The Real Game Changer for PWI's: Racially Diversifying Boards of Trustees and Administration

Many Black students are taking a stance in terms of protests, sit-ins and beyond, across the country, making demands and seemingly getting some of them met. This is laudable, although some observers have expressed that black students that are standing up have a sense of entitlement and that their concerns don't warrant such protests. Whether one agrees with their approaches or not, Black student protesters are creating formidable dialogues across the nation and what appears to be change at many of the predominantly white institutions (PWI's) where protests have taken place. The question is, are these demands going to be actually met or is administration at PWI's offering mere lip service as a measure to strive for immediate quietude?

Consequently, it seems necessary to begin a dialogue now about Boards of Trustees and Administration. Yale University's administration seems to be putting money behind their promise to diversify Faculty to the tune of a $50 million, five-year initiative. As an alumna of this institution, I am watching this closely and so far I like what I see in terms of forthright communication from President Salovey to Yale's stakeholders. Observation must continue to see the outcome of this endeavor. But, it would seem that in addition to diversifying Faculty, any strong plan has to begin racially diversifying the Board of Trustees and Administration.

In general, at colleges/universities that are predominantly white, most, if not all of the Board of Trustee Members and Administrators, the people that actually oversee the President's management of an academic institution's finances and ensure that the institution has the capacity to fulfill its stated mission, are white.

The black students holding sit-ins and other forms of protest are going to the offices of presidents, and other administrators, to make their demands. Some administrators, as was the case at Mizzou, as an example, are resigning. This, as mentioned in my prior post, entitled "A Love Letter to Black College/University In Struggle: Is Ignorant racism a distraction?" seems significant. However, if one door closes for said administrator(s) only for another to immediately open, in terms of new positions for them elsewhere, what does the resignation actually mean?

For longer-term solutions, some of the steps below must be considered in terms of change that will be the real PWI game changers in terms of black people and their roles in them:

1. Black Board of Trustee Members should be recruited immediately, to serve at predominantly white institutions, to ensure that individuals who are familiar with black students' concerns are at the power table. These Board of Trustee members should not only be the wealthiest/prestigious/most prominent black people in the community, but from various walks of life, who can relate to issues pertaining to black students on various levels. The latter should be the case for all of the Board of Trustee members, no matter their race, although it is clear that Trustees also provide financial support to institutions. However, participation in these roles should not be limited based on socioeconomic status.

2. Black Administrators including Presidents, Provosts, Deans, faculty Chairs, etc. should be recruited and hired to serve in decision-making positions as these roles involve the management of the day-to-day operations of higher education institutions. It is awful when a new, Black faculty member, having come on board for a tenure track position, has to be beholden to people holding power that make all of the day-to-day decisions, that do not look like them. Also, if there are only a few black administrators, sprinkled here and there, one has to be wary of "crabs in the barrel" and plantation mentalities formulated in the behavior of the few black leaders, as others strive to rise to the top for a small piece of the "leadership pie." If "leadership pie" is being doled out, give black people equal pieces so there is no fighting over the crumbs.

3. PWI's should reach out to organizations that are focusing on black people holding or striving for doctorates and trying to guide them towards higher education opportunities. One organization that comes to mind is the Black Doctoral Network: Universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's) and beyond, where Black students are attending to receive their doctorates, must be approached to recruit Black doctoral students, to serve as Professors, at PWI's, in their respective fields.

After attending Teachers College, Columbia University, where I received my doctorate, I found university teaching positions. Unfortunately, I would often be the only black person in my department, or one of two, particularly in the field of Public Health, which is where I initially began my teaching career. I noticed that black faculty, from various departments, would frequently get together whispering and talking about the low numbers of black faculty and administration.

Disgust was expressed at the fact that the small numbers of existing black faculty were constantly being told by administration that they could not find more Black qualified people with doctorates to increase faculty diversity. This type of dialogue, amongst black faculty, occurred on every PWI campus that I have ever been involved with as a faculty member. In short, black faculty at PWI's, in general, express concerns such as:

-There are insufficient numbers of black people being hired in tenure track positions.
- There are not enough black faculty getting tenure, if hired in tenure track positions.
-White administrators and predominantly White faculty search committees are making all of the decisions about hiring new faculty and excluding black candidates.
-There are not enough black administrators.
- There are feelings of burn out by the small number of black faculty members who are working extra hard making sure that they are available to black students as impromptu/official advisors and mentors (some black faculty avoid doing so given the pressures of research, scholarship and service to try to get tenure or due to other commitments).
-Some white students don't respect black faculty in the classroom and are overtly critical and taking said students to task may impact acquisition of tenure as administration and tenure committees review evaluations.
- There are problems for black faculty in non-tenured faculty positions (often referred to as contingent faculty) due to lack of decent pay, not being able to vote on matters of concern, no/limited benefits and sometimes lack of concern for them from tenured faculty members.

Ultimately, after acquiring all of the requisite degrees, from a bachelor's to master's then Doctorate and then entering an academic institution to profess one's knowledge, it's disconcerting that there is another evaluative process to determine success levels. This time, it's tenure. There are arguments for and against tenure but in terms of black faculty, at PWI's, the process will mostly be led by White people who are members and heads of tenure committees, Provosts, Deans, Chairs, etc. and have the power to determine the fate of one's academic position, including rank, salary, what department he/she will teach for and basically, every aspect of her/his academic experience. This is a demeaning process, for many black faculty members, along with other experiences where the residual feeling is disempowerment, particularly if tenure is not the outcome, which is often the case.

To make matters worse, the day-to-day experience may be disheartening for black faculty at PWI's. As an example, I have actually served as a faculty member at a PWI in which black faculty members, mainly women, felt that they could not wear their hair in natural styles because white colleagues/administrators might find it offensive/unprofessional. I mention this because I have a natural hair blog entitled Natural is Cool Enough (N.I.C.E.)-- This blog led to formulation of a campus group, which advocated student empowerment and comfort in knowing that Natural IS Cool Enough on campus or anywhere. Black faculty members would also attend N.I.C.E. meetings, which were essentially support group sessions, and lament about their feelings of disempowerment on campus regarding their hair. It was as much of a problem for black faculty as it was for black students!

Furthermore, on that same campus, I recall going to lunch at the Faculty Club where basically all of the Black faculty members were sitting together and we had a "grieving session" about how pathetic it was that we could all fit at one table because there were so few of us. At that table, there were whispers of disdain about the lack of diversity on campus, discussions of condescending insults that black faculty members had received from their white colleagues and administrators and beyond. Much of the discussion was in hushed tones, particularly if the term "White" was used. Honestly, it was on that day that I realized that I was having the same experience that occurred so many times when I was a student at PWI's but we were just in more relaxed clothing as students and were paying to attend rather than being paid, as is the case with black faculty members.

Lastly, many black students, as part of their protests, are requesting, that White faculty members and staff need to experience cultural competency training as a requirement, as one of their core demands. As one who writes books and consults about cultural competency and diversity, I think this in fact would be useful. However, there is the notion of academic freedom for faculty members. If the goal is to begin to force White faculty members to take trainings to effectively do their jobs, because after all cultural competency is a skill set, then what does that say about the academic institutions that provided them with their doctoral degrees in the first place? Did their colleges/universities miss the provision of this skill in the curriculum for individuals holding doctorates? If so, therein lies an important clue to the overall problem.