Faculty of color at Macalester

By Matthew Stone

[img_assistfid=159alt=Staff retention graphic]
The recent resignation of Dean of Multicultural Life Joi Lewis, who will leave Macalester at the end of this semester, highlights a consistent trend at the college and across academia. People of color hired into faculty or staff positions are significantly less likely to stay than their white counterparts.

Of U.S.-born tenure-track faculty members of color hired between 1981 and 2002, 43 percent are still at the college, according to data from a recent report compiled by Macalesterƒ?TMs Multicultural Advisory Board (MAB). At the same time, the college has retained 65 percent of white faculty of U.S. origin hired during the same 21-year span.

Currently, faculty members of color make up 17 percent of Macalesterƒ?TMs entire full-time faculty. Carleton College by comparison, has a full-time faculty that is 22 percent non-white.

Like faculty, staff members of color at Macalester also experience higher turnover than their white colleagues, according to the reportƒ?TMs findings. From 1998-2004, turnover rates for staff of color averaged 26 percent, compared to 12 percent for white staff members.

The MAB report notes Macalesterƒ?TMs improvement in recruiting and hiring staff of color, but not in retaining them. The MAB, led by Lewis and Jan Serie, director of the Center for Scholarship and Teaching, presented its findings to the Board of Trustees last May. President Brian Rosenberg commissioned the report.

Though national data on this trend are scarce, some of the reasons Lewis has cited for her decision to resign mirror issues that keep colleges across the country from high levels of success in retaining faculty and staff members of color.

In her letter of resignation she wrote last week, Lewis described her decision as ƒ?oean act of resistance to the continued marginalization of multiculturalism as evidenced through institutional structures and minimal resources.ƒ??

Studies on faculty retention have shown that faculty members of color often cite low institutional support for their work and an increased burden of responsibility as reasons for their low retention rates at colleges and universities.

For example, Hispanic Studies professor MarA-a Elena Cepeda, who left Macalester last spring and is now teaching at Williams College., cited what she saw as a lack of institutional support for her specialty, Latino Studies, as part of the reason for her resignation. With Cepeda gone, the college now employs no U.S.-born Latino/a faculty members.

ƒ?oeI think that this happens particularly to people of color in the academy and women and other minoritized folks who put their all into this kind of work and constantly run up against different obstacles,ƒ?? said Jane Rhodes, Macalester’s Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. ƒ?oeThe more obstacles people encounter and the more frustration they feel over time, the more likely they are to not stay.ƒ??

Indeed, an Institutional Research survey of all Macalester faculty employed by the college between 1998 and 2004 showed that faculty of color were most likely to agree that ƒ?oeinstitutional red tapeƒ?? provided ƒ?oea somewhat or extensive source of stress.ƒ?? Eighty percent of faculty of color agreed with the statement while less than half of white faculty did.

The survey also found that Macalester faculty of color are more likely than white colleagues to feel pressure to work harder than colleagues to prove their scholarly legitimacy and worry about job security.

Faculty members of color at U.S. colleges and universities have also said that institutions devalue their individuality and treat them as ƒ?oetoken hires,ƒ?? studies say. Lewis cited a similar issue among her reasons for her resignation.

According to Rhodes, Lewis’ resignation can serve as a lesson for Macalester as the school tries to narrow disparities between white employees and employees of color.

ƒ?oeMacalester and other institutions like Macalester need to learn from this and do a better job of not burning out people like Joi Lewis, of seeing the value of people as a resource, and doing everything they can to support that person,ƒ?? Rhodes said.

When divided by gender, the numbers on retention reveal further disparities. The college has retained 33 percent of male faculty members of color hired between 1981 and 2002, compared to an 80 percent retention rate for white male faculty members. Female faculty members of color show a slightly higher rate of retentionƒ?”55 percentƒ?”than white female faculty, whose retention rate is 51 percent.

Aside from the costs associated with a candidate search, according to Rhodes, even if the college is able to hire employees of color to replace those who leave, the school always stands to lose something not easily replaced whenever an employee departs.

ƒ?oeThis happens all the time and it’s a real problem because then you have to backtrack,ƒ?? Rhodes said. ƒ?oeIt doesn’t mean that you can’t hire another person who will have many of the same talents but they’re going to have to learn the job and learn the institution and find their own place and that means losing ground.ƒ??

The downsides to a low retention rate of faculty and staff of color are also significant for students, according to the MAB. The absence of large numbers of faculty of color is detrimental to the success of students of color who may experience trouble in finding faculty members of similar racial and ethnic background who can serve as role models, advisors and instructors, the report says.

Ana Najera-Mendoza ’06 said that she remained at Macalester in large part because of the support she received from Cepeda, the Latino Studies professor.

ƒ?oeAcademically but also personally having her presence here and having her presence as a Latina was definitely something that was preparing me for an academic career that I was really supported in pursuing,ƒ?? Najera-Mendoza said.

Danielle Sigwalt ’08 said she sees an inconsistency between the college’s efforts to encourage students of color to enter academia, through programs such as that sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, and the absence of many professors of color on campus.

ƒ?oeYou have the institution trying to encourage students to go into academia,ƒ?? Sigwalt said. ƒ?oeIt’s difficult to have faith in that when you don’t see professors succeeding a lot.ƒ??

As for shifting this paradigm, most acknowledge the challenge at hand. And according to many students, change is needed from the administrative end.

ƒ?oeInstitutionally, the school could be more friendly to issues of diversity on a substantial level rather than face value,ƒ?? Sigwalt said. ƒ?oeThere aren’t any definitive administrative things that support that.ƒ??

The MAB report recommends increasing the operating budget of the Department of Multicultural Life to $85,000 from its current $36,000 level. The report cites as a model Carleton’s multicultural affairs office, which has a budget of nearly $100,000 for a similarly-sized student population, but which includes more students of color.

Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre told The Mac Weekly last week that the Department of Multicultural Affairs is in line for a small increase to its budget for the 2006-2007 academic year while many areas will see no increases.

Provost Diane Michelfelder said that she has begun to examine the issue in meetings with faculty. Among initiatives for addressing the issue, the school expects to soon survey departing faculty members about why they choose to leave Macalester.

ƒ?oeWe need to develop a clearer understanding of the meaning and reasons behind these numbers,ƒ?? Michelfelder said. ƒ?oeWhen faculty members leave Macalester, what are the reasons for why they depart?ƒ??