Racism or Incompetence?

Why UT can't recruit minority faculty

By Meredith McKittrick
November 1989; pages 3, 11; Volume 1, No. 2
Polemicist

In 1987, the English department noticed that UT had theoretically integrated a few decades ago, and hired the first black professor into the department. Wahneema Lubiano, who teaches African-American literature, was lured here with assurances that the department would hire another scholar in her field, creating a mini-department within the larger department.

Two years later, Lubiano remains the only black in the department, and also the only person teaching African-American literature. As of next May, there will no longer be anyone in the department specializing in that subject, because Lubiano is fed up and leaving.

"I will not be employed at this university unless there's no employment elsewhere on the face of the earth," she said at the beginning of the semester, after announcing her intention to resign.

Last spring, the economics department attempted to recruit Sandy Daughtery, a black professor who had taught at UT several years before. The department proposed to eventually recruit other minority professors, who would in turn attract minority students to the department, creating a concentration in minority economics. Daughtery rejected the offer, according to Lubiano and economics professor Michael Conroy, because the administration did not show enough support for the idea, and his present university made him an even more lucrative offer to persuade him to stay.

The university has paid a lot of lip service to minority faculty recruiting in the last decade, usually with few results to back up the talk. In 1981, there were 34 black professors and 57 Hispanic professors. In 1987, after years of alleged recruiting efforts, members of the administration looked around and noticed something: the faculty seemed just a little bit - whiter. Their eyes didn't fool them; in 1987, the number of minority faculty had actually decreased to 28 blacks and 56 Hispanics, despite a total increase of 110 professors. In 1986-87 alone, eight minority professors left - seven Hispanic and one black.

The numbers improved in 1988, the year the much-publicized President's fund, which provided $400,000 to create ten new positions for minority faculty, went into effect. That year, 18 minority faculty joined the staff - ten on the fund and eight through department funds - and two left, bringing the percentage of minorities to nearly 4.5 percent of the total faculty. An absymal figure, maybe, but an improvement over the 3.8 percent of the year before.

But this fall, things were a little quieter in the Tower. The total number of minority faculty increased by eight - half the previous year's figure, with ten hires and two resignations. Of these eight, only three were hired on the President's fund, which is suddenly being portrayed by the administration not a concrete fund, but as a flexible incentive program offered to departments, in case they'd like to take advantage of it. Seen in this light, of course, minority recruitment for the last year looks like less of a failure, at least on the part of the administration.

Liberal arts dean Standish Meacham also says he thought the fund was about $400,000. With an ultra-respectable university source confirming this, let's look at what happened to the 70 percent of the money that didn't go to professors. Meacham says he was under the impression that the fund was simply out of money when it came time to fund one candidate who was rejected by the provost. "I know it's hard to believe they can run out of money in the Tower, but it happens," he says. That's not so hard to believe; the University does have a finite amount of money, enormous though that sum is. It's just that UT runs out of money at the darndest times, like when a department wants $40,000 or so to hire a minority professor.

But many faculty don't think the administration ran out of money to hire minority scholars, just the motivation to hire them. Vice President Ed Sharpe said competition for minority scholars is getting tighter, and UT just couldn't find any more candidates. Disgruntled faculty who did find qualified candidates debate that claim. "That nonsense about a small pool is just silly," says Elizabeth Fernea in Middle Eastern studies. "That may be true in quantum physics, but it's certainly not true in liberal arts."

So what did happen in liberal arts? Let's look at some candidates who might have taken those seven unfilled Presiden't fund positions, since the administration neglected to mention them while touting its success at minority recruiting this year.

Anthropology

During the first year of the President's Fund, the anthropolgy department recruited four minority scholars, two of whom were sponsored through the President's fund. Last spring the department nominated another candidate, who was approved by the departmental committee and the dean, but vetoed by provost Gerhard Fonken. Many professors believe the candidate was rejected because either a) the administration felt anthropology got its share of President's fund scholars the year before, or b) the administration believed the department had enough minority professors already. Anthropology chairman Joel Sherzer said no reason was given for the rejection, but, "I suspect that we were so successful the previous year they decided to give the candidate to other departments. And that's not an unreasonable argument." But no one else got the candidate, and it is hardly fair or wise to make a department that is taking advantage of the program sit back and wait for other departments to recruit and hire minority faculty, particularly when many departments have no intention of taking advantage of the program.

Fonken cannot recall his reasons for the veto and can't check the record without a name, he said (Departments usually do not give out the names of candidates they are recruiting.) This raises several disturbing questions. Does the provost veto so many appointments that he can simply no longer keep them all straight? Or does he just not find such a decision a big deal, and so he forgets it a few months later? Whatever the case, the anthropology departments should not be left at the mercy of a chemist who knows nothing about anthropology and can't recall the candidate he told the department it could not hire.

Economics

Economics, says Conroy, may be the only department in liberal arts with no minorities. Actually, economics is doing better than some liberal arts departments, such as philosophy and classics. Economics at least has an African professor, even if he is not tenure-track. If the failure to hire Sandy Daugherty can be attributed to a lack of enthusiam, or to outright discouragement on the part of administrators, then it's excusable. Government professor and director of Mexican American studies Rudy de la Garza says he suspects most people at UT want only the most brilliant minorities in their fields - a standard certainly not set for the rest of the faculty here. If people were willing to hire minority scholars who exceeded the minimum but were not in what he calls the "Nobel prize winners" category, then "We could hire a great many more faculty than we are doing now," he says.

The lessons of Lubiano and Daugherty have not yet taught UT that good minority scholars are in enormous demand and don't have to put up with the bullshit the adminstration frequently dishes out to them. Had the university been more hospitable to Daugherty, economics might have had one excellent minority professor now, with more to follow.

