We’ve Always Done It This Way

I wrote the post below during my last semester as an adjunct instructor at a rural community college. I resurrect it here because Warren Waren over at Racism Review just published “Institutional Racism: Comparing Oscar Nominations with Higher Education Faculty.” It’s a must-read, especially for anti-racist White academics serving on hiring committees, as faculty and EEO representatives at PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions). Inspired by the recent hashtag campaigns #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsStillSoWhite, Waren draws deft comparison between the Oscars academy (94% white) and academe (“15% of the enrolled student population at America’s colleges, but only 5.5% of all full-time faculty are black.”).

While serving at my college, I was on the “Diversifying Hiring Committee” a campus committee whose mission was in part, dedicated to increasing faculty of color at our campus. I learned much about hiring practices in higher education and the harsh truth of social reproduction among White academics. I agree with Waren when he says, “Ultimately, I feel that both the Oscars and the academy will have to look a lot more like the people they serve or they will be replaced by institutions that do.”



Originally Published by The Adjunct Project Spring 2012

This is gonna be hard to write, maybe even harder for you to read. But, I’m tired of the silence; tired of all the things I haven’t said out loud because I’m scared of what will happen to me or what people will say. Well hell, it’s time to speak out.

I have served as an elected part-time faculty representative on my college’s academic senate since spring 2008. The academic senate is the faculty organization that serves as oversight for all things involving instruction at a college…including curriculum, grading policies, faculty professional development, and policies regarding student preparation and success (to name a few). I like serving on the senate, enjoy advocating for my part-time colleagues and knowing “how things work” (e.g., the big picture) at my organization. But, the last semester and this one have been pure hell for me; I’m being bullied by several members of the senate, including a few that occupy the senate executive positions.

On February 1st, the organizations two Diversifying Hiring Committee chairs gave a presentation at the academic senate, asking for approval to change an aspect of our hiring policy; a change that would increase the potential for diversifying our faculty, which is not representative of our service area. The change the two chairs requested would result in the Equal Employment Opportunity representative position being separate from the Hiring committee chair position, which would result in less “group think” and an empowered equal employment opportunity representative. The current literature from the Human Resources field supports this view because organizations, especially college’s, tend to “reproduce themselves” through their hiring practices…people hire people who they are comfortable with and who look like them…at my college this is called “a good fit.” This restricts opportunities for other academics and it limits (controls) who teaches our students.

The discussion was disheartening. Now mind you, I’m the only faculty on the senate who identifies with a specific culture and ethnic heritage (I’m working class culturally and mixed race ethically). The comments from members of the senate were that it was “too hard” to reorganize hiring committees (although 7 had already separated the positions to maximize the equal employment opportunity policies we are required to uphold as an entity of the state and federal government). Additionally, there were comments from full-time faculty that “we’d always done it this way” (quoted from our faculty professional development coordinator) and that it would be “too hard” to find faculty to serve on hiring committees under the pressure of time. A part-time colleague brought up the fact that part-time faculty can serve on hiring committees, opening up the current pool of available faculty to serve on hiring committees from around 165 to nearly 700. What was deeply disheartening is that one of the chairs of the diversifying hiring committee (a Dean) told me himself (when I’d previously asked to serve as an EEO rep) that I was not eligible because I am part-time; a blatant lie, which I found out about that day.

**The moment that resulted in the letter I’m posting with this note however, came when I questioned a statement from the academic senate vice-president that “‘they’ don’t like living in rural areas.” Who is “they?” If you are one of “them,” then you know that they are talking about people of color…again, the composition of our faculty is not reflective of our service area, nor does it uphold the organization’s mission of equal employment opportunities. People who get the job look like the people hiring them; they must “fit.” At any rate, I disagreed and said that they (my white colleagues) were not going to like what I was about to say and then I said it. It is a white assumption that people of color do not like living in rural areas. Rural areas themselves, trees and dirt, are not especially threatening. It is the hostility and rejection, the history of “Sundown Towns” and knowing that one cannot be their real self. That one must leave their true self at the door and act “appropriate” and “professional” according to standards dictated by white, upper-middle class educators

