Article Access: Gasman (2015) Diversity & Senior Leadership at Elite Institutions

By Avery Benton

Gasman (2015) set out this article after a 2012 dinner in which the then-president of the University of Pennsylvania, Amy Gutmann, was challenged by African-American faculty regarding her lack of diverse hiring patterns for senior level academic staff. Gutmann reportedly responded that there was a lack of “qualified individuals” to fulfill these roles. This was said in response to some of the most decorated African-American academics at UPenn at the time. This ultimately led to backlash which sparked wider conversations at UPenn and across the other seven Ivy League institutions regarding their historical lack of diversity in faculty hiring patterns.

This article by Gasman uses Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a basic framework for interpolation of the data:

CRT, though a diversified movement, has some basic tenets, including the permanence of racism, which is ingrained in American society; that the power structures based on White privilege and White supremacy, maintains the discrimination and marginalization of persons of color; a rejection of liberalism, meritocracy, colorblindness, neutrality, and objectivity… “ (p.3–4)

CRT as a framework illuminates the underlying structural factors and connotations which influence faculty hiring at Majority-White institutions such as the Ivy Leagues. Gutmann’s defense of her hiring practices, as reported by Gasman, was the lack of “qualified” individuals. However, as Gasman highlights, the word “qualified” does not usually pertain to qualifications but to the cultural and social “fit” of a candidate in a specific university. Many higher-level administrators and white academics recognize the values of diversity, but at the same time regard diversity as somewhat of a threat. It can lead to “conflict and disagreement” as people who hold different perspectives can clash. CRT framework utilized by Gasman illuminates that using the word “qualified” stands in for “white” or those with the “same cultural” beliefs and practices as already existing white staff members. Those who are “different” are seen as a threat to the status quo and are thus kept out.

This exclusion of BIPOC from higher levels of staffing points to a larger structural issue within Majority-White institutions. The underrepresentation of BIPOC in US higher education is proposed by Gasman as being due to the “result of academic pipelines in the country”. Earning a higher education degree, usually to the PhD level, is a major prerequisite for consideration to higher-level staff positions. The wider exclusion of BIPOC from advanced degrees thus harms their chances of achieving these positions.

If people of color can persevere and successfully graduate from college, and then later enroll and progress through graduate school to earn an advanced degree, this path broadens the prospective faculty and senior leadership applicant pool. “ (p.2)

This illustrates the barriers BIPOC students have in accessing this academy “pipeline”. A student must successfully complete an undergraduate degree, move to a postgraduate (Masters) degree and then find a suitable PhD supervisor to be able to complete their doctoral training. Gasman’s CRT framework shows us that there are access and equity issues for the academy pipelines. There are a limited number of BIPOC who do graduate and go on to doctoral work, thus restricting the applicant pool for faculty positions of diverse backgrounds. BIPOC only earned 20.4% of US Masters-level degrees in 2012, and only 20.5% of doctoral-level. The fact that the academy pipeline requires completion of advanced degrees severely limits BIPOC advancement to higher-level faculty positions. BIPOC scholars are severely underrepresented in these areas, meaning that the pipeline itself suffers from a lack of diversity.

Barriers to BIPOC in accessing the pipeline and advanced degrees included discrimination and racism within higher education programmes. Faculty of color are usually charged with student affairs and diversity issues. In Majority-White institutions such as the Ivies, faculty of color are over-relied on in enacting diversification efforts. In addition, there are simply fewer BIPOC academic staff at Ivy Leagues. 10% of full-time staff at 4-year public colleges were Black compared with 5% of full-time faculty. This continues the access barrier for upcoming BIPOC students. Students have fewer ins and connections than their white peers may have, which can lead to disenchantment and thus discourage them from pursuing higher education.

The Ivy League collection of institutions are the most notable elite universities in the United States. However, faculty diversity is lacking. In the 2013 data, all eight Ivy League institutions had zero persons of color represented in the highest-level senior leadership position, president. All are white individuals. The Ivy League has long been representative of white privilege and power structures which are inherent in academia. Gasman’s CRT framework infers that the whiteness historically perpetuated and celebrated at such elite institutions continues through the hierarchical bias in staffing decisions. The diversity of president nominees is controlled by the Board of Trustees, high-level administrators, and influential alumni. Since these are Majority-White institutions and historically white and privileged, this leads to fewer suggestions, recommendations, and considerations for promoting high-level and successful faculty of color.

The article concludes with action items suggested by Gasman for the Ivies going forward for diversifying faculty positions. These suggestions are an amalgamation of suggestions from Gasman, their academic peers on the paper, and evidence from external review committees.

  • Structurally, institutions must address the historical and current policies that facilitate or negate goals of diversity.
  • Outside evaluators with expertise in “dismantling policies and practices that disenfranchise people of color” should be consulted.
  • Institutions must work to adjust the hiring practices for senior faculty and administrator positions to create a more diverse hiring pool.
  • Internal committees should be created to focus on the diversity disparities in senior administration.
  • Candidates should be selected from beyond the “Ivy Tower” and should be considered being sourced from “Minority Serving Institutions” and public universities as many of these educators possess the same merits and qualifications as those from elite institutions.
  • The “pipeline” to senior administration needs to be diversified and addressed, including more professorates given to BIPOC and creation of support/mentoring programmes.

Bibliography:

Gasman, M., Abiola, U., & Travers, C. (2015). Diversity and senior leadership at elite institutions of higher education. Journal of diversity in higher education, 8(1), 1.

Avery Benton is the Founder & Head Editor of the Journal of Intersectional Social Justice. She currently attends the London School of Economics & Political Science for MSc Political Sociology. She holds a BA in Ancient History from King’s College London.

Originally published at https://www.journalisj.com on February 21, 2022.

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