ONLY ONE IN THE ROOM

ONLY ONE IN THE ROOM

Diversity is a selling point for the University of Maryland, but the data show black representation has declined since 2008

Published on September 29, 2015

Last fall, there were two full professors in the behavioral and social sciences college who looked like Joseph Richardson.

Richardson is a black associate professor, one rank below full professor, in the African-American studies department and has taught at the University of Maryland since 2006. Out of 703 full professors at this university last fall, 15 were black.

When accounting for associate and assistant professors, the total number of black professors at this university reaches 73 out of a total of 1,511, according to data from this university’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment.

ABOVE: Lauren Watson, a senior biology major, sits in a classroom in Marie Mount Hall. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

“In the climate that we have now,” Richardson said. “I don’t necessarily know whether you could move through your entire collegiate experience here at the University of Maryland and have a black professor.”

That’s been the case for junior Mariah Fletcher, who is black. The physiology and neurobiology major has never had a black professor.

“It would’ve been more interesting,” she said. “I would’ve liked to see it more.”

While this school is often touted as one of the most diverse in the nation, students like Fletcher are seeing fewer and fewer black faculty on the campus. The percentage of black faculty has dropped to 4.6 percent since 2008, down from about 5 percent.

This decline also holds true for black staff, undergraduates and graduate students at this university from the fall 2008 to 2014.

Meanwhile, the six-year graduation rate for black students continues to trail behind their white, Asian and Hispanic peers. For the class that enrolled at this university in 2008, the graduation gap for black students was 7.2 percent.

Attracting and retaining diverse staff, faculty, undergraduates and graduate students is a primary goal of the university’s 2010 Strategic Plan for Diversity, but it remains a challenge, officials said.

Established in 2008, the university’s 10-year overall strategic plan includes the stated mission of “enhancing the diversity of our student body,” recognizing that “excellence cannot be achieved without diversity.”

The Strategic Plan for Diversity expands on this by including explicit benchmarks, such as increasing the percentage of undergraduate students from underrepresented groups — African-Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and multiracial students — to at least 38 percent of total enrollment.

ABOVE: Joseph Richardson, an assistant professor in the African American studies department, stands in a lecture hall in the Shoemaker Building. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

The university has surpassed this goal — as of 2014, 42 percent of undergraduates were students of color. However, a breakdown by group shows that black undergraduate representation has been lagging behind.

While Maryland’s population is 30 percent black, blacks are underrepresented at this university across the board.

About 13 percent of undergraduates, 24 percent of staff, 7 percent of graduate students and 4.6 percent of faculty are black. All of these percentages have shrunk since the university first laid out its 2008 strategic plan.

“One out of every three people in this state of Maryland are African-American,” Richardson said. “That should be reflected in both the population of the students and faculty, as well as the staff. People are paying taxes and this is the flagship university of the state, but those numbers aren’t being reflected.”

MOVING UP THE RANKS

When the university introduced its 2008 strategic plan, it employed 22 black full professors, representing about 3 percent of all full professors. As of fall 2014, 2 percent of all full professors at this university were black.

The percentage of black assistant professors has also dropped.

Kumea Shorter-Gooden, this university’s chief diversity officer, called this percentage decrease “a core concern.”

Recruiting black faculty can be difficult because of the “pipeline issue,” Shorter-Gooden said, as the number of graduating black doctoral students is lower than other groups.

“We can do better about bringing people in, and we need to do a better job of tenuring,” Shorter-Gooden said.

About 15 years ago, there was a push within the university to attract minority faculty, Shorter-Gooden said, but once those numbers improved, the effort petered out.

ABOVE: Kumea Shorter-Gooden, this university’s chief diversity officer, stands in her office. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

From 1992 to 2014, the percentage of black tenured and on-track faculty peaked at about 6.7 percent in 1999. As of last fall, 4.8 percent of tenured and on-track faculty were black.

