GW seeks a more diverse faculty

Vice President for Academic Affairs Don Lehman said he is “not satisfied” with the faculty minority representation and wants professor diversity to more closely resemble the student population.

Minorities only make up 16 percent of GW full-time professors, while they comprise about 23 percent of the undergraduate population, according to the GW Fact Book. Nationally, minorities comprise 29 percent of the population.

“We try to have our search pools represent availability of candidates on the market.and in the future (hope to) have a better balance to reflect the student population,” Lehman said. “But things can’t change overnight.”

The most recent recruitment numbers indicate that diversity among faculty members is not quickly increasing. For the past five years, GW has hired 59 Asian, black or Hispanic full-time professors, making up 18 percent of all new hires. The numbers do not include hires since last March.

Much like other competitive universities, GW departments actively search for potential faculty members with degrees from other prestigious universities, Lehman said. He said only searching for faculty members from those universities considerably cuts down on the minority market.

“We have very few black physicists that receive their degrees,” Lehman said.

Lehman said there is a large discrepancy between departments.

“If you go into the physics department or the engineering department, you will find a number of Asians and some Hispanics. The English department has some black faculty. It is disciplinarily reflective,” Lehman said.

Associate professor of English Patricia Chu points out that minority candidates who attend “middle-of-the-road” schools in the United States pass rigorous exams in their home countries. She said they could help bring diversity into the classroom without the University losing a competitive edge.

“(GW should) be open to different credentials, not just whether someone has graduated from an elite department and is publishing in the top journal, but whether they show other signs of leadership or creativity,” said Chu, one of 105 Asians teaching full time at GW.

James Horton, Benjamin Banneker professor of American studies and history at GW, said there are few blacks teaching in physics and other sciences due to a lack of role models in the field.

“I never (met) anyone in my life who was a physicist.you (need) the possibility presented to you,” Horton said. “The discipline of physics as a whole should be responsible.they have to start at the high school level and even below that.”

Horton is one of 43 black full-time faculty members teaching at GW, according to the GW Factbook. Blacks make up 4 percent, Asians make up 10 percent and Hispanics comprise 2 percent of all faculty members. This is opposite of national minority population percentages, as blacks comprise 12.3 percent, Hispanics 12.5 percent and Asians 3.6 percent.

Chu said she thinks being Chinese-American is a “small part” of her teaching.

“People respond to me as a Chinese-American. I’m perceived as middle class and perceived as younger than I am … but usually I am treated professionally,” Chu said.

Chu said her background as a female Chinese-American professor gives her “more authority” in her classes on gender and race.

Some students said they noticed minority professors often teach subjects dealing directly with their backgrounds.

Sophomore Sharmin Sitafalwalla said having a professor that teaches about their background makes the class “believable.”

“I am taking a class called Women in Africa. It is very beneficial to have someone who has grown up in that background,” Sitafalwalla said. “It makes more sense to have an African-American female teaching the class. It makes it more interesting.”

Some students also said they have no problem with a male professor teaching a women’s studies course

“I took a woman’s studies class, and I don’t think it really matters if it’s (taught) by a male or female. It just matters if they are passionate about what they do,” sophomore Carrie Gilman said.

Sophomore Matthew Dolan said he is “losing out” on the benefit of having a more diverse faculty in different departments.

“I’m not culturally diverse, and I am came to GW looking for diversity,” Dolan said. “Without it, I’m not getting a full education, and that’s not why I came here.”

Annie Wooldridge, director of faculty recruitment for GW, declined through her secretary to comment on the University’s efforts to increase professor diversity.

Horton agreed diversity is important for a complete education and said one way to increase diversity is to make the American school system responsible for educating minorities at the highest levels.

“If I go to classroom after classroom, and I never see a Native-American, Asian-American (or) African-American member, my education is impoverished by that,” Horton said.

Chu said considering the background of a professor is important but should not be the leading factor in the hiring process.

Lehman said GW would do its “utmost” to hire two professors if a white and minority professor with similar credentials applied for the same job.

“If a minority was in the top 10 qualified, the department would come to me and argue a case to hire two people,” Lehman said.

Chu said the policy shows a good effort by the administration to improve diversity.

Lehman said GW is continuing to improve its female-to-male ratio and said women represent 47 percent of new hires in the junior ranks.

“We are almost there in the junior ranks,” he said. “The senior ranks are faculty that have been here for 15, 20 to 25 years . it is a slow process to change overnight,” Lehman said.

A new report on minority and female faculty recruitment and retention is expected next month.

Horton and Chu agreed that GW is making an overall effort to improve faculty diversity, but there is always room for improvement.

“You won’t have a complete picture of the world if the place where you are educated does not reflect the complete picture of the world,” Horton said

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