Staff Editorial: AU's lack of faculty diversity reveals wider issues
University's inclusive excellence plan falls short for increasing student sense of belonging
From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle's April 2023 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
Professors of color are disproportionately underrepresented across the country. American University is no exception to this. As The Eagle examined faculty diversity around campus, what we found was unsatisfactory. Although each school within AU has a disappointingly low number of faculty of color, some schools lack more than others.
The biggest culprits? The School of Public Affairs and the School of Communication.
Only 15 of the 111 full-time SPA faculty members identified as persons of color for the 2021-2022 academic year. This number is likely a symptom of a much larger problem than just AU’s hiring practices. Since the inception of the United States, the federal government has been dominated by white men. Although the government has become more diverse in recent years, the effects of decades of racial discrimination in hiring practices directly influence the current job market. Because many SPA faculty are hired due to their experience in government and law, it tracks that white people are dominating the job market. This is systemic.
Similarly, only 15 percent of full-time SOC faculty members identify as persons of color. This percentage, unfortunately, is in line with the journalism industry as a whole. The Columbia Journalism Review found that racial and ethnic minorities compose only 17 percent of U.S. newsroom staff. This causes an identical issue to SPA. The government and journalism industries must improve their hiring practices to diversify their talent. In doing so, universities will have more diverse candidates.
This is not to absolve AU of blame, however, for the lack of diversity in faculty. AU must make more of an effort to close this hiring gap. In its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement, AU recognizes the importance of a diverse faculty. The fourth step of goal 4 of the Inclusive Excellence plan is to “continue efforts to diversify faculty hiring and retention.” There are specific steps listed to achieve this, yet based on faculty demographics, it seems that either the plan has not been implemented or it is not working.
The Kogod School of Business has a hiring program specifically designed to diversify faculty. Thirty-three percent of Kogod’s full-time faculty are racial or ethnic minorities, the second highest of any AU school. While this percentage should still be improved upon, it shows that a white-dominated field, like business, can still produce a diverse hiring pool. Other schools, like SPA and SOC, should look to Kogod to see how they can improve.
AU’s advertisements, emails and social media campaigns are flooded with the phrase “inclusive excellence.” Students who come to AU expecting to find faculty members with shared identities due to this campaign should not have to be disappointed when they show up to class. Students of marginalized identities should be able to see themselves represented in the classroom, regardless of what major they choose. Unless every student can have professors with which they share commonalities, “inclusive excellence” will just be a buzzword that gives students unrealistic expectations.
Students have a role to play in this, too. By filling out the Campus Climate Survey, students can let AU know what is and isn’t working and how they feel about AU. The Inclusive Excellence Plan was a direct result of students’ responses in the 2017 Campus Climate Survey. Students often complain that the University isn’t listening to them, but the University has no way of knowing how we feel unless we tell them. The Campus Climate Survey is a chance to do this. Students should give the Campus Climate Survey the same energy we give the end-of-semester Student Evaluations of Teaching for professors. This is our chance to make our voices heard and we shouldn’t ignore it.
Once the Campus Climate Survey has been filled out by students, the University needs to make the results public and clearly explained so students can see if their complaints have actually been addressed. It is one of many ways administration can become more transparent.
Students want to be heard, but after years of being told that we should just go through the 'proper channels' — filling out surveys, sending emails or applying to join working groups — to do so, it becomes tiring when we don't see the results of those actions. The University needs to show students that our feedback is not being thrown in a filing cabinet to never be seen again, and that it is actually being taken to heart.
Students and faculty are more than just business transactions. Improving faculty diversity can only lead to more students feeling represented and comfortable in class, leading to greater success in the future.
Faculty are often a student's first impression of what an industry looks like, and by not having diverse faculty, the University is showing its students of color that they will not be valued in their chosen fields.