(Titusville Negro School 1936)
I hope that like me you have noticed an interesting trend in all of my black herstory month posts: the presence of black academics. When I made my list of themes and people, I did not think to myself “hey, how can I prove that black faculty are essential to academe and the world.” Afterall, I am a black academic. Despite all our contributions and collective accolades many peers and students still see as us as “diversity hires” w/ no other contribution necessary possible than “show up and be black.” Of course, not too black. A few lines continue to be earmarked for “diversity” and subsequently set aside as outside of “normal” hire even in this climate, however while this ensures some diversity, it does not challenge the binary thinking which assumes that “normal hires” will be filled by normative bodies where normal and normative directly translate to intelligent and worthy versus unworthy tokens. While this flattening has its exceptions, we all recognize this pattern, or should. And yet the myth that “black academics are lucky” continues to circulate as if the number of diversity hires is an endless pool grossly outnumbering that of the “normal hires” for which we are seldom considered and/or when hired expected to teach the diversity courses even if outside our area so that we are once again “special hires.” As I once explained in grad school to a particularly petulant member of my cohort “If there are 10 spots and 2 are set aside for women of color, that still leaves you with 8 or 4xs the spots allotted to the people you are now claiming unfairly entered the department. Since those 8 spots are never filled by people of color, the reality is that graduate students of color in our department represented 20% and that any given race within that group of poc had to be less than 20% with some representing less than 2%. These numbers impact the number of available faculty of color well before the weening process begins simply through so-called affirmative action enrollment. Moreover, if there are 2 spots for every 100 qualified applicants of color vs. 8 spots and 100 qualified white applicants then it is mathmatically impossible for the people who ultimate fill those two spots to be unqualified. This same formula applies to faculty hires which are further abstracted by graduate program admissions such as these.
Grad school trauma aside, if you look at the number of black faculty in academia you will note how few of us there really are here. As others have written about before, the life of a black academic is often a life lived in cultural exile. You are likely to be both the only black person (or 1 0f up to 3 if you are lucky) in your department or program and isolated from black urban centers and/or cities large enough to have either a substantial or existing black population. The farther away from a diverse population your employment is the harder daily tasks, like shopping, getting your hair done, etc. can become and these do impact your quality of life as so many anthologies by faculty of color have attested to already. Worse, that impact is often used to weed black faculty out of the applicant pool or disparage them during the interview process once again limiting our numbers. Should you ask about black faculty associations or multicultural service centers, you may find that you have triggered both the guilt and the anger responses of members on the hiring committee and this too thins the ranks.
If you isolate black faculty into groups like those below:
- department chairs
- deans (dean of diversity does not count)
You are likely to find that simple math once again illustrates how few of us are in positions of power with stable cohorts with whom we can work to impact change. Yet most of us are charged with the task of diversifying the curriculum, the department, and the university, many times when said levels are under scrutiny for previous infractions. And in these troubled economic times, when the places in which we are concentrated are on the chopping block, we are even more at risk. The demise of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies represent not only a loss of intellectual diversity on college campuses and the limit of critical thinking amongst college graduates, but also a huge loss in the number of faculty of color. If you have 10 departments and only 2 of them are regularly hiring faculty of color . . .
So I’m going to keep writing my posts, and pointing out the academics among the women I draw your attention to (which includes many of the poets from the previous post, I might add) but today, I have to tell you about a decision at Clark Atlanta that just cut into all of our ranks:
Clark Atlanta just fired 70 faculty, including tenured faculty, despite 46 proposals to save money that would have retained those jobs. This decision has particular ramifications for academe:
- the potential loss of diversity amongst the ranks
- the end of tenure protections
First, Clark Atlanta is a historically black college in a black mecca. It used to be two seperate black colleges which were both considered reasonably well attended and respected. Yet neither of these college could remain solvent in the current economy. Unlike other black colleges who have literally been saved from closing in the 11th hour several times in the last years, Clark Atlanta banked on their location and position to build a better and more solvent university. And while that seemed to be working, the impending layoffs speak to how hard the black community has been hit by the housing and subsequent economic crisis. This hit impacts not only the funding that can be funneled to black colleges but also the number of black students who can afford college and ultimately doctoral degrees.
