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Minority Representation & Faculty Diversity at AUP

Minority Representation & Faculty Diversity at AUP

Image courtesy of the AUP faculty directory

Image courtesy of the AUP faculty directory

A quick Google search for AUP will direct you to the university’s design-savvy, albeit sometimes technologically-impractical, website. Once on the website, one is quickly greeted with an animated background and stats boasting AUP’s international and diverse student body of ‘108 nationalities.’ A few more clicks will bring you to the AUP faculty directory. Though filled with professional portraits of seemingly friendly AUP professors, the overwhelming majority of the faces smiling back from the screen remain white.

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Institutions dominated by white faculty are nothing new. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions within the U.S.,  41% were White males; 35% were White females; 6% were Asian/Pacific Islander males; 4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander females; 3% each were Black males, Black females, and Hispanic males; and 2% were Hispanic females. These figures suggest a gross discrepancy in the faculty diversity of higher-education American institutions.

Data courtesy of The Brookings Institution

Data courtesy of The Brookings Institution

But what does it mean to have a diverse faculty, and how impactfully can faculty diversity enrich the learning and experiences of students? Is focusing on racial, ethnic, and gender diversity merely a reflection of superficial identity politics? Should universities strive instead for academic and intellectual diversity?

On one hand, the argument may be made that diversity in academic and intellectual expertise does not necessarily require diversity in ethnic and cultural background. On the other hand, research has continuously shown that cultural and ethnic diversity in faculty and staff introduces “diversity of thought and experience -- boons to any intellectual enterprise -- and both minority and white students benefit from learning from professors who look like them, and those who don’t”.

Pictured : Matthieu Blazevic

Pictured : Matthieu Blazevic

In order to get a deeper understanding of how AUP students feel about faculty diversity, specifically on the AUP campus, I interviewed students of various backgrounds and across disciplines.

Matthieu Blazevic, a French-American AUP student graduating soon with a degree in International Comparative Politics and an International Law minor, tells me, “AUP, despite the base of international students and teachers, lacks professors of color. Most teachers have a Western background and/or perspective which can greatly impact what students take away from classes. Perspectives are key when learning, but AUP falls back on that category.”

Having studied abroad last year at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Blazevic reveals, “When I studied in Cape Town, out of the six classes I took, all my teachers had different ethnic and racial backgrounds. AUP should greatly focus on hiring a more diverse staff to provide better insights when teaching.”

Another student, who preferred to remain anonymous, shared similar thoughts as Blazevic, stating, “When we start thinking about an issue such as faculty diversity at AUP, it is equally important to consider the bodies of knowledge and knowledge systems that your professors operate from. I must note that during my tenure at AUP, the only authors and theorists of color I have read have been part of courses that were considered ‘alternative’ and in a way, merely complementary to the theoretic foundation I am acquiring at this institution. Not only are our professors predominantly white, but the knowledge we are being fed and the lens through which we are being taught to see the world is white and Western.”

Studies have demonstrated the influence of non-white teachers in producing more positive outcomes for students of similar backgrounds. The anecdotal lived experiences of professors of color is a valuable facet of non-traditional education that demystifies the “ often one-sided portrayals of the world and offers invaluable insight to students from different backgrounds.”

In an increasingly demographically-diverse world, students must be equipped to relate to individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and viewpoints, all of which comes from exposure to these differences, both in academic intellectuality as well as physical representation of identity. Though AUP is an institution rich in diversity, with students from all over the globe, it is no secret that the faculty population has an evident ethnic and racial representation issue. History, Law & Society Professor Michelle Kuo, an American professor of Taiwanese descent, agrees that AUP could be “strengthened deeply by a more diverse faculty, both in terms of ethnic and racial composition, in national origin, but also in terms of range of study—our university still does not have a Africanist or African-Americanist across any field, including history, literature, sociology, and anthropology.”

Pictured: Moumi Camara

Pictured: Moumi Camara

Moumi Camara, a third-year Guinean-American and President of AUP Diversity Club says, “ I definitely believe there is a lack of diversity within the faculty. AUP is continuously endorsing how many different nationalities are present on our campus, but once you arrive, you don’t see it amongst professors. The school attracts many people of African origins, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Throughout my 3 years here, I’ve never had a black professor, not that the ones I’ve had aren’t good at what they do, but I don’t feel like I’m represented within the faculty in a university that self-deems itself to be ‘diverse.’” She adds, “I also think it would be interesting for AUP to offer courses such as African studies.”

