Hiring of black faculty still uphill battle

Joe Lord

The differences are like night and day, black and white.

When sociology instructor Jashard Justice first came to Western, he played football with many other black students. It was ideal for him.

Seven years later, Justice is a faculty member. He remembers diversity on the Hill, but he doesn’t always see it.

Most of his students are white. Most of his peers are white.

Justice is one of only 34 full-time black faculty members at Western and the only black faculty member hired on a continuing basis for this school year.

Western has about 600 full-time faculty members.

Last year, the university hired only one black faculty member to teach on the Hill. The distinction belonged to visiting sociology professor Kwaku Obusa-Mensah, who has since left.

Two other black faculty members were hired to teach on a temporary basis last year, said John Petersen, vice president for Academic Affairs. Unlike Justice, they would have to undergo a new search process this year to continue teaching on the Hill.

About 112 full-time faculty members were hired last year, but some of these were rehires, Petersen said.

While Western meets a Kentucky Plan state standard requiring that 3.8 percent of its total faculty be black, President Gary Ransdell thinks more needs to be done.

“In my opinion, the Kentucky Plan is modest in its expectations,” Ransdell said.

Doing More

John Hardin, assistant to the provost for Diversity Enhancement, is leading an effort to overcome the statistics.

His job is to add black prospects to the pool of possible Western faculty, he said. He seeks out potential minority candidates and encourages them to apply for jobs. In that way, he’s more of a scout than a recruiter.

He can help increase the pool, but he can’t make job offers or negotiate salaries.

His goal is to get an applicant’ s foot in the door with search committees, who then make hiring recommendations.

Race is not considered in their decisions.

“People are not hired because they are minorities,” Hardin said. “They’re hired because they are the best fit.”

Hardin said he advertises open positions in publications geared to minority prospects and attends professional meetings.

He may also reach out to touch someone.

“In many instances, people apply for positions not because it’s advertised in the Chronicle for Higher Education,” Hardin said. “Sometimes, it’s a phone call.”

As of now, he has no statistical expectations to meet.

“There’s not a specific time line,” Ransdell said. “It’s something we’ve got to be conscious of and diligent with on an ongoing basis.”

Because Hardin began work in October, his impact will not be known until the fall 2003 semester begins.

Recruiting Diversity

The job is harder than it seems. Government Department Head Saundra Ardrey should know. For one year, she served as a special assistant to the provost for Diversity Enhancement.

Part of the minority hiring problem is that schools across the country are vying for the same faculty.

The number of black doctorates is limited across the nation, Ardrey said. Big schools can lure those prospects in with greater pay and other incentives.

Western can’t.

Ardrey said departments with no black faculty also have problems recruiting prospects who may not want to be the only black among colleagues.

“It’s hard to recruit when you don’t already have a critical mass,” Ardrey said.

There are also community issues, she said.

Ardrey said Bowling Green isn’t an appealing locale for black faculty prospects, many of whom look for urban settings with black businesses and entertainment.

Justice may agree. He said living in Bowling Green, which is 12.7 percent black, has had its rocky moments in his eight years on the Hill.

For instance, Justice was once in an interracial relationship that spawned negative reactions from locals when the couple went out in Bowling Green.

“The dirty looks, the comments, et cetera,” Justice said. “To be blatant, I don’t think (this community) embraces diversity as well as it should.”

‘A diverse place’

Western, too, can do a better job of embracing diversity.

Howard Bailey, dean of Student Life, said Western needs to hire more black faculty to improve its classroom experience.

The Council on Post-secondary Education’s guidelines agree.

“The world is a diverse place,” said Dennis Taulbee, general counsel for the CPE. “We think higher education should mirror the world, in general.”

He said studies have shown that people’s attitudes about race change when they live and work in diverse environments.

And some Western students, Hardin said, may need experiences with other races before jumping into the job market.

“Many of our students are from areas and counties where there are no diverse populations,” Hardin said.

Justice, who mostly teaches Introduction to Sociology, said he’s able to act as a mentor and a role model to black students in his classes.

He said black students may be able to relate more with black faculty members.

Louisville sophomore Keith Hamblin, who is black, said he is in a class with a black faculty member this semester. Black teachers, he said, are more willing to help black students.

“We just need somebody who cares and who will push us and know what we’ve been through,” Hamblin said.

The path of Justice

Justice can stay another year if state funding is available.

It’s an offer he’s considering, but he said he may want to return to his home in Texas.

Justice said he takes care of his 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, most of the year. He said he might want her closer to family as she begins kindergarten in the fall.

Still, Justice said he likes Western and its sociology faculty and could see himself making a career of teaching on the Hill.

It’s one possibility.

“Bowling Green is a little too small for me right now,” he said. “Just being 25, I feel like there are bigger and better things that I still want to venture out into.

“If you could fast forward time, if this was 10 years down the road, this would be the ideal place.”

See alsoMinority numbers low

Editor’s note: Herald reporter Shawntaye Hopkins contributed to this story.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]