It’s no secret that many midcareer faculty members suffer from discomfort. After successfully navigating the gauntlet of requirements for tenure, they face new demands in their time, including additional services and administrative recruitment, as well as new uncertainties about how to reach the next step on the ladder of academic careers.
The challenges of pursuing promotions in mid-career and on time as full-time professors are seen differently for members of different faculties. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, the faculty of color and the faculty of women were better known on the shoulders of the invisible labor associated with the profession. And inequality of responsibility at work and at home has only increased with the epidemic.
While many faculty members are facing burnouts, minority faculties have had to deal with their own individual stresses before and during the epidemic and even now it seems to be declining. Often, they have continued as the only faculty of color in their department. In the fall of 2018, only 6 percent of the associate professors at the country’s degree-granting institutions were black, 5 percent Hispanic, and less than 1 percent American Indian. These numbers are even smaller for full professors. In the fall of 2018, only 4 percent of full professors at degree-granting institutions nationwide were black, 3 percent Hispanic, and less than 1 percent American Indian.
It is time for those of us in higher education to acknowledge that such low numbers reflect the failure of our institutional processes and practices. To enable the Midcareer Faculty of Color to thrive, we must question the extent to which institutional and departmental policies and practices exist – and not – by acknowledging the contributions of those faculty members and providing the resources and support they need to succeed. It is important to acknowledge that academic norms and expectations for “excellence” were developed – and often maintained – by white, primarily male faculty, as Andrea Simpson suggested in a recent article Higher Ed inside. It is time to critically evaluate how these rules of excellence and often narrow definitions give advantage and privilege to the views and perspectives of the majority faculty – while minimizing and underestimating the ways in which other methods and perspectives contribute to academic excellence.
In order to enrich the Midcareer Faculty of Color, we need to consider other aspects of the work environment as well. Institutional leaders may ask: What are the professional goals of the Faculty of Color Midcare and what resources are we providing to help them achieve those goals? What are the institutional resources available for midcare faculties, and are they allocated in a way that recognizes the different needs, priorities, and approaches of different faculties? What external resources – fellowships, grants, awards, and more – are available to advance the careers of color midcare faculties, and what are we doing to help color midcare faculties achieve them?
Mentoring is a method of providing personalized support to midcareer faculties. Yet when institutions offer formal counseling programs, they focus on junior faculties. Formal mentoring programs can help ensure that all faculty – not just junior faculty or faculty with pre-existing connections with well-established senior colleagues – receive the information, feedback and support they need. Especially since midcareer faculty mentors can often be of a different gender, race or ethnicity, organizations should consider training counselors in culturally conscious mentoring practices so that they are aware of their own background and can alleviate any biases and prejudices they may bring. Experience. Effective mentors for the faculty of color work as collaborators, making the academy mysterious for Menti, providing psychological support, respecting teacher career decisions and much more.
Trainers and sponsors
Although mentors often focus on addressing the needs that mentors identify, they can be more effective if, by working as trainers and mentors, they help build a mentor’s skills and gain recognition for their work and help secure new professional opportunities. By Mentoring performance can create visible requirements and expectations for review and promotion, inform midcareer faculty members of decisions on which services and leadership requests should be accepted, and provide a real signal of institutional care and support. The trainers go further: they provide substantial feedback and constructive guidance on the manuscript and offer suggestions and encourage participation in programs that build leadership and other skills. Sponsors do too: for example, they nominate for prestigious awards and the opportunity to speak. Such advocates speak in Menti’s favor, clearing up misconceptions and putting the information in context for Menti’s benefit.
Indeed, all senior faculties, including the senior faculty of color, should stand up and support color midcare colleagues through their engagement in review processes. Senior faculties influence the outcomes of those processes through their promotions and tenure on committees and their services as external reviewers. In such roles, they can talk about the value and contribution of different perspectives and point out how gender and ethnicity can influence the assessment of education. And they may suggest that all senior faculty who vote for terms and promotions participate in racially biased training specifically related to the promotion and review process.
An excellent and diverse faculty is the foundation of an excellent college or university. Different faculty members come up with different perspectives and those diverse perspectives enhance our teaching and mentoring, research and scholarship, clinical practice and engagement with the community and our world. In order to fully realize the benefits of an excellent and diverse faculty, colleges and universities need to do more to enable color midcare faculties to improve and reach the highest positions.