Originally created 09/26/03

Colleges seek to diversify professor pool



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Colleges and universities are working to add more diversity in classrooms by attracting minority students and staff.

University officials say the task is difficult, as black professors are scarce and in high demand.

To enlarge the pool of minority professor candidates, institutions must start at the pre-professional level, said Debra King-Johnson, an adjunct psychology professor at Clemson University.

Black students need to identify mentors who will guide and advise them in their professional development, she said.

It's difficult to lure minorities into academia because there is so much more money to be made in the business world, she said. But black professors are important role models for black students, she said.

"You can't really expect minority students to want to come to a university that doesn't have anyone on the faculty who looks like them," said Michelle Martin, Clemson assistant professor of children and young adult literature.

Although many South Carolina universities can't offer the salary of an Ivy League school, they can offer other perks, officials say.

Tom Kazee, vice president for academic affairs and dean of Furman University, said professors completing their dissertations could teach a reduced load of classes.

Another option is to become a member institution of the Consortium for a Strong Minority Presence, a clearinghouse of information on prospective minority faculty, he said.

"The one thing we can't do is throw up our hands in exasperation and say, 'Well, we tried hard but it's not working so let's quit trying.' Over time, especially the strategy to encourage undergrads to get academic degrees that will enable them to teach, will begin to bear fruit," Kazee said.

During her seven years at Furman University, Idella Glenn, director of Multicultural Affairs, has watched the minority population grow. She hopes that will make the university more attractive to minority professors.

In the past, Furman has advertised its job openings in trade publications, but did not receive much response, she said. Many candidates are seeking to work in larger, metropolitan cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, she said. "We're competing with Duke and Emory."

Glenn wants to devise new and creative strategies to attract more minority faculty to the university. "We have to put up the dollars and the incentives for departments to hire minority faculty," she said.

Lander University focuses on finding people who want to work at a small university, said Leonard Lunquist, vice president for academic affairs. "So when we have faculty members who want to do that as opposed to a financial reward, we are competitive," he said.

But because minorities are in demand in higher education, the possibility of them being hired away is constant, he said. "I cross my fingers," he said.

Universities need to let prospective faculty know that more than salary is at stake. Professors need to know what grants and resources are available, said Clemson political science professor Bruce Ransom.

All colleges must be competitive to hire black professors, he said. "That means putting together packages that are not just attractive but packages that are competitive and can win," he said.