March 31, 2011

Minority Professors’ Satisfaction at Cornell Drops

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In contrast to their white peers, Cornell’s minority professors are significantly less satisfied with their jobs than they were a few years ago, according to the recently released 2010 Faculty Work Life Survey.

When the same survey was completed in 2005, 82 percent of under represented minority faculty reported that they were happy with their jobs — a higher percentage than the 77 percent of white faculty who felt the same at the time.

However, five years later, the reported satisfaction of white faculty increased while the satisfaction levels of minority faculty dropped 16 percentage points. In 2010, 82 percent of white faculty reported that they were satisfied with their jobs at the University, compared to 66 percent of minority faculty.

Provost Fellow for Faculty Diversity Prof. Zellman Warhaft, electrical engineering, said the decline in minority faculty satisfaction levels is of “serious concern” to the University.

According to Warhaft, the reason why minority faculty feel less satisfied than their peers is both “complex” and “not well understood.” But, for him, two main factors might be behind the minority faculty’s dissatisfaction: a sense of isolation and white peers’ insensitivity to the issues that affect their communities.

“First, if you are in a small minority, it is likely that you will feel isolated, and this can lead to dissatisfaction,” Warhaft said. “Second, some members of the majority faculty are insensitive to cultural and ethnic differences and this affects minority faculty. So, small numbers as well as climate issues can lead to dissatisfaction in the under represented minority faculty.”

To remedy these issues, Warhaft said the University is working to hire more minority faculty.

Professors across campus provided various explanations for the causes of the survey’s results, which showed increasing dissatisfaction among minority faculty.

Prof. Carole Boyce Davies, English and Africana studies, said that surveys of this kind “provide only brief snapshots” of the greater struggle minority faculty experience.

Citing the University’s recent decision to relocate the administrative home of Africana studies to the College of Arts and Sciences, Boyce said that “this particular administration is walking a very slippery slope in its treatment of faculty of color. And from my experience, if they are successful here, the tendency is to be applied in other contexts.”

Boyce said she does not see any evidence that the University is attempting to improve the experience of minority faculty.

“I would hope that they … attempt to learn ways of improving the experience of minority faculty, but perhaps there is a larger national climate which provides cover so that they can get away without addressing this,” Boyce said.

One Hispanic professor, who requested anonymity and has worked in the University for fewer than 10 years, gave several other reasons that might cause the dissatisfaction of minority faculty.

For this professor, the small number of minority faculty on campus could be one of the drives behind the reported dissatisfaction. “There are so few us that it can feel isolating,” the professor said. According to a 2009 report, only 248 members, or 15.1 percent, of the University’s faculty come from minority groups.

This professor also explained that misconceptions about the kind of work that can be done by minority faculty might also account for the group’s lesser satisfaction.

“It feels like — not saying it’s factual — there is the notion that ‘one’ per department is enough … or that ethnic studies faculty can only teach ethnic studies, and not the general courses,” the professor said. “For example, there is no reason [why] a scholar in traditional areas cannot also be an ethnic studies scholar or that an ethnic studies scholar cannot also be hired to teach the meat and potato courses.”

This professor added that the minority faculty’s dissatisfaction could also be driven by the popular consideration of diversity and multicultural studies as secondary academic subjects.

“It is unwittingly transmitted to students that histories of multicultural America, diversity in human development … or conceptions of diversity in leadership, business and education are extra topics [that] are not the ‘real’ thing and not integral to the study of the basics on a topic,” the professor said. “[This] is not intentional, but rather reproductive of our training and lack of diverse representation.”

Another minority professor who asked not to be identified said that the dissatisfaction of minority faculty could derive from the “disproportionate amount of service [they must do] at the University.”

This professor said that, since minority faculty constitute a small percentage of the faculty body and the University wants diverse representation in its departmental and college committees, “there are too few of us to do all the work that is asked or expected [from] us.”

Prof. Satya Mohanty, English, director of Future of Minority Studies Summer Institute, said the best way of understanding the results of the survey is to interview faculty of color — including those who have left Cornell.

Mohanty said these personal and in-depth interviews with faculty, and then later, staff and students of color, are the “necessary first step if Cornell wishes to seek genuine diversity.”

Provost Fellow for Faculty Diversity Prof. Zellman Warhaft said the University is already conducting interviews similar to those proposed by Mohanty in order to understand the survey’s results better.

“Over the past two months, I have been having extensive one to one discussions with individual faculty at all levels, from deans to assistant professors, and in all schools on the Ithaca campus which have included many […] faculty,” Warhaft said.

To understand the gap in satisfaction between minority and white faculty, Warhaft said he has also visited other institutions to see how they address the same issues. Specifically, he said he is currently “working with others to determine how the Provost’s office can create a new position to attend exclusively to faculty climate and diversity.”

After he concludes analysis of the survey’s data, Warhaft said he will report his findings this summer to Provost Kent Fuchs.

Faculty members completed the 2010 Work Life Survey between September 22 and October 25, 2010. The survey’s questions addressed topics including departmental climate, experiences with hiring and tenure and plans to stay at or leave Cornell.

Original Author: Patricio Martinez