In the 50 years since INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine first began publishing with a focus on hiring and recruiting in higher education, the efforts of colleges and universities to diversify their workforces have evolved from adherence to the letter of the law to a deep understanding of the importance of having faculty, staff, and administrators reflect the multiple identities of their students.
Although women and underrepresented groups hold a record number of leadership positions today, those numbers fail to reflect the current diversity of the American public. Experts are calling for higher education leaders to continue their pursuit of building greater employee representation.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Soon after, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon issued executive orders that called on organizations receiving federal funding to “take affirmative action” to ensure equal employment opportunity. This was in recognition of numerous populations of people being underrepresented or wholly ignored.
Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that the number of Black faculty hovered at around 4 percent from the 1970s through the 1990s, according to the 2017 study “A Mixed Methods Exploration of Black Presidents Appointed to Predominantly White Institutions: Assessing their Exposure to the Glass Cliff and Experiences as Administrators of Color.” During the 1970s, 30 African Americans were appointed to lead predominately White institutions, followed by 61 in the 1980s, and 144 in the 1990s, the analysis finds.
The passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 expanded upon gender equity in hiring by further protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of sex.
“Title IX really impacted higher education tremendously … it certainly opened the door to having diversity and equity represented in an official capacity,” says Victoria Ayers, business development manager at Academic Search, an executive search firm for higher education and related organizations.
Ayers, a recruiter for higher education for more than 25 years, recalls how different things were early in her career. In the mid-2000s, she was a member of the INSIGHT editorial board and wrote a human resources column for the magazine.
When she started at a small firm, diversity was just becoming a priority in the candidate search process, she says. New avenues for advertising higher education job openings to a diverse range of candidates were explored, including posting positions with HR offices at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and in print publications such as INSIGHT.
“In places where people have enough courage and enough faith in themselves and enough faith in the ideals of our nation to really have the discussion, we see good progress. Where it has to remain under the carpet and we’re going to pretend it isn’t there — not so much.”
Institutions started to require that at least one underrepresented candidate be included during every stage of the hiring process, which allowed greater opportunities for diverse candidates to be hired.
The Civil Rights Movement and student activism led to an expansion of curriculum focused on underrepresented populations, and ultimately, greater campus diversity. In 1980, White students made up over 80 percent of U.S. college students. That number dropped to 54 percent in 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
As diversity among students increased on campuses, the call for more diverse faculty and staff followed, along with a growth in DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) research and programs.
While representation of faculty and staff has broadened, it has evolved at a much slower pace than student diversity. The share of non-White, full-time faculty members grew by 10 percentage points from 1997 to 2017, reaching nearly 25 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. In fall 2020, NCES found that nearly three in four full-time faculty members were White across all degree-granting postsecondary institutions. Women accounted for nearly 50 percent of full-time faculty members in 2020 compared with just over 30 percent in fall 1991, according to the American Association of University Professors.
Gaps are widest at the top of the hierarchy. Today, presidents of color account for a little over one in four and women of color account for just over one in every 10, finds “The American College President: 2023 Edition,” a report by the American Council on Education and Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America Institute.
“We’ve come a long way, but it’s patchy,” Ayers says. “It’s better in some places than it is in others. It’s better in some eras than it is in others. … In places where people have enough courage and enough faith in themselves and enough faith in the ideals of our nation to really have the discussion, we see good progress. Where it has to remain under the carpet and we’re going to pretend it isn’t there — not so much.”
The change in faculty and administrative demographics over the years has been slow for myriad reasons, including pushback through legislation and public policy as well as systemic discrimination and bias.
A lack of deliberate and strategic outreach programs specifically targeting workforce diversity are also to blame, says Christopher Metzler, JD, PhD, board chair of the Fund for Leadership, Equity, Access and Diversity. Metzler was instrumental in forming the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board and served as a member.
LEAD is part of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (AAAED). Approximately one-half of AAAED’s membership hails from academic institutions.
“I take the long view and believe that the pendulum will swing back again, with the combined efforts of members of the academy, the employer community and government, as well as the civil rights community.”
Shirley Wilcher, JD
Overall, the academy, despite its unwillingness, must begin to consider who will constitute the future of the professoriate, says Shirley Wilcher, JD, executive director of the AAAED and a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board.
“The growing demographic shift will demand that this nation undertake an effort to educate and prepare students and potential faculty who are among half of the population that will be more racially and ethnically diverse,” she says. “This is, in my view, as Dr. King would say, the ‘Fierce Urgency of Now.’”
Colleges and universities must develop specific targets for increasing diverse faculty on their campuses, invest more in underrepresented students seeking doctoral degrees and prioritize grant applicants for federal funding for undergraduate and graduate research, ensure institutional policies are helping efforts, and improve the racial campus climate, finds the 2022 report “Faculty Diversity and Student Success Go Hand in Hand: So Why Are University Faculties So White?” by The Education Trust.
Amid challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the murder of George Floyd and racial protests across the nation brought a time of reckoning in which colleges and universities found new support for DEI and recommitted to hiring diverse faculty and staff. This change was reflected in the number of Indeed.com diversity officer job postings, which increased by nearly 125 percent between May and September of 2020.
However, some of this movement was reactionary, Metzler says, and further pushback on this progress comes in the form of new political challenges in 2023. A handful of states, including Florida and Texas, face legislation targeting DEI office operations, hiring, and training. In addition, the banning of affirmative action admissions practices by the U.S. Supreme Court in June may impact hiring and retention practices.
Although the work may be more behind the scenes in states under fire, by and large, institutional leaders remain committed to building diverse campuses. What remains to be seen, however, is if a diverse pool of faculty and staff applicants can be generated for these schools.
“Right now, we’re in such a state of flux because so many states are fiddling around with affirmative action and diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says Ayers. “I think we’re at a critical point. I’m watching with a great deal of trepidation and interest [to see] what happens.”
Ayers observes that only a few public institutions no longer mention diversity in their requests for proposals for employee searches — most continue to mention DEI issues and expect diverse candidate pools.
Although the work may be more behind the scenes in states under fire, by and large, institutional leaders remain committed to building diverse campuses. What remains to be seen, however, is if a diverse pool of faculty and staff applicants can be generated for these schools, Ayers says, given current political constraints. The same applies to the retention of current employees.
Despite what appears to be a perfect political storm, this is a time for institutions to analyze efforts and develop deliberate research and programs that move their goals forward, Metzler says.
Wilcher echoes this sentiment.
“I take the long view and believe that the pendulum will swing back again with the combined efforts of members of the academy, the employer community and government, as well as the civil rights community,” she says.●
This article was published in our October 2023 issue.