Opinion

Open Letter to CAS Students, Faculty: The Future Lasts a Long Time

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As another hiring season at Loyola draws to a close, many of us in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) are experiencing a familiar sense of disappointment, frustration and even anger over the failure to hire even one Black or African-American faculty member. Of the 10 searches I know about for full-time, tenure-track faculty in the college, only one person of color received a campus visit. While at least two of the new hires are “international,” none are Black or African American, and 75 percent are men. If this is what new hires look like when we are committed to diversity — as we are repeatedly assured we are — I hate to think what we would look like if we were not so committed.

I have been at Loyola for 28 years. When I came, all the tenured and tenure-track faculty in the English Department were white. We are now at least 92 percent white and 4 percent Black or African American. When I came, the ratio of men to women among tenured and tenure-track faculty in the department was two-thirds to one-third. It still is, even though nearly two-thirds of doctorate degrees in literature in the U.S. are earned by women and have been for about two decades, according to a 2014 report by the Survey of Earned Doctorates. (Not surprisingly, we have more gender diversity, though not more racial diversity, among the non-tenure track faculty — those who teach more and get paid less.)

For the university as a whole, in one of the most prestigious positions, the endowed professor, we are approximately 90 percent white and 86 percent male, according to Loyola’s 2015 Annual Report on Diversity. Among full professors, 87 percent are white and 69 percent are male. In the rank of assistant professor, the picture improves somewhat: 79 percent are white and 51 percent are male. (The preponderance of women faculty in the School of Nursing, however, skews the gender ratio overall.) Across the university, the hiring of Black or African-American faculty, Hispanic or Latino/a faculty and, in many areas, female faculty still lags.

To be fair, as a university we are taking steps to address the lack of diversity on our campus. We have hired a chief diversity and inclusion officer, appointed an adviser on diversity to the president’s cabinet, posted a diversity statement on our website and undertaken a longitudinal study of diversity at Loyola. We have recruited more Black and African-American students than in past years. We now require chairs of job search committees to attend a diversity training session. Yet when it comes to hiring and retaining a diverse faculty, and when it comes to retaining and nurturing a diverse student body, what matters are results, not rhetoric.

Talking about race and gender inequities in public makes people uncomfortable. Bringing up such statistics can risk offending colleagues or putting them on the defensive. In response to our discomfort, we are quick to cite successful hires in the past, to mention offers made but not accepted, or to point, quite rightly, to the dearth of Black, Hispanic or female candidates in particular fields. But in responding to the challenge of diversity hiring, to quote the author Richard Wright, “An attitude of self-consciousness and self-criticism is far more likely to be a fruitful point of departure than a mere recounting of past achievements.”

I do not want to engage in what literary critic Edward Said once called the rhetoric of blame. No one person is responsible for Loyola’s lack of diversity. I am not suggesting individuals on hiring committees are biased against women or minorities. That would be too simple. I am instead arguing that we do not make diversifying the faculty a priority in our hiring. It’s time we do make it a priority, and we can begin by asking why we failed this year.

So let’s look at what we, as a college, may not be doing.

We may not be tracking statistics on racial, ethnic and gender diversity, by rank and across time, and in each department, so that we might assess where departments need to focus their recruitment efforts.

We may not be making an effort to recruit a diverse pool of applicants by crafting our job descriptions in such a way as to attract Black or Hispanic or women faculty; by actively and persistently recruiting underrepresented faculty through letters inviting them to apply; by advertising jobs in publications and through organizations that address the particular constituencies we would like to target.

We may not be trying cluster hires, instead opting for silo hires, where each department determines its own hiring priorities apart from other departments in its area. We may not have discussed the possibility of three, four or even five positions in the college seeking to attract Black or African-American faculty in any one year.

We may not be holding departments accountable for the efforts they took to recruit a diverse pool of candidates.

We may not be asking Human Resources to contact faculty who have declined our offers to find out why we’re not able to attract Black or Hispanic or female faculty.

We may not have noticed the makeup of job committees — whether the committees themselves are diverse.

But here we run up against the demographics of the college.

So many of our job search committees are dominated by white men because we, as a college, are dominated by white men. There are exceptions, of course, but the norm (at least in my department) is two white men and one woman, often white. How can we improve the diversity of our committees, though, without burdening the few faculty of color we have, or without increasing the already heavy service requirements of women? This dilemma is the fallout of our past failures.

Why should that even matter if we are all committed to diversity? Do we really need job search committees to look like the populations we want to attract? Can only Black or African-American faculty teach Black or African-American history or literature, or students?

No, that too would be too simple. But what we do know from our job searches this year, as in many past years, is that we are reproducing ourselves. In part this is because we hold applicants to academic standards that have been defined by the majority — by those privileged by race, gender, class and economics — and because applicants are being judged by that majority as well. When we complain about another white male hire, we are told that quality, as decided by the standards of the profession, is what matters. The argument gets framed as diversity versus quality, putting dissenters in the position of seeming to argue for diversity at the expense of quality. But what about the quality of a diverse education?

“Our commitment to diversity comes from Ignatius himself and the Jesuit belief that God is to be found in the ‘other’ — in the person, the place, the culture, the context and the human experience that differs from one’s own.”

So declares our newly minted diversity statement.

“We will continuously evaluate our commitment to diversity through conscious engagement with its manifestation across the local and global world we live in today.”

If these are the sentiments we hold dear, how did we come to hire so many white and male faculty this year? Have we failed to evaluate our commitment to diversity as manifested among our faculty?

I am told it does no good to protest the past. Why write about our failure this year? It hurts people’s feelings, rankles administrators, disturbs the peace. Let’s look to the future.

After 28 years and so little change, the future, it seems, lasts a long time.

Pamela L. Caughie is an English professor at Loyola’s College of Arts and Sciences. 

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