During our interview, Professor Kuo also discussed the importance of professors of color and of minorities in providing spaces for minority and underrepresented students to feel entitled to learn, as historically this has not been the case in Western institutions. Students of color, she notes, often feel more comfortable seeking out professors of color for guidance. She referred to this as “invisible and informal labor” in the form of mentorship and support. While she explains that in many ways, these relationships are among the best parts of being a professor, it is often draining. However, she feels it is a responsibility because, as she puts it, “There are are few professors of color for students of color turn to; if I didn’t do it, they have few other options.”

Professor Michelle Kuo, Photo credit: Jasmine Cowen.

Professor Michelle Kuo, Photo credit: Jasmine Cowen.

 
Pictured: Evan Floyd

Pictured: Evan Floyd

Evan Floyd, an African-American student majoring in Creative Writing and Film Studies, says, “All my professors last semester were white. All my professors this semester are white. There is brilliance among them, don't get me wrong. They seem very knowledgeable. However, they are aware that the majority of their classes are white and that the majority of the staff is as well, which I feel allows them to get away with a lot. I've been referred to as the black urban community in class. I've been given uncomfortable looks when slavery comes into conversation during class. There are some professors who are subtle in their racism. I feel like this is not an issue with our teachers who aren't white as they can often relate to the struggle.”

Asked what he thought could do done to improve faculty diversity, he elaborated, “I think there needs to be transparency at the very least. There seems to be more of an added awareness of this issue in my department (Creative Writing), as students were emailed about candidates for hire visiting to talk about their work and told our feedback on them was valued.”

In an interview with Professor Waddick Doyle, an AUP professor of over 20 years and Chair of the Communications department, Doyle tells me, “AUP began as a tour school whose purpose was to de-provincialize Americans through a culturally-diversified structure within an American framework.” In this sense, the initial AUP faculty largely reflected the predominantly upper-class, white student population. Over the years, this has changed to accommodate a multicultural student and faculty body of various backgrounds. According to AUP’s university fact page, “AUP faculty members represent 27 nationalities; 69% speak three or more languages.”

Though no official records on faculty backgrounds other than nationality are kept within the administration, of the approximate 80-100 tenured faculty listed on AUP’s faculty directory and present on campus, only one black professor holds a tenure-track position and is regularly present on campus.

That distinction belongs to Assistant Professor Evelyn Odonkor, who hails from Ghana and teaches in the International Business Administration (IBA) department. She began teaching at AUP in 2016 after 16 years prior at Université Paris-Dauphine. I sat down with Professor Odonkor to talk about her experience on campus as the only black and African professor. Up until our interview, Professor Odonkor was uncertain as to whether she really was the only black professor on campus. She recalls how students and other faculty drew her attention to it before she really questioned it herself, adding, “You know it’s a problem when other people are thinking about it and start asking questions.”

When I asked about how she arrived at AUP, she recounts being recruited in an emergency to teach two classes in the IBA department following a referral by Professor Waddick Doyle, who had known Odonkor previously. “If I had not been recruited by Waddick, I would not be here,” she affirms.

In her two and a half years at AUP, Professor Odonkor has not known any other black professors, an experience she regards as quite different from her experience teaching at Paris-Dauphine, where, even though black professors were still a definitive minority, she had several other black colleagues.

“Diversity is very important,” she states, “having professors of various cultural backgrounds, professional backgrounds including both the corporate and noncorporate world, as well as gender adds to the richness and wealth of the institution.” Bringing our interview to a close, I asked Evelyn why she thought she might be the only black professor at AUP, to which she replied simply that she didn’t know, and with a chuckle she asserted, “however, I am certainly not the only black woman with a PhD.”

Research has shown that faculty hiring committees within departments plays a significant role in the diversity outcomes of the hired professors. During our interview, Professor Kuo suggested diversifying faculty recruitment committees at AUP is difficult, given that there are few faculty of color to begin with. “Hiring committees within departments need to have consensus that a primary objective would be prioritizing diversity. Generally, committee networks tend to look like themselves.” She argued that ultimately a higher administrative mandate to recruit promising minority candidates is necessary to diversify faculty ethnically, racially and academically. “Diversity of academic thought and diversity of background do not necessarily have to be binary, but they can be overlapping,” she added.

In order to gain some insight into AUP’s faculty hiring process and discuss options for improving faculty diversity, I interviewed AUP’s new provost, Dr. William Fisher. One of the first questions I asked Dr. Fisher during his interview was about his interest and reasoning for coming to AUP, to which he cited AUP’s diversity and its dedication to preparing students to be “global explorers.”  

Though Dr. Fisher only joined the AUP community in August of 2018, he has high ambitions of creating spaces within AUP for dialogue on “how best to suit the needs of ‘global explorers,’ as well as the criteria set out for reforming departments and curriculum. He identifies his current intent as “to continue to generate this discussion within AUP about what we think we need to do in order to meet the needs of global explorers, which could be a diverse set of needs if they truly come from a diverse set of backgrounds.”

