The Role of Faculty in Achieving and Retaining a Diverse Student Population

Presented at: "Hopwood, Bakke, and Beyond"
AACRAO Policy Summit
October 7, 1997

By: Jonathan R. Alger, AAUP Counsel and  Gilbert Paul Carrasco, Professor, Villanova Law School

The Faculty Role in Recruiting Minority Students

What can faculty members do to help recruit minority students? Based in large part on actual experience at Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania, Professor Gil Carrasco offers the following suggestions:

Minority faculty members can serve as a presence at recruitment fora for minority students around the country. For example, Professor Carrasco has traveled to California and elsewhere for fora sponsored by the Law School Admissions Council to send the message in person that minority students and faculty are welcome at Villanova. The institution should also make an effort to ensure that minority students can get to these events.

To improve the pipeline, graduate faculty members can attend high school career days to encourage minority high school students to consider professional careers. By attending such events, a faculty member can also get a sense of the issues and pressures on the minds of minority high school students.

Faculty members can encourage current students of color to participate actively on the institution's admissions committee. Even if the students hold non-voting positions, they can provide valuable insights and advice regarding recruitment of minority students. Inclusion of such students also can send a message that minority students are indeed welcome in all aspects of life on campus.

Admissions officers and faculty members can encourage current students and minority alumni to make calls to promising minority applicants or admittees considering their institutions. Such expressions of personal interest can send a strong message to students and provide concrete examples of individuals who have succeeded at the institution.

Financial Aid

Unquestionably, financial aid is critical to many minority students and their parents (as it is to most families today). When the U.S. Department of Education was reviewing its policy on race-targeted financial aid a few years ago, the General Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a national study to determine the frequency and impact of scholarships and other forms of financial aid for minority students. One of the findings of that study was that financial aid is especially important to minority families, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds or in which a son or daughter represents the first generation within the family to go to college. The study also demonstrated that minority scholarships made up only a very small percentage of scholarship aid overall, but that the availability of minority scholarships on campus had a "multiplier effect" by sending a positive signal to other minority students who did not receive the scholarships.

Once aware of this information, faculty members can make a special effort with minority parents (e.g., if they come to visit the campus) to ensure that they will receive a good value for the money invested in a student's postsecondary education. Faculty members can point out the career opportunities that previous students have enjoyed. Such individual stories of success may stick with and inspire people far more than statistical facts or figures.

As college costs continue to rise and institutions face increasing financial pressures, the practice of need-blind admissions is becoming more and more rare. Institutions that place a priority on the recruitment and retention of students from underprivileged backgrounds face a difficult burden, knowing that such students will need financial aid in order to enroll and graduate. When facing such budgetary constraints, it is helpful for an institution to consider carefully its overall mission and the contributions it is supposed to make to its community.

Retention of Minority Students

For too long, many of our institutions have been focused more on the admissions process for minority students than on what happens to minority students once they arrive on campus. The question of retention of minority students is critical at many colleges around the country. As reflected in the 1996-97 status report from the American Council on Education (ACE) on Minorities in Higher Education, the college graduation rates of African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians continue to trail significantly behind those of whites and Asian-Americans.

What can faculty members do to help with retention of minority students? After the admissions and financial aid offices have done their part in putting an entering class together, faculty members can play a critical role in follow-up with minority students in a variety of ways to provide a human touch in their higher education experience. Here are a few suggestions:


All faculty members can play a significant role in students' lives by making a conscious effort to act as mentors, particularly to students who have come from less privileged backgrounds or have overcome significant obstacles simply to enroll in college. As is dramatically illustrated in the PBS film, "Shattering the Silences: Minority Professors Break Into the Ivory Tower," too often minority professors are expected to provide all of the counseling and mentoring for minority students--regardless of the students' areas of academic interest or professional goals.

In selecting students to mentor, many faculty members have gravitated toward students who look and act like younger versions of themselves. Faculty members at all levels should recognize this tendency and make a deliberate effort to seek out students from different backgrounds. This rule of thumb applies to minority faculty members as well, of course--non-minority students can learn a great deal from minority mentors.

Information/Orientation for Faculty

All faculty members should be aware of the various programs and activities on campus available that might be of interest to minority students in particular. To facilitate this awareness, faculty members could be given a description (preferably orally and in writing) of programs and activities, and of any special events celebrating diversity on campus or the contributions of minority individuals or groups.

Any formal programs that are geared specifically for minority students only, even if part of a college orientation process, may now be subject to the same sort of "reverse discrimination" legal attacks already seen in the areas of admissions and financial aid. For example, special orientation sessions, registration periods, or mentoring or tutoring programs available only to minority students are likely to be challenged under the regulations implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because such opportunities could be seen as educational benefits to which the civil rights statutes apply. Less formal programs which target students from underprivileged backgrounds--many of whom might in fact be members of minority groups--are permissible and less likely to face legal challenges.

Some critics argue that opening programs, such as a mentoring program for minority students, to all students dilutes the positive, welcoming message conveyed to minority students. On the other hand, of course, many such programs do provide benefits of significance to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. On balance, if a program is worthwhile for one group of students, it makes good practical and legal sense to make it more widely available rather than to limit it to students on the basis of race or national origin (unless it is a program that is specifically designed to redress discrimination against a particular group).

