Welcome to Black History Month! Google got us off to a great start with this video:

The contributions of African Americans are often overlooked in higher education. I have been reading about scholars who were at the forefront of the study of race politics in the United States. One example is W.E.B. Dubois. I was aware of W.E.B. Dubois’ role as a founder of the discipline of sociology, but recent work, including Aldon D. Morris’ The Scholar Denied, provides new insight into the development of the study of racism. Alford Young’s review of Morris’ book echoes some of my own experiences as a scholar of immigration, race and politics in the field of Political Science:

Becoming a sociologist of race and ethnicity, even if one is a successful specialist, often means neither occupying a place of centrality in the discipline nor being regarded as a contributor to its mainstream canon.

No sociologist better represents this conundrum than W. E. B. Du Bois. He is recognized as a forefather of the discipline, but mostly as one who introduced the comprehensive study of African Americans rather than shaping sociology more broadly. Even this recognition is relatively recent. Following extreme negligence of his contributions, the last several decades have seen an abundance of efforts to recover and reclaim him as an important contributor to sociology. Sociologists and other scholars have written hundreds of books and articles that affirmed Du Bois as the pioneer sociologist of the African-American experience. Unfortunately, most of this work argues little else about his scholarship.*

For academic leaders, it is important to understand that faculty of color, and any faculty who study topics that are not considered central to a discipline, face significant hurdles. It is important for leaders from department chairs all the way up to presidents and boards of trustees to understand that there are bodies of research which are just as rigorous as others, but don’t get the same respect due to the structural racism that is inherent in the academy.

Diversity isn’t just about hiring a woman or a minority for a position that has been traditionally white and male. It is also important to be open to new research agendas and making sure that new hires have the support they need to be successful. It is very costly to hire a great candidate and then have them leave – it is better to be proactive and make sure that institutional culture is positive and supportive.

It is also important to keep in mind that innovation is crucial for all parts of campus. The students entering our colleges are only going to get more diverse, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in their perspectives on the world. They are concerned about the divides they see in our politics, issues like climate change and sustainability, the future of work, and whether they can afford the degree they are pursuing. We have to be sure that we are providing the best opportunities for students to thrive, regardless of their background. We have to serve the students that we have, not the students we used to have. That requires willingness to change on the part of an institution, and leadership that is willing to constantly learn.

This is a time of year when institutions of higher ed are going through changes in administrations. Deans are interviewing to be provosts, provosts are interviewing to be presidents, and faculty are wondering about the changes new administrators will bring to their institutions. It is important to not only keep diversity in mind with recruitment, but also to make sure it is a key component of strategic planning. Encourage faculty and staff to learn about issues of diversity within their fields and to join organizations that support diversity. Our upcoming course on diversity will provide faculty and administrators with a baseline for understanding their own bias, and how they can work to build a welcoming space for their colleagues.

Diversity in the news:

Rutgers University has hired its first black president: https://diverseeducation.com/article/164164/

A No-Win Situation: A writing contest held at the University of Montana to honor MLK and encourage multi-racial dialogue went awry. Instead of helping bridge racial divides among students, it amplified them. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/01/30/mlk-day-post-turns-public-attention-montana

America’s colleges struggle to envision the future of diversity on campus: https://hechingerreport.org/whither-diversity/

President Speaks: Creating leadership pathways for women in higher ed: https://www.educationdive.com/news/president-speaks-creating-leadership-pathways-for-women-in-higher-ed/545450/

And there’s some great research coming out of UC Riverside led by Assistant Professor Raquel M. Rall:

Invisible Injustice: Higher Education Boards and Issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. Raquel M. Rall (University of California – Riverside, USA), Demetri L. Morgan (Loyola University Chicago, USA) and Felecia Commodore (Old Dominion University, USA)

Abstract: Given the juxtaposition of student demographic shifts in public higher education with the near stagnancy of postsecondary leadership demographics, this chapter illuminates and critiques scholarship at the intersection of equity and academic governance, specifically focused on boards of higher education. Implications, grounded in a comprehensive literature review, frame a new conceptually focused research agenda concerned with (1) challenging homogeneity and hegemony that slow institutional change efforts, (2) pushing for a board representative of and accountable to the public, and (3) extending the research, knowledge, and conversation centered on higher education boards in general and diversity of boards in particular. The chapter per the authors first highlights the prominence of higher education governing boards then shifts to a critique of how governance has traditionally been researched. Afterward, the authors discuss why a concentrated look at issues of diversity and equity within the governance context is of paramount importance.


*Young, Alford, “w.e.b. du bois and the sociological canon” Context: Sociology for the Public February 4, 2016. https://contexts.org/articles/scholar-denied/ accessed 1/30/2020

About the author

Terri Givens

by Terri E. Givens

Terri E. Givens is the former Provost at Menlo College in the San Francisco Bay Area; Professor of Government and European studies at The University of Texas at Austin; Vice Provost overseeing undergraduate curriculum and spearheading global initiatives as its chief international officer. She formed The Center for Higher Education Leadership (CHEL) to provide academic leaders with information and a supportive community for improving management and leadership skills in an environment of changing demographics, financial challenges, and advances in educational technology. CHEL was born of Terri’s experiences navigating these fields and learning along her journey through academe, from professor to vice-provost and provost at universities in Texas and California.

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