MU professor says tenure could hinder diversity efforts

Tuesday, February 3, 2009 | 1:38 p.m. CST; updated 4:05 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — Efforts made by faculty members to create a more diverse environment need to be more highly valued and rewarded, MU assistant professor Jeni Hart concluded in a recently published study.

In her study, “Institutional Diversity Work as Intellectual Work,” Hart measured the impact of diversity initiatives on higher learning institutions and discovered that such initiatives require, among many things, collaboration among the faculty.

Hart cites Women and Gender Studies as one such diversity initiative, given that the discipline blossomed from a program to a department. This field and others, such as Africana studies, are “interdisciplinary in nature and … this allows for faculty to collaborate and create curriculum or do research … that they wouldn’t normally be able to do,” Hart said.

Hart also suggests that the all-important tenure, and the way in which faculty members are considered for it, has the potential to hinder diversity efforts.

“Tenure protects academic freedom, the ability to ask critical questions," Hart said. "Tenure becomes an end goal … (and) it is very clear to me at every step along the way that the tenure boards … are more interested in your research and your contributions to your field of study."

When faculty members are considered for a promotion or tenure, it is expected that they will dedicate 40 percent of their time to research, 40 percent to teaching and 20 percent to service, Hart said.

"Even if you’re an outstanding researcher and a mediocre teacher, you’ll get tenure," Hart said. "Research is most heavily valued. Service is kind of window dressing.”

Although diversity efforts fall into the service category, Hart argues that in order to carry out diversity efforts, research and sometimes teaching skills must be employed.

“Diversity work involves campus climate studies — trying to understand experiences of underrepresented groups on campus such as women in (certain) majors, the LGBT community, minority students and faculty," Hart said. "There is a knowledge created along with this. A lot of research goes along with this … developing curriculum is teaching. Finding out about the campus climate is researching, but none of this counts (in consideration for tenure).”

Roger Worthington, chief diversity officer and one of the study's co-authors, said there is a "growing awareness across the country that as we continue to improve the level of inclusion of underrepresented groups in higher education, these are important considerations to have in mind."

"I think that this research is an important way of raising awareness about the relationship between scholarship and service and the ways in which ... diversity service might be understood similarly to certain types of scholarship," Worthington said.

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