Minority Faculty in Business Schools: The Challenge and Opportunity
The challenge is great to increasing the number of underrepresented minority faculty in business schools, but so is the opportunity. An acknowledgement of the issues is the first step in making change.
As the U.S. and Canada celebrate Black History Month throughout February, it is an appropriate time for us to reflect on the state of diversity in business schools, particularly in regard to faculty.
I was an undergraduate student from 1979–82. At that time the school of business I attended had no African American, nee black, professors. A check of the website of the same school recently reveals that there are now 59 full-time faculty members and the number of African American professors is the same as it was when I graduated 24 years ago: zero. This is not to “call out” or embarrass my alma mater. The reality is that they are not the only school of business in this situation.
A Google search of a number of well-known, and lesser-known, universities reveals a surprising lack of inclusion of African American, Hispanic, or Native American professors. These ethnic groups tend to be underrepresented in schools of business relative to their numbers in the general population. This is contrasted with other ethnic populations, which are overrepresented in business schools relative to their population in the U.S., e.g., Indian.
There are many reasons given for the lack of diversity of underrepresented minorities in schools of business. One factor may be that just 18 elite universities produce half of all computer science professors and 16 schools produce half of all tenure-track business professors in the U.S. and Canada. These numbers are revealed in a study done by Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore (2015). They analyzed the comprehensive placement data on nearly 19,000 regular faculty in three disparate disciplines: business, computer science, and history. The authors of the study found that the placement of professors in higher education is a “steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.” That structure is self-replicating unless conscious action is taken to break it down. In other words, if there is a narrow base from which universities recruit professors, and the universities where the professors are recruited from recruit from a narrow base, then there are limited opportunities for diversity—unless intentionally sought after.
Another reason for the shortage of diverse faculty may be that underrepresented ethnic groups, especially African Americans, perceive universities overall as not being welcoming to them. This perception is echoed by both recent news headlines about students protesting the lack of diversity and inclusion on campus and a demand for more minority faculty. The issue of inclusion is a two-pronged one for universities: on one hand it is challenging to recruit students to institutions where they don’t feel welcome; on the other hand, why would someone want to work in an environment that is perceived, at best, as insensitive to their issues? Adding to the challenge is that minority PhDs in business are in demand elsewhere, including the corporate world.
"The issue of inclusion is a two-pronged one for universities: on one hand it is challenging to recruit students to institutions where they don’t feel welcome; on the other hand, why would someone want to work in an environment that is perceived, at best, as insensitive to their issues?"
No matter the reason, the situation must change. According to the Center for Public Education, the start of the K–12 academic year in 2014 represented a demographic milestone in the U.S.—for the first time ever, children of color represented the majority of the student population. Most of those students were African American or Hispanic. Universities in general and business schools in particular would be well served to have faculty members and administrators who are reflective of those populations.
There have been some recent well-publicized attempts and goals to address the critical shortage of underrepresented minorities in universities. One university has promised to “double the number of underrepresented minority faculty ranks” by 2025 (just as that first grade class mentioned earlier will be applying to colleges). Others remain skeptical of setting such goals. “Getting to a certain percentage of black faculty by a certain time is a tough road,” said Kimberly Griffin, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Maryland at College Park and coauthor of several studies that shed light on the choices of early-career academics of color. “Especially when we're talking about doubling or tripling a population. Increases that significant often require more faculty lines either through retirements and other departures or the creation of new lines, which requires funding” that institutions may not have. However, despite the challenges to making change, the fact that universities are acknowledging the need to do things differently is a positive step in the right direction.
There is one organization that was way out front on addressing systematic change in schools of business. The PhD Project, since 1994, has taken on as its life work the challenge of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in schools of business. In 1998 it capped its first professor, Dr. Alisa Mosley. By 2002, the PhD Project capped its 588th professor, doubling the number of minority faculty in schools of business. By 2007, as the results of efforts of the PhD Project, the number of minority faculty tripled to 882 with the capping of Dr. Belinda Shipps. A mere three years later the PhD Project capped its 1,000th professor, Dr. Shalei Simms. At the beginning of 2012 another milestone was hit by the PhD Project producing its first dean, Dr. Miles K. Davis (yes, me). The next year saw the quadrupling of the number of minority professors since the inception of the PhD Project, as Dr. Mourey-Alvarez became the 1176th professor capped.
"The PhD Project, since 1994, has taken on as its life work the challenge of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in schools of business."
It is clear that there is still work to be done in higher education overall and in business schools in particular. However, it is also clear that a systemic approach to recruiting and placement of faculty can make a difference. History is still being made as African Americans move into administrative roles at prominent institutions, including, for example, Dr. Ericka James at Emory, Dr. David Thomas at Georgetown University, and Dr. Eli Jones at Texas A&M (the PhD Project reveals that just 33 of the 1,601 U.S. business schools, or 2 percent, have African American deans). These leaders are expected to help usher in an era of greater inclusiveness as they are at the vanguard of changing the face of business school education at the highest levels.
The challenge is great to increasing the number of underrepresented minority faculty in business schools, but so is the opportunity. An acknowledgement of the issues is the first step in making change. As K–12 education adjusts by expanding curriculum that includes readings and historical information about those outside of the predominant cultural norm, so too can universities begin to prepare for the changing demographics by expanding and focusing recruiting efforts on identifying potential faculty. Once those potential faculty—and administrators—are identified, there must be a systemic effort made to create an inclusive environment where difference is sought after, rather than marginalized, for the value brought to the institution.
Miles K. Davis is a professor of management and dean of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.