The Real Diversity Problem

Homogeneity Among Academics Is Not A Problem of Hiring

Springtime at Harvard has become a traditional time for protests and marches to support diversity, and this year was no exception.

Beginning on March 5, the Saturday of Junior Parents Weekend ,the Asian American Association, Raza and other minority groups launched an all-out assault, complete with protests, petitions and postering. one of their primary goals: to increase minority faculty hiring.

The activists have adopted a confrontational, accusatory tone. Look around campus and you will see brightly-colored, sarcastic posters: "The FACTS about 'diversity' at Harvard: Harvard has fallen behind."

A protester's sign on March 5 displays Harvard's "report card," giving the administration an "A" for "evasion" and an "F" for "action" on the issue of minority faculty hiring The underlying message is that Harvard's faculty is not diverse due to institutionalized racism and stubborn, reactionary administrators.

Yet, the real reason for the scarcity of minority faculty members is not nearly so diabolical as the protesters imagine.


The fact is, there are few minority faculty members at Harvard simply because there are very few minority doctoral candidates available to hire.

One of the recent posters at Harvard decried the fact that Harvard has no "tenured U.S. Latino or Native American professors." According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, out of roughly 24,000 doctorates granted to U.S. citizens by American universities in 1988, only 2.4 percent went to Hispanics and 0.4 percent went to Native Americans.

Is it any surprise that Harvard has trouble finding qualified professors in this tiny pool of eligible candidates?

To acquire a Ph.D. one must complete both undergraduate and graduate school, and until recently this has not been a realistic possibility for many minorities. It was not until the 1960s that universities began to accept significant numbers of minorities, and until even later that affirmative action and other programs began to provide increased access to graduate education.

Despite this effort, the high cost of higher education remains a large obstacle to minorities who want to pursue careers in academia. As a whole groups such as Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans come from poorer backgrounds than their white counterparts.

Understandably, many prefer to enter professional school, which holds the promise of a more lucrative career, or to enter the job market straight out of undergraduate school. And those who do receive doctorates often find that they can make more money in a non-academic setting.

And the already small number of minority Ph.D.'s is steadily declining, according to the University's 1994 Affirmative Action Report. "The pools of Black and Hispanics seeking Ph.D.'s are shrinking," said Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles. "We're very concerned about the longer term future."

Instead of looking for minority professors when there are very few available, Harvard must focus its efforts on producing more minority Ph.D.'s Being an undergraduate is the first step, and Harvard has indeed been making this effort.

The Class of 1997 is composed of 35 percent nonwhite minority students, as opposed to the 16 percent in the Class of 1981. The admissions office, through mailings recruiters and alumni, tries to reach prospective minority students and during the upcoming Pre-Frosh Weekend, April 21 to 23, an entire day will be devoted to minority programs on campus.

Furthermore, this is not a problem specific to Harvard. The scarcity of minority Ph.D.'s is faced by universities throughout the nation. Harvard has the additional burden of being one of the finest universities in the world, and has only about 20 tenured positions available each year, according to President Neil L. Rudenstine.