COLUMBIA — Four years after hundreds of students protested a racist campus culture at the University of Missouri, the number of minority faculty has ticked up slightly, but numbers still lag the national average and the school acknowledges it struggles to retain non-white staff.
Frustrated by the poor response of university leaders to complaints of racist slurs and other slights on the predominantly white flagship campus, the November 2015 protest movement demanded the president's resignation and a more diverse faculty.
In early 2016, the school hired Kevin McDonald as its first chief diversity equity and inclusion officer. By 2018, nine more black faculty worked at MU than two years earlier, raising the proportion of black people on staff to 3.4% from 3%. That year, less than 6% of full-time U.S. college faculty members were black, The Kansas City Star reported.
"Kevin came soon after 2015 and righted the ship," said Clark Peters, a professor of social work who chairs the MU Faculty Council. "He provided thoughtful leadership" and pushed the folks doing the hiring to "cast a wider net." His formula was to embed diversity, inclusion and equity into the fabric of the university, every aspect, including the surrounding community.
The university has also seen an increase in Hispanic, Asian and multi-race faculty. At the same time, the much higher white faculty numbers have decreased every year, from 1,503 in 2015 to 1,446 in 2018, according to the most recent numbers available on the university website.
"It is impressive because these numbers haven't been increasing in years past," said Christian Basi, spokesman for MU.
McDonald, who's black, recently took a diversity role at the University of Virginia. He didn't respond to a request for comment from The Star.
Higher education leaders across the country acknowledge that changing the hiring culture is a challenge. Universities are well aware that staff and student bodies often don't reflect each other.
Johanna Kramer, a member of the university's Diversity Enhancement Committee of the Faculty Council, said MU is making "a very honest effort" to hire faculty of color. However, retention poses an issue.
"My understanding is that one of the things we are working on is getting people to feel that they are not just welcome but that they belong at this institution. That's something that has been missing here in the past."