As these challenges to affirmative action programs continue, AAUP's Committee L has been working with the American Council on Education (ACE) and other higher education organizations and researchers to study the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity from the perspective of faculty members as frontline educators. The impact on areas such as classroom discussion, curriculum, teaching styles, faculty research, student career choices, and other facets of university life is being considered. A written survey instrument is being developed to share with institutions to assist in assessing their own affirmative action programs from an educational perspective, and in responding to potential legal challenges to affirmative action programs.

Achieving and Retaining Diversity in Faculty

The facts about minority faculty are clear: racial and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented among the ranks of higher education faculty. Furthermore, minority faculty are more likely to hold part-time or other non-tenure-track positions, and to be clustered in certain subject matter areas often associated with their "minority" status such as ethnic studies. Ethnic studies programs can of course play a critical role in higher education, but they should not be the only place where minority scholars are welcome.

Why is faculty diversity important? As with any minority student, there is no guarantee that a minority faculty member will bring a particular perspective to the classroom. The diversity rationale for affirmative action need not rest on the assumption that race or national origin serves as a proxy for a particular point of view, however. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Students can learn a great deal to help them overcome stereotypes and learned prejudices from childhood by seeing the diversity of opinions within other racial or ethnic groups, as well as by seeing their own commonalities with faculty or students from other backgrounds. Legally and politically, affirmative action programs that are premised on this theory of diversity should have broader appeal today than programs based on the "proxy" concept, particularly because such programs are designed to benefit ALL students.

The U.S. Supreme Court may provide further guidance on the issue of faculty diversity in the upcoming case of Piscataway v. Taxman, slated to be argued later this term. The Piscataway case involves the application of a diversity-based affirmative action program in the layoff of a white teacher in a high school business department who was hired on the same day as an African-American teacher in the same department who had equal qualifications. A complicating factor was that the school district had diversity within its faculty ranks on a district-wide basis, but not within this particular department. The Court may use this case to provide some clarity as to the circumstances in which diversity can serve as a compelling interest in the educational context. Although it is a layoff case under Title VII, the case raises issues with potential importance for admissions and other contexts.

For institutions concerned about recruitment and retention of minority faculty members, similar issues arise as in student admissions. For example, institutions should review the definitions of "merit" that are applied to faculty members who are being considered in the hiring process, or who are being reviewed in connection with tenure or promotion decisions. The traditional criteria applied to faculty members may appear to be neutral on their face, but may in fact have a disparate impact on minority faculty members in a variety of ways. Note the following:


Narrow definitions of merit in research, emphasizing publications in traditional journals on traditional topics, may overlook new and emerging areas of scholarship, as well as practical applications of theory to real-life problems.

Time and Service Commitments

Minority faculty members are often called upon to serve as the minority representative on numerous campus committees and projects, creating a heavy service burden. Also, minority faculty are often relied upon to serve as mentors to minority students, regardless of the students' majors or interests.


Minority faculty are often called upon to teach "non-traditional" or minority-related courses regardless of their relative expertise in such fields (e.g., African-American history).


 "Collegiality" has been introduced as a criterion in many tenure decisions. It is often a vague and subjective criterion, and can therefore be used against faculty members whose work and ideas challenge traditional orthodoxy within their departments or institutions.

As with students, each faculty member should be assessed individually for overall contributions to the learning environment at the university, both in and outside the classroom.

Search Process

Institutions that want to improve their recruitment of minority faculty members should also look carefully at the faculty search committee process. Faculty search committees often have a narrow recruiting base, limited outreach and little training in the search process. Institutions should provide training, information and resources to help search committees broaden their pools to include candidates from a variety of sources, including historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. For professional schools, the search process should take advantage of resources such as minority bar associations.


Finally, some critics argue that tenure blocks opportunities for women and minorities, because the traditional criteria discussed above can be applied by senior faculty to discriminate against their junior colleagues. The availability of tenure-track positions remains a strong incentive to enter a teaching career, however. Moreover, the link between tenure and academic freedom has long been recognized (see, e.g., AAUP's 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure), and academic freedom is vital to scholars who challenge established norms and ways of thinking. Minority faculty in particular can benefit from the rich tradition of academic freedom in higher education. Thus, care should be taken to ensure that tenure review processes are applied fairly and equally, keeping in mind the types of disparate impact discussed above. As with affirmative action programs, the phrase "mend it, don't end it" applies with equal force to the tenure system as it applies to minority faculty members.

Jonathan R. Alger is Counsel for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington, DC, and serves as staff resource for AAUP's Committee L on the Historically Black Colleges and the Status of Minorities in the Profession.

Gilbert Paul Carrasco is Professor of Law at Villanova Law School in Villanova, PA, and serves as a member of AAUP's Committee L.

AAUP's Committee L, on the Historically Black Institutions and the Status of Minorities in the Profession, is concerned with issues affecting minority faculty and students in higher education. Committee L has been focusing its attention this past year on the educational benefits of diversity from the faculty perspective. In conjunction with other higher education organizations, the Committee has been examining affirmative action programs for minority students and faculty and discussing the needs to develop legal justifications for such programs and to bring them into compliance with the applicable civil rights laws.