An Examination of the Barriers to Leadership for Faculty of Color at U.S. Universities

Sydney Freeman Jr., Karen Krier, Ahmed A Al-Asfour, Russell Thacker
Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology  •  Volume 16  •  2019  •  pp. 361-376
Aim/Purpose: The aim and purpose of this study is to understand why there is a dearth of faculty of color ascending to senior levels of leadership in higher education institutions, and to identify strategies to increase the representation of faculty of color in university senior administrative positions.

Background: There is a lack of faculty of color in senior level academic administrative position in the United States. Although there is clear evidence that faculty of color have not been promoted to senior level positions at the same rate as their White colleagues, besides racism there has been little evidence regarding the cause of such disparities. This is becoming an issue of increased importance as the student bodies of most U.S. higher educational institutions are becoming increasingly more inclusive of people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Methodology: Qualitative interviews were used

Contribution: This study adds to the research and information made previously available regarding the status of non-White higher educational members in the U.S. by contributing insights from faculty of color who have encountered and are currently encountering forms of discrimination within various institutions. These additions include personal experiences and suggestions regarding the barriers to diversification and implications of the lack of diversity at higher educational institutions. Given the few diverse administrative or executive leaders in service today in higher education, these personal insights provide seldom-heard perspectives for both scholars and practitioners in the field of higher education.

Findings: Limited diversity among faculty at higher educational institutions correlates with persistent underrepresentation and difficulty in finding candidates for leadership positions who are diverse, highly experienced, and highly ranked. This lack of diversity among leaders has negative implications like reduced access to mentorship, scholarship, and other promotional and networking opportunities for other faculty of color. While it is true that representation of faculty of color at certain U.S. colleges and programs has shown slight improvements in the last decade, nationwide statistics still demonstrate the persistence of this issue. Participants perceived that the White boys club found to some extent in nearly all higher educational institutions, consistently offers greater recognition, attention, and support for those who most resemble the norm and creates an adverse environment for minorities. However, in these findings and interviews, certain solutions for breaking through such barriers are revealed, suggesting progress is possible and gaining momentum at institutions nationwide.

Recommendations for Practitioners: To recruit and sustain diverse members of the academic community, institutions should prioritize policies and procedures which allocate a fair share of responsibilities between faculty members and ensure equity in all forms of compensation. In addition, institutional leaders should foster a climate of mutual respect and understanding between members of the educational community to increase confidence of people of color and allow for fresh perspectives and creativity to flourish. Where policies for diversification exist but are not being applied, leaders have the responsibility to enforce and set the example for other members of the organization. Assimilation of diverse members occurs when leaders create an inclusive environment for various cultures and advocate for social and promotional opportunities for all members of the organization.

Recommendations for Researchers: Significant research remains on understanding barriers to the preparation of faculty of color for leadership in higher education. While this research has provided first-hand qualitative perspectives from faculties of color, additional quantitative study is necessary to understand what significant differences in underrepresentation exist by race and ethnicity. Further research is also needed on the compound effects of race and gender due to the historic underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. At the institutional and departmental level, the study validates the need to look at both the implicit and explicit enforcement of policies regarding diversity in the workplace.

Future Research: Higher education researchers may extend the findings of this study to explore how faculty of color have ascended to specific leadership roles within the academy such as department chair, academic dean, provost, and president.
leadership development, higher education administration, faculty of color, glass ceiling, critical race theory
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