(the great debaters movie still)
Clark Atlanta layoffs represent a 30% loss of black faculty at the college and a huge loss to the black intellectual community nationwide. Since the overall job market for academics is dwindling as we speak, again especially in the humanities, these colleagues could easily be aced out of our ranks all together. Depending on their rank and economic background, they are likely to have less resources to ride out this economic moment than others. And because of the “diversity hire” complex that on the one hand opens spots and on the other closes them (always remember 8 and 2), they are likely to be competing for a concentrated allotment while being stigmatized. Thus these layoffs point to the precarious position of black faculty in general, who if they can be laid off in such great numbers at a black college can certainly be done away with at a mainstream one. (This means the impact is ultimately nationwide not just at a single college)
(black faculty assoc CSU Chico)
The second major issue this plan raises, is the firing of tenured faculty. While tenured faculty have generally felt themselves safe in this era of department consolidation and line termination, the AAUP has a little known provision for the laying us off: financial exigency. Any college who can prove that they are facing a great enough economic hardship can declare exigency and let the ax hit right at the root of the departmental tree. And while I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a faculty member forced to participate in such a decision, I find the absence of faculty on the committee to cut the positions even more telling. We are all clear that collegiality matters more than publications, research, or teaching but are we also equally clear that prestige, income generation, rank (which is based largely on funding and exclusivity not education)and other tangentially related items are potentially more important to those at the top than pedagogy and/or diverse curriculum or faculty? When faculty in put is cut out of the decision-making process about teaching and the professorate, the realities is that other things besides the supposed main purpose of universities is being made a priority.
So if you wanna keep your job, you better hope you never once made a Dean feel uncomfortable when he mistook you for a server at a party instead of the new hire; or when his wife compared you to one of the Obama girls; have a contract for your own reality show which is bringing in students and publicity but does not ever expose anyone who might take it personally; that your department does not teach anything political; that neither you nor they have ever tangled with the President or his friends; that for some reason the content of your courses or the departmental offerings does not now or ever make anyone feel uneducated or uncomfortable . . . And G-d help you if one of your core faculty members is known for writing a blog that features posts entitled “Dr. Crackhead Sinks WS All by Herself” “Señor Cranky Pants Chair of Token Brown Studies is Writing a Manifesto,” “Dean GQ and Sam Adams talk Bathrooms” and “Black Faculty? Who Needs ’em?” I’m looking for my pink slip right now.
But first I have to go teach another class about how we need to start an abolish loan debt movement in this country (a lesson I try to teach at least once a term) and a new one on how to write a petition to the Dean of your choosing after alerting all of the major local and national radio, television, and internet stations & a handful of well read bloggers . . .
Protest Against the Leveling of the Af-Am Institute at Northeastern
Worse than all of this doom and gloom is the people who think they can simply keep playing the symphony, or writing pithy little non-threatening pieces about how the current state of academe is exacerbated by the continued oppressions that exist amongst our ranks, as if that “show of class” is more appropriate than getting off one’s self-involved intellectual behind and helping make sure as many people as possible have life preservers and a place on the boats. The water is ultimately chilly for everyone whose toes touch it my friends and you may not appreciate my bluntness but you can just call me Molly Brown.
(Oh, and please know that rampant sarcasm is the way I deal with unimaginable events. So in all seriousness, my heart and prayers go out to those who have lost their jobs, those who could not find any, and all of us now potentially facing unemployment. And in that place where I am deadly serious, I am openly worrying about the potential loss of diversity in our ranks and in our course offerings and actively trying to think of real, proactive, successful strategies to turn the tide.)
htp Black Prof