Retaining Faculty of Color

Most higher education institutions include language in their mission statements about the importance of diversity, but they often fall short when it comes to retaining faculty of color, says Christine A. Stanley, executive associate dean of faculty affairs at Texas A&M University, and editor of Faculty of Color: Teaching in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities (Anker Publishing, April 2006).

Based on the stories in the book and her own experiences, Stanley recommends the following strategies to help retain faculty of color:

  • Grow your own—Consider hiring candidates who attended graduate school at your institution. The relationships they formed as students can help them feel more connected to the institution as faculty.
  • Try to understand the experiences of faculty of color—Talk about diversity issues in exit interviews as well as in ongoing conversations with faculty who remain at the institution.
  • Cluster hiring—Faculty of color often feel lonely, isolated, and “constantly under the microscope.” To alleviate these feelings, hire more than one faculty member of color at a time when possible.
  • Provide mentoring—“I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors,” Stanley says. “They were not afraid to give me constructive and critical feedback when I needed it. They didn’t walk on eggshells around me. They helped me navigate landmines and helped me get into certain networks that I probably wouldn’t have access to. But I think in academia … ‘mentoring’ sort of connotes that somehow you’re deficient in some way, and, quite frankly, some faculty don’t seek mentoring because they don’t want to be perceived as deficient.”
  • Limit service activities—Faculty of color often take on a lot of service responsibilities as a way to give back to the community. Department chairs or administrators should act as a buffer between the faculty and those who ask them to serve on committees to protect these faculty members’ time and enable them to engage in activities that count toward promotion and tenure.
  • Encourage a deeper dialogue on diversity—People are often reluctant to broach the subject of diversity for fear of appearing racist, sexist, or homophobic. But the issues must be out in the open, or else there won’t be any progress. Stanley appreciates her mentors’ candor in talking about diversity. For example, they often ask Stanley’s opinion as to whether something they said might be perceived as racist. ‘They always tell me, you can call me on things I’m doing wrong.’ And I consider these individuals strong allies for diversity. When Stanley gets upset over something she perceives as racist, “they never say to me, ‘Well, Christine, I think you’re being too sensitive’ or ‘You’re reading too much into it.’ Instead, they ask, ‘Why do you feel that way?’ or ‘Why did you reach that conclusion?’”
  • Take action to prevent faculty of color from being lured away—“Don’t wait until the negotiation stage with the other institution. Sit down and have a conversation with that person, and say, ‘I’ve heard you’re interviewing with another institution. Is there anything we can do to keep you here?’”
  • Provide opportunities for advancement—If a person color being interviewed doesn’t see many people of color in leadership positions, that could be seen as an indication that the institution has not progressed very far in its diversity goals.

Excerpted from Retaining Faculty of Color, Academic Leader, March 2006.