculty. The following year she reported that little had changed. This year she was curious if anything had improved. (For more, click on the arrow at top right.)
How did the reporter get the numbers on minority hires?
The University of Missouri, University of Kansas and Kansas State University post faculty demographics on their websites. The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s numbers are not in an obvious place, tucked in a Division of Diversity and Inclusion annual report, so the reporter called officials to get those numbers. The latest hiring numbers were compiled by each university at The Star’s request.
At K-State, which has 1,387 full-time faculty, the number of black faculty has dropped from 35 in 2016 to 31 in 2018, the latest numbers available on the university’s website. From 2016 to as recently as this month, officials said, K-State has hired 195 full-time faculty members, of which five were black and 34 were either Asian or Hispanic.
Bryan Samuel, K-State’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, said the school’s minority hiring is improving. “Our efforts to strengthen our recruiting has paid off, and 24% of new full-time faculty hires have been people of color.,”
At KU, the number of black faculty members also dropped, from 53 in 2016 to 50 in 2018.
At UMKC, where about 79 percent of the faculty is white, officials have launched several efforts to boost minority faculty numbers, said Kelsey Haynes, a university spokeswoman.
She said that rather than relying on advertising alone, UMKC is forming relationships with diverse academic and professional organizations to identify good candidates. It also developed a new faculty hiring checklist with recommendations on how to create a more diverse pool of applicants.
“In addition, we have established faculty affinity groups (formed around a shared interest or common goal) to support retention of minority faculty,” Haynes said.
Still, while the numbers for most of the minority groups have inched up in the last four years — Asian up 5, Hispanic up 6 — the number of black faculty at UMKC is down by 8 since 2015, from 69 to 61.
When MU’s Chancellor Alexander Cartwright joined the university in June 2017 he stated that a big part of his job would be to help guide MU to becoming a more diverse and inclusive campus, calling the work “daunting but transformative.”
Peters of the MU Faculty Council admits that with McDonald gone he is a bit worried. With the minority faculty numbers inching up, folks might start feeling as if all is good and “not remember what led us down this path,” he said.
Part of the problem, Peters said, is that for long-timers on campus like himself, “2015 still seems pretty recent,” but with new crops of students and a recent buyout of senior faculty, “institutional memory has surely faded a bit.”
But even with concern that McDonald’s absence might cause the “big ship” he was steering to veer off course, Peters hopes MU will continue becoming more diverse.
“Kevin put together a good team and he left a strong framework,” Peters said, adding that “faculty is committed to this but I would agree that we still have a lot of work to do.”
Since McDonald left, MU has moved NaTashua R. Davis from her position as executive director of the Access & Leadership Development Unit to be the interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.
The university system has not announced plans for when it would hire a permanent replacement.
Davis has been working in Mizzou’s inclusion division about 18 months and said the framework was designed to thrive without McDonald.
“We are engaged with diversity,” Davis said. “We have made it part of who we are, and that is not tied to leadership.”