Since 2008, Asian and Hispanic tenured and on-track faculty have seen slight increases in representation, while white tenured and on-track faculty declined to about 67 percent in 2014 from about 74 percent in 2008.

At the turn of the millennium, “there was a bit more proactivity around, ‘We must hire people from underrepresented groups,’” Shorter-Gooden said. “Once some people are hired, that kind of passion and commitment can kind of slack off a bit, however. If they then don’t get tenure, you’re sort of back to the drawing board.”

To remedy disparities in tenure, the university needs not only to attract minority faculty, but also to encourage them to apply for tenure, Shorter-Gooden said. If more minorities go up for tenure, she said, they have the potential to achieve it at similar rates as others.

Last academic year, there were two black tenure cases and one Hispanic tenure case. Two of those cases were withdrawn and one was denied.

However, in 2013 there were more black and Hispanic tenure cases and a higher success rate. Five out of the six black tenure cases were successful, as well as three out of the four Hispanic cases.

It’s important “to have an equitable, fair and inclusive promotion process” and be aware of “unintentional biases that can leak out and get in the way,” Shorter-Gooden said.

University President Wallace Loh spoke about racial disparities among tenured faculty in his 2013 state of the campus address.

“We cannot close our eyes to the problem — the problem of the ‘revolving door,’” he said. “This goes back many years, at least 15, maybe longer. There is a dramatic disproportion by race in terms of tenure and promotion. … A very large proportion of African-American and Hispanic faculty failed to make it through the process or dropped out, perhaps because they read the writing on the wall or received offers someplace else.”

Beginning this academic year, revisions to the appointment, promotion and tenure process require an additional peer review of a candidate’s teaching performance and a teaching portfolio, among other changes.

These changes could help promote diversity and inclusion in the tenure process, said Steve Marcus, the interim associate provost for faculty affairs who oversees the appointment, promotion and tenure process.

“There is language in the policy that addresses issues like fairness, implicit bias and making sure that no one is excluded for reasons that don’t have anything to do with anything other than their scholarship, their teaching,” Marcus said.

To help faculty navigate the advancement process, officials assign assistant professors at least one mentor within their department, Marcus said.

ABOVE: The University Senate’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee meet in Marie Mount Hall Monday afternoon. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

Michelle Espino, an education assistant professor, said mentorship is vital, but it’s even more important for underrepresented minorities to have mentors of their same race or ethnicity. This is not always possible because of the small percentage of minority professors across departments.

“We need to make sure that tenured faculty are representative of race, ethnicity and gender,” Espino said. “Feeling marginalized or isolated, that happens for students and that happens for faculty.”

Ruth Zambrana, director of this university’s Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity, echoed Espino’s sentiments.

“If you go to the cafeteria, you still see the blacks with the blacks, the whites with the whites, Asians with the Asians,” Zambrana said. “The same thing happens with the faculty. We want to say we’re all a happy family — well, underrepresented minority faculty may not feel a safe space when there are only two of them and there are 20 white folks. “

In some fields, though, underrepresented minorities are in short supply, Provost Mary Ann Rankin said.

“Everybody’s vying for a strong African-American in, say physics or math,” Rankin said.

Even if this university ends up wooing that candidate, Rankin said they could later be persuaded to leave for another institution.

“It’s like pouring water into a bucket with holes,” Rankin said. “You keep working at it, and that’s certainly an important part of it, but you also lose people a lot.”

LOOKING FOR ROLE MODELS

Every time Javon Goard walks into a classroom, he scans the room for people who look like him.

ABOVE: Julian Ivey leads chants during the march on Fraternity Row in March. Students gathered to march in protest of the university’s response to an offensive email sent by a former Kappa Sigma member in January 2014. (File photo/The Diamondback)

The senior sociology major said he assumes he will be one of the few black men in the room and his professors will likely be white or Asian.

In the behavioral and social sciences college, about 14 percent of undergraduates and about 7 percent of faculty are black.