English

Unlike the previous two examples, the bungles in the English department are the fault of the department heads, as well as the administration. And unlike the other two departments, the situation prompted a professor to leave.

Liberal Arts dean Standish Meacham calls Lubiano's intention to leave "depressing. It's pretty hair-raising." But what's depressing and hair-raising is that for two years Lubiano and several others in English fought a frustrating and unsuccessful battle to increase minority representation in the department.

Six candidates were considered last year in what professor Ramon Saldivar called "a sparkling opportunity" to increase minority representation in the department. Of these, three were rejected by the departmental executive committee. In one of the more notable cases, a Chicano writer was deemed "not good enough," although the person is known nationally and internationally and recently received a major publishing contract.

Two other candidates were approved by the committee but rejected by former liberal arts dean Robert King for the sake of "ideological balance" within the department. The committee did not protest either of those decisions. Last May, Saldivar resigned from the committee because, "I felt that minority recruitment was not being done with sufficient seriousness."

The committee and King actually did approve the sixth candidate. But he then rejected an offer of full professor to remain as associate professor at his university. All things considered, it is hard to fault his career decision, or Lubiano's.

Lubiano's colleagues don't think she's in any danger of becoming a martyr. Sociology professor Johnny Butler said, "She is too talented to stay here. Why should she beat her head up against the wall in a mediocre department when she can go to Stanford or Yale?" He adds, "Everyone can't be Jackie Robinson."

Ideals versus Ideology

But many minority professors at this University are Jackie Robinsons, and it makes for poor retention and even poorer recruitment. The above departments are not alone in their minority recruiting scandals and problems. Chemistry, computer science, astronomy, botany, geology, and philosophy have no minority professors. Many more departments have one minority professor - home economics, geography, government, linguistics, psychology, microbiology, marketing, advertising, microbiology, marketing, advertising, journalism, speech, music and the chemical, electrical and petroleum engineering departments, to name just a few.

The number of minority candidates in the sciences is admittedly smaller than in the liberal arts, but the size of the pool is less of a problem than the size of the committment. One notable exception is pharmacy, which has nine minority faculty for about 600 students. Nationally, almost twice as many minorities receive doctorates in the social sciences and humanities as in science, and yet the situation in liberal arts is little better than that in science.

Minority professors at UT are not just condemned to being a token in their departments; in liberal arts, they often are also alone in their fields. Lubiano is the only person teaching African-American literature, Manual Ramirez is the only professor who studies cultural and racial factors in psychology, and Mercedes de Uriarte is the only scholar in the nation who teaches a course on reporting on Latino communities.

But UT doesn't want lots if people studying minority subjects like African-American literature and Chicano politics, or studying any subject in a progressive manner because that would create an "ideological imbalance," to borrow King's phrase. This term, of course, is inaccurate. In actuality, some sort of ideological balance might be achieved by hiring people in diverse areas.

Minority scholars tend to be more progressive. They seldom fall within the narrow definitions of the mainsteam - traditional subjects studied traditionally and focusing on Anglos or ignoring race altogether - because that definition generally excludes minorities. Three of the five candidates rejected in the English department last year taught some form of Chicano literature. One other taught African-American and Third World literature. Mercedes de Uriarte, a journalism professor, calls such subjects "ghettoized."

"Minorities are often interested in writing about their place in history. In most departments, that isn't as respected as writing about other things," de Uriarte says. Velma Garcia's Chicano politics class was cancelled this fall when she left UT. So far, "There's no real quick move to replace Velma with a new Velma," Vitalis says. In government, the search for minority candidates and the creation of a neo-conservative social theory center are being carried out simultaneously. Vitalis says, "No one will say we neglect minority recruiting, but it's not a high priority."

With UT's shortage of faculty, departments should be beating down Cunningham's door to get those free President's fund positions. Yet 70 percent of the fund was unused last year, out of both laziness and ideology. Manuel Ramirez describes the psychology department's recruiting effort as "benign neglect." He thinks the subjects minorities often pursue, which involve racial and cultural factors, may be perceived as "soft subjects" in a department trying to be a hard science. "If a minority showed up who was a famous biopsychologist, they'd probably hire him," he says.

On Their Own Again?

Unfortunately, all those departments which were left to their own devices in minority recruitment and decided it wasn't worth the hassle will continue to be left alone. "I get the sense that money is considerably tighter this year," Meacham says, already sounding, if not like King, then a great deal like like William "it's-beyond-my-control" Cunningham. If money is apparently more scarce for trifling things like minority recruitment, departments will have to take more responsibility for recruiting minorities and finding money to finance new positions. Since many departments have done such a dismal job in past few years, even with the President's fund available to them, this year's results should be "depressing" and "hair-raising" indeed.

Even departments that do want to attract minority scholars can be thwarted by the administration's ability to veto any candidate it wants to. Departments need guarantees that the administration will stay out of the hiring decisions, and need financial assistance to compensate for the enormous difficulty of persuading minority scholars to come to UT.

That Reputation Thing

Just as a lack of minority faculty discourages minority students from coming to UT, the reverse is also true. The minority scholars UT seeks to hire - those at the top of their fields - can go to virtually any university in the country. There is little point in them coming here, to a department with few or no minorities in a mediocre university with a reputation for racism and an unencouraging administration, and they usually don't.

Whether UT truly wants to integrate its faculty is a question that can only be judged by the administration's previous actions. Considering the difficulty in getting and retaining faculty like Daugherty and Lubiano, some people are obviously judging - and reaching a conclusion.