Moving on to the process of recruitment, Dr. Fisher explains that at present, the initial hiring process at AUP begins with departments making position requests. These requests are then reviewed by various elements within the university in order to decide how many positions will be filled in the following year, as full time CDI (Contract Duration Indeterminée) positions and non-CDI positions, as well as what the top priorities are for filling these positions. This process is then followed by departments crafting a job description, which then goes on to writing an ad collectively, with input from both the administration and internally from departments.

Then, a search committee is identified, usually including one member of the department and at least one member from outside of the department, which is then reviewed by the Provost in order to ensure that there are a variety of search perspectives, in terms of gender, intellectual representation, in terms of department representation, the goal being “to avoid a homogenous search committee.”

Elaborating on the process of faculty recruitment, Dr. Fisher tells me that many factors are examined to determine the admissibility.  “Evidence of teaching excellence is looked at, which includes being able to fit in the AUP model of a liberal arts system, hands on learning, an interdisciplinary approach that is productive and contributes to a multicultural community.” Dr Fischer did, however, acknowledge the need for diversity; “More attention needs to be paid to attracting more applicants from various backgrounds.”

While open to more systematic and strategic methods for increasing faculty diversity, such as diversity statements, Dr. Fisher has also cited legal barriers to this approach, including French laws preventing self-identification and distinction on applications, a measure intended to prevent racial or ethnic discrimination. As headhunting is an expensive process generally reserved for institutions with a heftier endowment, AUP is in many ways limited to the applicant pool when recruiting for new positions.

AUP may have a general interest in diversifying faculty and increasing their efforts to recruit professors of various minorities and backgrounds, but a more systematic and strategic approach must be applied to truly diversify and stratify the faculty hiring process.

Other American universities have included strategies within their faculty hiring programs in order to enhance faculty diversity. Following protests at colleges across the United States during the 2015-16 academic year, student organizations nationwide issued demands that administrators make active efforts to increase the representation of minorities and women among faculty and staff. 

Students at Johns Hopkins University protest the lack of faculty diversity on campus, Photo Credit: James VanRennsselaer, Courtesy of homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Students at Johns Hopkins University protest the lack of faculty diversity on campus, Photo Credit: James VanRennsselaer, Courtesy of homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

In the years since, a number of institutions in the US have made efforts to diversify their faculty, among them University of California, Riverside, and Boston College. By opting for a “cluster-hiring” approach of hiring multiple academics into various departments based on interdisciplinary research, both Boston College and Riverside have experienced success in diversifying faculty.

According to statistics published by Boston College after incorporating these changes to their faculty hiring process, “46 percent of the tenure-track and tenured faculty hires last year (2016) were from minority backgrounds (39 hires total). Among all full-time hires by the college, including non-tenure-track professors, 38 percent (or 53 total) were minorities, which, in Boston College terminology, is ‘AHANA’ (African, Hispanic, Asian or Native American descent). Counting visiting professors, some 32 percent of new faculty hires (87 total) were AHANA.”

Other universities have increased faculty representation through the inclusion of other hiring tactics, such as requiring a statement of diversity from applicants in order to assess what each applicant believes they bring to the table in terms of diversity of background, diversity of academic and professional experience, and diversity of thought.

AUP has significant ways to go in diversifying faculty and ensuring adequate representation ,on both ethnic and cultural levels. While the decision to recruit faculty rests largely in the hands of the departments and the administration, it is also in the interest of students of the AUP community to push this agenda into the focus of the administration. The ultimate goal is not to tokenize the faculty hiring process, but rather to pave the way for dialogue surrounding student needs within the institution in the form of academic rigor, cultural exposure and multifaceted approaches to issues in the modern world, but also in the form of faculty representation, role models, and accessible mentorship. I do know one thing for certain, and it is that in my experience as a person of color at a predominantly white institution, there is something deeply meaningful and empowering in witnessing and learning from professors in positions of authority, especially if you have grown up a minority.  

Sources:
Cody Koedel, “Examining Faculty Diversity at América’s Top Public Universities”. 2017.
Colleen Flaherty, “Cluster Hiring and Diversity”. 2015.
Colleen Flaherty, “Making Diversity Happen.” 2017.
Damon A. Williams and Katrina C. Wade-Golden, “Best Practices for Improving Faculty Recruitment and Retention”, 2013.
Glenda L. Partee, “Retaining Teachers of Color in Our Public Schools”, Center for American Progress. 2014.
Melinda Anderson, “Why Schools Need More Teachers of Color”, The Atlantic. 2015. 
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