Board of Visitors, professors, students talk concerns surrounding faculty diversity

The administration is working towards addressing the continued low rates of faculty diversity within U.Va. schools

Among the College, Law School, School of Commerce and Engineering School, the Law School had the lowest proportion of non-white identifying faculty. Tyra Krehbiel | Cavalier Daily

Among students and faculty at the University, faculty diversity has been a historic issue that the University’s administration has said needs improvement in all departments. 

“We can’t have a diverse student body unless we have a diverse faculty, and so they go hand in hand and we are working on both fronts, but you cannot have diverse students attend the University and not find people that look like them teaching,” said Board rector Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III.

The Provost’s Office has also articulated that improving faculty diversity is a priority. The Provost’s Office has created a Diversity and Inclusion statement, implemented over the last few years, that focuses on creating a “living, learning, and work environment that supports—and challenges—our academic community.” 

According to the statement, “The University must be a place in which all faculty, students, and staff are active participants in its work, where those groups historically excluded from participation in University life are present in numbers that prevent isolation of the spirit and of the mind.” 

University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn addressed how the University views diversifying its staff as “essential” to achieving its goals. 

“We believe that a diverse, engaged faculty is critical to deliver excellent research, teaching and patient care,” De Bruyn said in an email to The Cavalier Daily

Student Board of Visitors member Brendan Nigro mentioned in an email to The Cavalier Daily the other methods the Provost Board has used to address the issue of faculty diversity.

“The Board has studied and invested in adequate research infrastructure through the Strategic Investment Fund, increased interdisciplinary opportunities for faculty through the 3 Cavaliers Seed Funding and aims to be among the top 20% in faculty salaries among [Association of American Universities] institutions,” Nigro said. 

AAU membership includes 60 universities in the United States and 2 in Canada, and “are on the leading edge of innovation, scholarship and solutions that contribute to scientific progress, economic development, security and well-being.” 

3 Cavaliers Seed Funding, an initiative by the Vice President for Research at the University, is a seed funding program for groups of three faculty members across at least two separate schools to collaborate for interdisciplinary research. According to the website, the funding is awarded for $15,000 or $60,000 projects. 

According to Institutional Assessment and Studies Universal Data, around 24 percent of the total staff at the University is non-white, which includes employees identified as non-resident aliens. 

Among the individual schools, many of the reports of total faculty remain similar to this 24 percent average such as the College of Arts and Sciences, which reports having 25.6 percent diversity. However, notable outliers include the School of Law, which reports only around 13.8 percent diversity, and the McIntire School of Commerce, which has about 15.7 percent diversity. On the opposite end, the data reports the School of Engineering and Applied Science as having the most diverse faculty on Grounds, with 30.3 percent of their staff being of non-white races. 

Faculty diversity can be a factor for students when they are choosing where they want to attend school. On the connection between a diverse student body and faculty, Conner spoke about how diversity is fundamental if the University wants to be “the greatest institution we can have” and attract “the best students in the country.” 

“You can never achieve excellence in any organization unless you have diversity of thought, diversity of background…ethnically, culturally, racially and experience wise,” Conner said.

The Board is only one of many sectors in the University’s administration that has a role in hiring faculty members. According to Conner, President Jim Ryan, the Provost’s office and the dean also help to hire faculty members. 

“We have made it very clear that [faculty diversity] is a priority for the university and we’ve hired people who share that priority,” Conner said. “We have hired a leadership that views diversity in all forms — gender, racial diversity, cultural, ethnic diversity — [and] across all points.” 

The Board believes they have already made progress at the levels of both students and faculty. According to Conner, there has been a significant increase in the amount of diverse faculty hired in the last two to three years. Right now, however, those results can only be seen in among who they have hired, not in the aggregate faculty population. They plan to continue to address the issue of faculty diversity in the future to continue growing its impact on the University. 

“We’re encouraged by the hires and encouraged by the admissions results that we’ve achieved,” Conner said. “Lots of people have worked very hard. But you know we have more progress to make, so we continue to take it seriously and we will never be satisfied until we have a student population or a faculty population that is reflective of the world at large.” 

Assoc. Prof. Marlene Daut, assoc. director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies said that in hiring faculty, department chairs and deans must “seek intentionally” to ensure they are focusing on literary scholars and also address the low proportion of African-American faculty at the University. 

“[I hope] that they don’t take someone who’s a sociologist of race and say that person belongs in the Woodson department because we’re doing sociology,” Daut said. “It would make it seem like the person who’s studying the sociology and race is somehow not a real sociologist or something, when not all sociologists of race would be people who would be trained in African-American Studies because African American Studies is a discipline with its own sense of beliefs and norms and readings and meanings.” 

According to American Studies program director Sylvia Chong, the University has shown a desire to address the issue of diversity among faculty members. 

