The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion What people did when an Ivy League professor wrote faculty of color don’t get jobs because ‘we don’t want them’

Placeholder while article actions load

After a year of protests over race on campuses nationally and repeated demands by many students for universities to hire more faculty members of different races, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania wrote her opinion about why faculties remain predominantly white. 

An Ivy League professor on why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color: “We don’t want them.”

The response was immediate, and intense.

In the days since, Marybeth Gasman, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, has been reading through all the messages she got. 

Gasman, who holds secondary appointments in history, Africana studies, and the School of Social Policy and Practice at Penn, writes here that the responses provided further evidence that racism remains entrenched in academia.            — Susan Svrluga

Who’s ‘qualified’ to teach our nation’s college students?

I received more than 6,000 emails after my essay about diversity in faculty hiring was published in the Hechinger Report and The Washington Post.

Most were from people of color telling me their stories, many of them gut-wrenching and sad.

One African American woman wrote, “despite having terrific credentials and applying for over 200 faculty positions, I have been denied for a faculty position over and over, making me wonder if pursuing a PhD was worth it. … I wonder if I should discourage other African Americans from doing so.”

People told me my essay made them cry. One Latina wrote, “I wept when I read your essay because I have always suspected what you wrote but didn’t know for sure. I am glad you revealed the truth but to hear it was hard, almost devastating.”

Others thanked me for telling “the truth in a raw and forthright way.”

Ten people sent me their resumes and asked if I knew of institutions that were seriously seeking a diverse faculty.

An African-American woman asked, “Can you introduce me to colleagues who will value me and help me grow as a professional? Can you offer advice on my resume?”

Others wrote about the many times they were “told privately that [they] didn’t fit in by a member of a search committee” or that they “weren’t good enough to join the faculty” at various institutions “due to their institutional pedigree.”

A Latino man wrote that he was told his pedigree wasn’t good enough for a faculty engineering position even though he attended the flagship university in his state. “I have several published articles in top journals. What more can I do to be qualified in a field with hardly any Latino professors?”

One African American man wrote “I’m actually optimistic that if people read your essay and reflect, perhaps they will change … sometimes it takes being shamed to change your ways and to see the world from the perspectives of others.”

Columbia student on the dearth of black faculty: It’s ‘the chinks in our armor that give us the courage.’

I received countless emails from white people telling me that they have seen or experienced most — or everything — I wrote about at their own institutions.

A white man told me, “We did the same things you described in your essay to women in my chemistry department for years. We questioned their quality to keep them out.”

Some white people told me their stories of fighting for justice and becoming unpopular as a result.

Others said that they had remained silent all too often and that my essay inspired them to act and that they were “committed to challenging their colleagues’ racism even if it means being marginalized.”

Still others admitted that they were guilty of many of the actions I pointed out in my essay and regretted their behavior. One white man characterized himself as a “recovering racist fighting the good fight now after realizing how much fear and hatred I had about the changing landscape of higher education.”

I also received many emails that attempted to justify racism and hate.

The most interesting observation from a review of the messages was that although I wrote the essay about people of color in academia more generally, the negative and hateful comments were almost entirely about African Americans.

According to the latest numbers available, in fall 2013, 79 percent of all full-time faculty in colleges and universities were white.

Six percent were black.

Five percent were Latino. Ten percent were Asian/Pacific Islander. And less than less than 1 percent each were full-time faculty who were American Indian/Alaska Native.

According to census data, 62 percent of the U.S. population is white, 18 percent is Latino, 13 percent is black, 6 percent is Asian/Pacific, about 1 percent is American Indian/Alaska Native.

Most racial and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented among college and university faculty given their representation in society; even Asian/Pacific Islanders are underrepresented outside of science-related fields.

But despite my emphasis on people of color overall, the comments I received were focused on African Americans almost entirely.

I have asked myself, “Why the hate for African Americans?”

I know for my father, his hate stemmed from his dislike of himself and need to blame others for his own failures and insecurities; he admitted it to me later in life.

However, our nation’s overall disdain for African Americans, is, from my perspective, tied to many whites wanting to forget our nation’s behavior toward African Americans — slavery, beatings, rapes, Jim Crow, discrimination, murders, lynchings, theft and so many other atrocities.

Many whites want to pretend that we live in a colorblind society. They fail to realize that the playing field has never been level and in fact, African Americans have rarely been asked or allowed to step on the playing field.

Ensuring that African Americans have opportunity and equity means interacting with them daily, having to listen to their voices and perspectives, having to be reminded of what many whites do and have done to remain in superior positions and protect their privilege.

Columbia University professor on race, drugs, police and academia: “I would much rather my own children interact with drugs than with the police.”

It causes many whites to be uncomfortable and that is not something that they are used to or want for themselves.

Let me provide an example from one of the many emails that demonstrates my point. According to one white man and professor, “Too often the black professorial caucuses are militant agitators. At [my institution] they’ve just about wrecked the place.

They got the chancellor and the system president fired. And they’re just getting started forcing change on campus.

“They’ve gotten the black students so fired up they (the students) are demanding separate lodging, separate dining halls, and separate student centers. They have also forced colleges to institute extreme curtailments on freedom of speech and thought.

“It is ironic that at [my institution], the militants who hate the place so much will leave school with no student loan debt in accordance with the school’s financial aid policy.  There’s gratitude for you.

“Integration on the college campus is just not working I’m sorry to say.  I wish it would.  But facts are facts.”

The presence of African Americans makes this man uncomfortable.

Ask yourself, if a white man is willing to take the time to write me a 500-word essay about why African Americans are not qualified to be faculty and how “they cause trouble when they are hired,” what does that say about the person?

There’s no need to answer my question, as I know what it says. Having grown up with a racist father, I can spot racism — individual and systemic — from miles away and without my glasses.

The visceral hate for African Americans by many in the U.S. and in academe is real and vivid.

What concerns me the most is that so many of those writing to me with their hate and disdain for African Americans were faculty teaching in our colleges and universities.

These individuals are teaching our children — including our African American children — and harboring these feelings.

They, in fact, are not qualified to be faculty.