University faculty, staff lacks diversity

Emma Collins

When Saundra Ardrey steps down as department head of political science, WKU will lose one of its only two African American department heads.

Ardrey, who has been department head of the political science department for 12 years, was the only African American department head for several years before Harold Little, department head of accounting, was hired this semester. Both Little and Ardrey are some of the few minority faculty members who work at the university.

Ardrey, who is also the director of the African American Studies Program, said since her time at WKU, she has seen the diversity among faculty members change. When she started at the university in 1988, she said there were very few African American faculty members. Since then, the numbers have fluctuated.


“I have seen the number increase and decrease, you know, there’s an ebb and a flow,” Ardrey said.

According to the 2016 WKU Factbook, the number of minority faculty and staff members had been increasing; however, since 2012, that number has steadily declined. In 2012, 16.8 percent of WKU’s faculty and staff were members of minority groups. In 2015, that percentage dropped to 14.2 percent. At the same time, the percentage of minority students rose from 21.1 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2015.

Ardrey said a lack of diversity among faculty members has negative consequences for the university. Primarily white departments may affect the university’s ability to retain minority faculty members.

“It is very hard to be in a department where you are the only anything,” Ardrey said.

Richard Miller, vice provost for policies and personnel, said WKU has a number of policies in place to encourage departments to hire people of color. He said the university has special funds set aside to hire minority post-doctoral fellows. There are also resources to provide professional develop for minority faculty members who are tenure eligible. In addition, Miller said WKU attends a special conference where there are many minority Ph.D. students.

“We attend that conference every year to try to recruit some of those individuals to apply for some of our open positions here on our campus,” Miller said. “We target specifically minority Ph.Ds.”

Miller said WKU’s initiatives have had varying degrees of success.

“Some of them have been very successful, and some programs have been marginally successful, but there has been an ongoing targeted focus in terms of faculty recruitment to try to recruit minority faculty,” Miller said.

Ardrey said she believes WKU’s programs can be successful; however, it is not enough to just recruit minority faculty members. The university must also be able to retain them. Ardrey said the individual departments play a large role in these retention rates.

“I think they can be successful, but it still gets back to the personal that we can invite you here, recruit you, pay you a competitive salary and then put you in a department that is not welcoming,” Ardrey said.

Ardrey said new minority faculty members need to be treated similarly to their white counterparts. Ardrey said many times minority faculty members who are new are left feeling invisible. Older faculty members need to make an effort to mentor the newer members by inviting them to attend faculty get-togethers and participate in research.

Miller said the environment plays a large role in the recruitment and retention of minority faculty. He said potential faculty members need to feel welcome in both the WKU community and the Bowling Green community.

“All these things add into a decision as to whether or not a minority faculty would consider WKU as a potential place to work,” Miller said.

Ardrey also said the environment was an important component. She said it is hard for a single person to move to Bowling Green because the city is small and does not offer a wide range of diverse activities. If a new faculty member moves to Bowling Green with his or her family, then that faculty member automatically has a support system. Ardrey said if a single person moves to Bowling Green, then he or she does not have that same support.

In addition to negatively impacting WKU, Ardrey said a lack of diversity among faculty members is also detrimental to WKU students.

Ardrey said students of color benefit from being taught by faculty members of color because the students are able to relate better to minority faculty members. She said many African American students have told her they often feel invisible in classes taught by Caucasian faculty members because they are rarely called on. Ultimately, Ardrey said this lack of diversity can impact retention and graduation rates of minority students.

Ardrey said the lack of diversity among university faculty has impacted her time at WKU. When she started in 1988, Ardrey was the only African American and one of only two women in the political science department. When she first started working at the university, her was office was located on the second floor of Grise Hall with the social work faculty members instead of on the third floor with the political science department. 

Her office on the second floor was across from the office of another African American faculty member. Together, the two women formed the Association of African American Faculty, which had meetings and social events for African American faculty members.

As one of the only African American department heads, Ardrey said it has often fallen to her to make sure diversity is prioritized. She said many of the other department heads do not always have diversity at the forefront of their minds.

“If that’s not a part of your life or a part of your regular routine, sometimes you forget how important it is to have diversity in your department,” Ardrey said.

Ardrey said there are a number of non-minority faculty members currently on campus who are very supportive of increasing diversity and helping minority students. At the same time, there are also some people who do not understand the need to prioritize diversity.

“Those detractors are not anti-diversity, they just don’t see that there’s any need for it,” she said.

Ardrey had several suggestions for how to increase the recruitment and retention of minority faculty members. She suggested offering more competitive salaries and giving minority faculty members leadership positions early on. She said WKU also needs to continue to encourage departments to hire minority faculty members.

Miller said the university recognizes the need for diversity and plans to continue recruiting minority faculty members.

“It’s an extremely important responsibility of the institution given the fact that the demographics are changing among our student populations, and we are much more diverse now than we have been in the past,” Miller said.

Despite the fluctuation of diversity among faculty members, Ardrey said her time at WKU has been enjoyable. Ardrey said she has enjoyed her colleagues and the students she has been able to work with.

“Despite all of the problems we have at Western, it has, for me, been a good place to work,” Ardrey said.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 27-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @__emma_collins__.