Even in the public health school, which has the largest percentage of black undergraduate student enrollment at about 22 percent, about 9 percent of faculty are black.

Five schools — the business, journalism, information studies, public policy and architecture, planning and preservation colleges — employed fewer than six black faculty in 2014.

“If there was more representation or more diversity within every college, then I would think that a lot of these students would feel more of a benefit because they can see themselves within the professor,” Goard said. “Once you see that, it gives you or the student hope in that ‘Oh, I can make it out within these four or five years with this degree, because my professor looked like me.’”

In the computer, math and natural sciences college, black undergraduates make up about 10 percent of the school, down from 13.5 percent in 2008. Less than 2 percent of faculty are black.

Lauren Watson majors in biology, which is within the computer, math and natural sciences college. As a black student at this university, she said she wished she had at least one black professor for a science class during her time at this university.

“Honestly, it would’ve been nice to have a female professor or a black professor, anything that was a little bit more relatable,” the senior said. “It’s nice to see that other people like you are represented in the field that you want to go into.”

Employing fewer black faculty and enrolling fewer black undergraduates could hurt a student’s classroom experience, Zambrana said.

Minority students like Goard could feel as though they have to represent their race in situations in which they are the only minority in the classroom, Zambrana said.

“They are hypervigilant because the white students see them as representing, so they can’t do anything wrong,” Zambrana said. “That type of hypervigilance is very stressful. Unless they’re able to break through those barriers of race, which is very, very hard, they don’t develop the type of social capital network that is necessary when you go out into the real world that the white students do.”

The issue of minority representation in college is not only an educational issue, but an economic and social-justice issue as well, Loh said.

“People from different backgrounds see issues differently,” Loh said. “It’s very important that, at the college level, students in college start having the curriculum, the points of view, the faculty, that reflect the diversity of this nation.”

Rashawn Ray, a sociology assistant professor, said the university should be more proactive, instead of reactive, in terms of recruiting top minority undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. The university also needs to improve the environment for minorities once they get to the campus, he said.

“Over the past 12 months, we’ve had several incidents that people would consider to be racially charged that speak to the fact that students on-campus still don’t feel included and respected,” Ray said.

 

About 100 students marched on Fraternity Row in March in protest of an email sent in January 2014 by a former Kappa Sigma fraternity member. The former fraternity member used racial slurs to tell the email’s recipients not to invite black, Indian and Asian women to a party “unless they’re hot” and included the phrase “f— consent.”

Some of the protesters also called for the university to rename Byrd Stadium, claiming that its namesake, former university President Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, was a racist and segregationist. Loh recently formed a work group to consider renaming the stadium.

“The University of Maryland continues to be a place that deals with the racist demons of the past and is actively trying to correct for that,” Ray said. “At the same time, what can we keep doing to help students not just get here, but to succeed, thrive and feel as comfortable as any other student once they get here?”

Despite these concerns, this university has the highest percentage of black undergraduates and graduate students among Big Ten schools at about 11 percent. At Rutgers University, which lands at second place, 7.6 percent of students are black.

Given the demographics of the Big Ten — primarily a Midwestern conference — this university’s ranking isn’t surprising. No other states harboring Big Ten schools have a black population of more than 15 percent.

Zambrana said that the more comfortable the university gets with its levels of racial diversity, the easier it becomes to stall on progress.

“We have become more accepting, but in becoming more accepting, we can also cover up any of the real problems,” Zambrana said. “That’s my sense. We need to go back and do things differently. … We have a big responsibility to address social issues; we have a big responsibility to the community.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story featured a photo of Lauren Watson in which text and images on the senior biology major’s shirt had been edited out. The story now features the original photo.

Ellie Silverman is a senior staff writer covering administrative affairs and an assistant news editor for The Diamondback. You can reach her by email at esilvermandbk@gmail.com and on Twitter @esilverman11.

 

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The University of Maryland touts diversity as one of its selling points. But how well does it really score in the classroom on race, gender and spending?