Is the Ph.D. Pool Really the Problem?

Minority Recruitment

When the Minority Students Alliance (MSA) released a report last spring highly critical of the University's record in hiring minority faculty members, administrators and affirmative action officials responded with a familiar refrain: it's a problem with the national pool.

The University contended that the number of minority faculty members will never increase until there is a dramatic growth in minority Ph.D. candidates from whom it draws its new recruits. But to those critical of the administration, the emphasis on the "pool" is merely a way of avoiding the immediate and serious problem of Harvard's failure to hire minority professors.

While they acknowledge that the focus on the pool may reflect underlying problems hampering minority recruitment, they add that without new minority appointments now, the pool will likely remain small.

For minority faculty members like Associate Professor of Sociology Roderick J. Harrison '70, until the University shows that it will hire minority professors, it will be extremely difficult to attract minority students to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).

As Harrison says, "Any effort made now to recruit [minorities for graduate school] will just be beginning to be felt at around the turn of the century. This clearly indicates that we need short-term efforts in the meantime."


But whether or not focusing efforts at the graduate school level is too little, too late, as many minority professors and students here believe, all sides agree that the University must take an active role in recruiting qualified minority candidates for its Ph.D. programs.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) had only 26 tenured minorities on its 383-member senior faculty last year, or about 7 percent of the total. That number includes Asians and foreign nationals, a counting strategy which itself has drawn criticism.

And at GSAS, which is educating the next generation of university professors, only about 5 percent of the students are minorities despite an aggressive recruitment drive which resulted this year in the highest number ever of entering minority Ph.D. candidates.

The effort is made all the more urgent because by the year 2000, nearly one-third of Harvard's senior faculty will reach retirement age. And unless the percentage of minorities who receive Ph.Ds increases in the near future, educators say, the number of minority professors will not increase that much in the long term.

To meet what is a fast-approaching deadline, GSAS has invested both time and money--including a $100,000 yearly budget solely for minority recruitment--in increasingly sophisticated recruitment efforts. But the program's success has been limited by the lack of minority role models in academia, the attraction of higher-paying professions such as law, medicine and business, and the relative lack of a minority presence at Harvard.

Drusilla Blackman, who is the director of GSAS admissions and who personally takes charge of its minority recruitment drive, phrases the problem simply: "For most institutions, the only way you can get minority faculty is to get minorities into graduate school."

Administrators note that the competition among graduate programs for the small number of minorities interested in entering the profession is high. And the GSAS recruitment strategy is designed accordingly, with a large budget, carefully targeted mailings and many recruitment trips geared toward identifying minorities who are both qualified and interested.

In part, those efforts have been rewarded--37 Black and Hispanic students will register today as first-year students at GSAS. And the numbers are the best yield of minority students at GSAS in the 15 years it has been keeping records about the recruitment and admission of minorities, says Blackman.

Last year, there were 238 minority applicants (excluding Asians) and of that group 48 students, or 21 percent, were admitted. Today, 37 of the 48 admitted will register, thus making the minority yield of 77 percent far higher than the 56 percent acceptance rate among the total applicant pool.

Blackman, who describes Harvard's recruitment strategy as "fairly sophisticated," says that the University's efforts to locate and admit minority students are geared toward reassuring potential applicants that academia is a viable career option for minorities. And she says that last year's success is a result of a renewed commitment on the part of administrators to beef up GSAS's numbers.

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