Diversity a concern for faculty

David Yochum

1,945 to 88.

The number of white faculty members compared to black faculty members at Kent State.

At September’s board of trustees meeting, the Pan-African Faculty Staff Association (PAFSA) wanted to talk about 1,945 to 88.

However, its request was denied.

According to e-mails obtained from PAFSA President George Garrison and Charlene Reed, board of trustees’ secretary, PAFSA asked to approach the board with faculty concerns three weeks before its annual meeting. Twenty-four hours before the meeting, Garrison received an e-mail on behalf of Sandra Harbrecht, chair of the board, saying she would rather meet with Garrison personally than place PAFSA’s remarks on the board agenda.

Reed said a meeting with Harbrecht would allow Garrison to open dialogue and fully discuss PAFSA’s concerns away from the board’s business meeting format.

However, Garrison had reasons for wanting to approach the board in public.

The numbers

Referring to information from colleagues and the Office of Research Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, Garrison said PAFSA’s concerns have been pushed aside for nearly a decade.

Among the group’s worries:

• In eight years, black faculty representation has only climbed from 3.7 percent to 4 percent.

• Black student enrollment has been stagnant, hovering between 6 and 7 percent since 1999.

• No blacks are represented within Kent State’s executive cabinet, which includes the university president, vice presidents and provost.

By addressing the board, PAFSA’s voice would have become a matter of public record, assuring that current and future board of trustees could reference PAFSA issues.

“We don’t believe the board of trustees has been in tune to major concerns of the black community on campus,” Garrison said. “We realize that the board and President (Lester) Lefton have their own agendas, and these problems did not happen on Lefton’s watch, but they have to hear from people affected the most by their decisions.”

Steve Michael, vice provost of diversity, assures that Garrison’s concerns have been brought before the president and agrees they are legitimate, but backs how the board handled PAFSA’s request.

“Anyone has the right to write to the board and expect an answer, but not everyone can meet with the board at their meetings because it would be impossible for them do their job,” Michael said. “It’s important to not get held up on the format (of communication) before the goal.”

Baby steps

Pointing to graphs that show incremental differences in Kent State diversity, Michael maintains bigger changes start with the university’s new diversity plan.

“President Lefton wants college-by-college and unit-by-unit report of this data so he can see where we are making progress,” Michael said. “That is the fastest way to bring change — there is not much (Lefton) can do in four months.”

Opposed to making quick decisions, Michael said Kent State will take time to study the university environment, determining how the university can widen faculty recruitment and improve diversity on a tight, publicly funded budget.

“There are many attributes that contribute to hiring a diverse faculty and we can always do better, but in some disciplines it may be difficult to hire minority faculty members,” Michael said. “The location of Kent State and this type of (state-funded) institution may prove to be a challenge.”

Kathe Davis, director of women’s studies and associate professor of English, is one Kent State faculty member who has met the challenge.

She said her department has tried to hire minority faculty members and have had some success, but “over and over again they have been hired away from us.”

“Every university has gotten on-board with diversity,” Davis said. “We’ve been making offers as early as legally possible but for what we have to spend, its been difficult.”

Michael is adamant that a solution to diversity does not include salary enticements.

“If we widen our recruitment pool, we are bound to catch some minority faculty within and assist the faculty who are there to move up the ladder,” he said.

Davis agreed somewhat, saying part of the solution is getting more minorities in the pipeline that can be brought into teaching positions. However, she believes signals have to come from the top.

“To put it mildly, we aren’t where we should be,” Davis said.

She does think Lefton shows potential for change.

“I have spoken and met with President Lefton, and he seems genuinely progressive,” she said.

The outlook

PAFSA feels the hiring of Lefton and the university’s search for a new provost present opportunities to assist Kent State with its diversity efforts.

Garrison, who has since spoken with Harbrecht by phone, advocates assigning high-ranking faculty members a personal stake in diversity, challenging them with financial incentives.

“If diversity goes down, then deans won’t be evaluated highly or get a merit raise,” Garrison said.

He also suggests the university detail specific goals and timetables for its diversity plan.

“If African-American faculty raises to 10 percent in two to three years, then 13 percent to 14 percent in five years, I’d consider that a good faith effort,” he said.

University Provost Paul Gaston said Kent State has pursued “hiring for diversity” based on advance planning and network development, using more than 40 strategies of value.

However, he is aware faculty diversity remains unacceptable.

“Although we are never as successful as we would like, our hiring of faculty of color during the last eight years or so has been gratifying,” he said. “The solution must be systematic – schools must improve, financial aid must be strengthened and graduate schools must recruit students of color more energetically, but hiring is only the first step.”

Welcoming, supporting and celebrating faculty of color is another step for Gaston and for Lefton, who put diversity in perspective.

“We’re striving to achieve an inclusive environment with more faculty, staff and students at all levels to ensure intellectual as well as ethnic diversity,” Lefton said. “The point of diversity is not to have different colors. It’s about the values and the history a person brings to the table.”

Contact minority affairs reporter David Yochum at [email protected].