Sakiya Gallon, a first-year master’s student in LSU’s higher education program, chose LSU because she wanted a diverse collegiate experience. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is home to only about 3,000 students.
Gallon said the student population at her undergraduate institution was more diverse than at LSU, with a large south Asian population, but just like at LSU, the faculty at her undergraduate institution lacked diversity.
In her four years in Philadelphia, she only had three black professors, and African-American studies classes were not available.
Gallon said she was drawn to a career in higher education because black students like herself rarely see representations of themselves in positions of power on college campuses. She also credits LSU’s efforts to engage different student populations and its commitment to diversity.
In 2016, LSU was recognized for having the highest African-American student graduation rate in the state. In 2015, the spring and fall graduation classes boasted the most degrees ever awarded to African-Americans in LSU’s history.
The University has seen a 51 percent increase in the African-American student population from 2,454 students in 2009 to 3,703 students in 2015. But while things are looking up for black students at LSU, black faculty trail behind, comprising merely 4 percent of the University’s faculty.
“I think diversity of all kinds is very important,” Isaiah Warner, chemistry professor and vice president for Strategic Initiatives, said.
The number of black faculty at LSU trails far behind the state’s population of black residents.
Louisiana comes in second to Mississippi with one of the nation’s largest black populations at 32.5 percent. The capital city of Baton Rouge is over 50 percent African-American and yet, the student and faculty populations at the state’s flagship university don’t reflect those numbers.
With such a large African-American population, Warner believes recruiting black faculty should be one of the easiest problems to reconcile.
In 2015, African-Americans comprised 12 percent of the University’s student population but only 4 percent of the faculty population.
“Your diversity success should mirror your population,” said Dereck Rovaris, vice provost and chief diversity officer. “But that’s kind of a utopia. We just don’t have enough people from those populations getting those terminal degrees.”
Rovaris said even though the black populations of Louisiana and Baton Rouge are large, probably less than 1 percent of that population go on to pursue doctoral degrees. And whether those who do pursue a doctoral degree choose an academia track rather than an administrative track is also an issue.
Another LSU professor who preferred not to be named said LSU’s faculty lacks diversity not because LSU does not want black faculty, but because there are not enough blacks in academia in general. The ones who do make it through doctoral programs are heavily recruited and/or go into private industry.
Roland Mitchell, interim associate dean for the College of Human Sciences and Education, believes the pipeline exists, but those candidates must be recruited.
“I think one of the things that we have to do as an institution is not only try to look for the people who are already the stars, but I think we reach out to people we know are stars and have them help us connect with that next generation of black faculty and staff,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell used Warner in the chemistry department as an example of positive networking to recruit African-American faculty.
The chemistry department at another university might want to recruit Warner but might not be able to afford to pay his salary. In the same instance, that university should build a relationship with him. In return, he may be able to refer an African-American doctoral student he worked with who’s looking for a job.
The other part of the answer is not relying solely on Louisiana residents to become faculty members, Rovaris said. In the future, he hopes to create an initiative at all Louisiana colleges that tracks undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds and invites them back after they’ve concluded their doctoral programs.
“One thing about Louisiana is it’s attractive to people who have grown up in the state,” Warner said. “If we make a concerted effort to recruit some of our graduates who have gone on and gotten PhDs elsewhere back to the state, I think we can do a good job of diversifying the faculty.”
While recruitment is one issue linked to the lack of black faculty at LSU, the hiring process is also an issue.
At LSU, hiring is done on a departmental basis. Warner, Rovaris and Mitchell all stated that each department must have a desire to hire more diverse faculty.
“You have to have departments with buy-in,” Warner said.
Warner said it concerns him that departments haven’t bought into the fact that faculty should be diverse.
Warner pointed to Sylvia Hurtado, a professor at UCLA and former director of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. For more than 10 years, her research shows students educated in diverse environments are better educated than those who are not.
If LSU is not diversifying on all levels, the University is not doing the best possible job at educating all students, Warner said.
“Not just black students, but white students need to be exposed to black professors also,” Warner said.
Individual departments need to have a charge to want to recruit a more diverse faculty Mitchell said.
“The Office of Diversity should definitely be involved, but I also believe that for the work to be meaningful it should and cannot be framed as solely their responsibility.”
He explained that not only do people tend to hire others who look and act like them, but he explained that just because people know better, they don’t always do better.
“I believe that moving beyond recognition of personal bias or depending on the good will of a system that has historically been racist is the primary challenge the Office of Diversity and University as a whole faces when attempting to diversify the faculty,” Mitchell said.
After faculty are recruited and hired, the goal is to keep them at LSU. Retention is also a problem LSU faces.
“I think we need to do a better job at retaining people after they come here,” Warner said. “And whether those persons are minority or otherwise, we do a poor job in that area, particularly with our history and the state of Louisiana not supporting higher education.”
Gallon also thinks LSU should do a better job at retaining black faculty because such action is attractive to students like her.
“It’s a good idea to recruit faculty,” she said, “but if you’re not retaining them, then it’s like you’re washing away and trying to start the slate clean every time.”