College faculty needs increased diversity

We are fortunate to be on a campus where the student body actively discusses issues of student diversity. But with the ongoing expansion of the College’s faculty, it is time for faculty diversity to take a more prominent place on the list of student concerns. While the College has certainly not solved all of the problems associated with creating a diverse student body, there is no doubt that it is making an honest effort to do so. Yet, does the College have a faculty of sufficient diversity to reflect the values of our nation’s culture? The answer to this question is undeniably no, and this lack of diversity in the faculty is one of the most disturbing shortcomings of the College today.

As it currently stands, minorities compose just 14.1 percent of the voting faculty, which represents a minuscule 0.1 percent increase from the 1994-1995 academic year. That such a significant period of time could go by with no significant increase in the composition of the faculty is deeply concerning. However, the College says that it is committed to using the marked growth in the size of the faculty over the next few years to help address this stagnation. We are convinced that the College is sincere in its promise. Yet, we are skeptical that 10 years from now there will be any noteworthy change in the overall diversity of the faculty – history simply does not support such hopes.

Williams is not, however, completely at fault; from 1975 until 1997, the percentage of African-American faculty members across the nation grew only from 4.4 percent to 5 percent, with most teaching at historically black colleges. Williams, however, strives to be a leader in higher education and we ask the administration to take a bold stance in support of diversifying the faculty.

The virtues of a diverse faculty probably do not need to be explained. Even the most enlightened and well-intentioned of professors – a category which, we would argue, includes the entire Williams faculty – can provide only limited insight into an experience that they have not personally had. Minority faculty members bring a perspective that is of vital importance to the community and simply will not be adequately expressed until the faculty is more diverse. The administration undoubtedly knows more about the problems that the College needs to overcome to achieve this objective than we do, so we urge them to take whatever steps are necessary so that Williams can buck the national trend of stagnation while maintaining the high quality of our faculty.

It is our hope that 10 years from now the most qualified scholars – white, black, Hispanic or Asian – will see Williams as the most attractive place to pursue their academic interests. It is no secret that our location in the Berkshires, where there are few minority communities, does not help the College in pursuing this goal. Rather than accepting our locale as an excuse for failing to recruit and retain a sufficient number of minority faculty, however, we must redouble our efforts to differentiate our college from our rival schools based on our strengths and make Williams even more attractive to underrepresented groups. We are a rich school with a talented student body and, if we consider diversifying the faculty a priority, that should be reason enough for us to become home to the nation’s greatest scholars.

The Bolin Fellowships strike us as a remarkably effective tool for bringing promising young minority doctoral candidates to Williams and we are excited to see that that program is being expanded. The College must look for ways to address the problem that very few Bolin winners end up staying at Williams in the long term. It is inexcusable that a college with as much to offer as Williams is incapable of retaining the fairly substantial number of talented minority scholars who come to our institution each year.

As we discussed these concerns with administrators and faculty members, a contradiction between the community’s concerns over racial diversity and its concern for other types of diversity was apparent. Most importantly, there is a common perception that intellectual diversity can be achieved despite the well-acknowledged fact that there is virtually no political diversity in the faculty. Though statistics are not available for the Williams faculty, a recent poll shows that merely three percent of the faculty at Ivy League institutions report membership in the Republican Party. Few would dispute that a similar degree of uniformity exists at Williams. Yet the argument is made that this politically homogeneous group of scholars is capable of expressing the views that they do not share as well as the views that they subscribe to.

While we have no doubt that most professors try to teach their classes in a fair manner, their personal opinions will affect what students take out of a class. The way they answer questions, the direction in which they lead discussion and whether they assign Karl Marx or Edmund Burke (or both) are all decisions that will affect the development of each student’s intellect.

There is a significant conservative intellectual presence in our nation. This movement is often overlooked at Williams and in academia in general. It is disappointing that the commitment that the administration has to bringing qualified minority scholars to Williams has not been expressly extended to qualified conservatives.

It is indeed an exciting time to be a student at Williams. Radical change to the curriculum, student life and faculty are all occurring during our short tenure as students at the College. The Record board has already given its support to the curricular changes as well as the student life proposal. We hope that the College approaches the diversity problems of the faculty with the same enthusiasm with which it addressed those other aspects of the strategic plan. Diversifying the faculty is just as vital to maintaining the College’s status as a leader in higher education as tutorials and housing reform.