“However, the limiting factor is [money],” Chong said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “[Money] devoted to hiring in one area is [money] taken away from another area. At the same time, a case could be made that this is one of the most important priorities for the university, to become a truly modern and global institution.”

Nizar Hermes, assoc. prof. and chair of the Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures department, said many faculty who deal with topics related to ethnic studies in departments other than those dedicated to ethnic studies often “have a kind of outdated, almost orientalist reality behind it.” 

“Just because someone works in an area where they work on black people doesn’t mean they have been trained in this body of research we call African-American Studies,” Daut said. 

Hermes said that he is satisfied with the ethnic diversity of faculty members within the MESALC department, but the same diversity is not present in other departments. 

“If you go to the department of anthropology, the department of history, those who deal with North Africa or the Near East or India, they will most likely not be from the minority,” Hermes said.

In another email to The Cavalier Daily, Chong said the American Studies program “successfully oversaw the hiring of a new Assistant Professor (that means new tenure track) of Native American Studies with the Anthropology Department” this spring.

The Asst. Anthropology Prof. Kasey Jernigan will begin with the department in the fall of 2019. Jernigan is of Native American heritage — specifically from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Jernigan currently serves as a postdoctoral fellow in Native American Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. 

Karl Kent, third-year College student and outgoing Asian Student Union President, disagrees that the University is doing everything they can to address faculty diversity. According to Kent, there is a lack of Asian professors across the University’s departments and it has an impact on students.  

“If you’re an Asian student being taught your own history by someone who doesn’t look like you, it’s limiting,” Kent said. “A lot of minority students don’t have role models, so they won’t have role models who look like them, role models in subjects like humanities who look like them, which means that they are even less likely to enter those fields, which means there will be fewer professors in those [minority] groups from those fields.” 

In October 2018, the Asian Leaders Council published a report entitled “We Are Not Invisible: A Report for Academic Reform,” calling for increased representation of both faculty and and the academic programs the University offers focused on Asian/Asian Pacific Americans. The report advocates for the creation of an American Studies department — as opposed to a program. 

The report is prefaced with information on the creation of the Asian-American/Pacific Islander-American Studies minor 13 years ago. Since then, the report says, no substantial progress has been made in improving the program.

The report says 14 percent of the student population in the College identifies as Asian, but 8.46 percent of the faculty identifies as Asian.

According to Kent, the University is currently leaning on a “structural bias” towards white men and leaning away from minorities. He believes that the University needs to take the concerns of minority groups on Grounds seriously in order “to solve this problem anytime soon.” 

“I think that the University’s current approach doesn’t go far enough and I think that they’re sort of giving us little things but not necessarily fully committing to diversity in the way that they claim to,” Kent said. “And I think that the University really needs to put their money where their mouth is and stop trying to dangle small carrots over us to distract us from the bigger picture.” 

Jaya Nanda, second-year College student enrolled in Asst. Global Studies Prof. Sreerekha Mullassery Sathiamma’s “Work, Women's Work and Women Workers in South Asia” class, said that the personal experience diverse faculty members bring into the classroom is invaluable. 

Originally from India, Sathiamma’s background includes activist work in women’s and civil rights struggles. Sathiamma said her experiences and research in India have added value to the global studies department through the addition of a non-Western viewpoint. 

“She can explain to us a lot of things such as the real life implications of the caste system, the actual intricacies of rice farming and other things,” Nanda said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Nanda also said she believes that more non-white faculty with more personal global studies experience would add value to the department. 

According to Prof. Richard Handler, director of the Global Studies program, the program’s lack of diversity stems from its lack of resources and its young age. The department was initially founded in 2009 as Global Development Studies and did not fully expand into the program it is today until 2014. 

Sathiamma said the program no longer has the funding for her position, so she will most likely be leaving the University in May. 

“[Global Studies] needs to find the resources to expand its faculty,” Handler said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Expanding the faculty will allow us to further diversify it.”

Sathiamma said the Global Studies program would be a “completely different experience” for students if there were more non-white faculty members. She believes that her background as a minority female from India allows her to engage more with her students and that there should be other professors who can provide the same experience. 

“I think Global Studies, like any other program, should definitely have more [diversity], and in fact much more than other programs, being global, and it’s unfortunate that we really don’t have that,” Sathiamma said. 

University President Jim Ryan said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily last month that faculty diversity is “one of the most important issues facing U.Va.” He cited the efforts of the administration before his term officially began.

“If you look at the trend over the last several years, backing diversity has increased fairly significantly,” Ryan said. “It doesn't mean that we're where we want to be ... but I think one of Tom Katsouleas’ best accomplishments as Provost has been increasing the diversity of faculty. Again, there's more work to be done, but he deserves a lot of credit.”

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