After the meeting, four white, upper-middle class people held a meeting and agreed that my pointing out a “white assumption” about hiring “…was indeed offensive and therefore inappropriate and unprofessional.” The senate executive has been trying to give me the boot for a while and I imagine that they thought they had me with this, that I would shut up at last. Instead, I’m pissed off and fed up with keeping the secret of the racism, prejudice, and ethnocentrism I observe amongst colleagues and in academic senate meetings (FYI: International students you are part of this too. It’s been said that you all are “taking something away” from our local students and that you don’t stay in the U.S. and go back to your home country, it’s been implied that international students are “using” the college, which is xenophobic, to say the least). Do I fear getting fired, yes. Do I care, yes. Do I care more about exposing racism, prejudice, and ethnocentric viewpoints at my organization than I do my career, yes.



**I cannot publish the letter here lest I get my e.com colleagues in hot water with my former employer. What I can do is describe receiving a letter marked confidential in my department mailbox the week after the academic senate meeting and opening it with shaking hands. How I knew what it would say, that I had no right to feel as I did and that somehow by bringing up race in the context of hiring during a senate meeting I would pay dearly, and I did. I was never spoken to again but that is nothing compared to the ongoing damage of systemic racism in institutions and implicit bias on academic hiring committees.

4 thoughts on “We’ve Always Done It This Way

  1. Academic reproduction is set up for this type of self-reproduction. Committees composed of insiders tend to be risk averse, as you describe–“Who will make my job easier” becomes an important criteria for the votes. This happens when the hiring committee is composed only of people who are from members of the department for which the hire is made. An alternative would be to have a broader based committee with people from outside the department forming a majority. (Or more traditionally just have an autocratic dean decide).

    Having said that, I have served on a lot of committees at Chico State, most of which were dominated by insiders who would assert their expertise as insiders. “We professionally are the best judge of our colleagues, not the outsider–we are the only ones with that unique expertise.” Rhetorically, it is a good way to push back outsiders who do not know the professional lingo, nor have the confidence that insiders share.

  2. And who are the insiders, what do they look like, what is their cultural, national, and class background? These are important questions to ask if universities and colleges aim to diversify hiring beyond the staff level. Too often, one look at a university hierarchy and you see people of color and working class people occupying lower rung staff positions (with few people of color at the top), women and people of color occupying adjunct positions, and white men occupying the predominant number of tenured positions (though there supposedly has been an increase in gender parity among the tenured but I don’t have that research in front of me).

    What makes someone an insider, how do they become one, is it automatic with tenure? Or is something else at play? Yes, committees are dominated by insiders, I sat on bunches of committees and saw exactly that, lots and lots of small scale politics. But when it comes to race/ethnicity and nationality, are insiders the best tool to lead change in an organization? Probably not, they tend to give into the hive mind and start saying things like, “We’ve always done it this way.” They need innovators and contrarians, not conformers and joiners, and that my friend, is precisely why #HigherEdIsStillSoWhite

  3. Insiders start with lifetime socialization. But for academic faculties, an important gatekeeper starts with admission to PhD programs, and then graduation from academic grad programs. As you may recall, the first step in applying for a PhD program is to “contact the professor who you want to work with.” Which is another way, of saying “find someone who you can help reproduce themselves.” Or find a “mentor” who you can serve. In anthropologese it is called a “patron-client relationship.” Patrons do not really need to many contrarians around.

  4. Patrons may not need contrarians but they do need clients. The days of paying lip service to ideas such as “diversity” and “inclusion” are coming to a close, as evidenced by recent student protests on college campuses across the U.S. There are more students of color on college campuses now than anytime in history and the fastest growing demographic in the United States is mixed race people like me. Change is coming, whether the patrons are ready or not. The New York Times published “Meet the New Student Activists” today, and this is exactly what I’m talking about. Click the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/education/edlife/the-new-student-activists.html?ref=edlife&referer=http%3A%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Feducation%2Fedlife%2Findex.html%3Fnytmobile%3D0&nytmobile=0&_r=0

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