With most of its professors white males and a student population that's only 5 percent minority, the University of Utah is at a disadvantage academically and socially, a school official says.
In 1989, there were only 76 minorities and 230 women among the 1,325-member faculty. University statistics also showed a minority student total of some 1,200 students to live together in an ever-shrinking planet, especially compared with more ethnically diverse centers, says Ronald G. Coleman, associate vice president for diversity and faculty development.That's why Coleman's office was created last year after being part of the university's academic affairs office for years, said Jerilyn McIntyre, vice president for academic affairs.
"The move indicates the importance of diversity to this campus," she said, adding that a lack of minorities and women is a problem facing colleges and universities nationwide.
Besides faculty recruiting, Coleman and his staff oversee programs and activities in the women's studies and ethnic studies departments and the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. They also are working to create a greater awareness among students about gender- and race-related issues through a variety of programs and classes.
While it's imperative to have role models for minority students, it's equally important to have minority faculty interact with the rest of the student body, Coleman said.
Students who have never interacted regularly with blacks, Hispanics, American Indians or Pacific Islanders "don't have the foundation" that is needed in the real world, he said.
They also are more likely to hold on to stereotypes.
"Students have to be able to integrate and appreciate the diversity of this country," said Coleman, who was a professor in the U.'s history department for 18 years before being appointed to his current post.
Experience gained from a black professor or Hispanic classmate will be invaluable in the future when a majority of the country's work force will no longer be white males but minorities and women, he said.
"It's essential this campus reflect the realities of 20th and 21st century life," McIntyre said.
But faculty diversity does not happen overnight nor is it easy to accomplish, especially considering the stereotypes people have of Utah.
Many faculty candidates perceive a "closed" environment for women and ethnic minorities and fear Utah's relatively small minority population, Coleman said.
The university also must compete against other universities and colleges for a finite number of qualified women and minority faculty, he said.
Institutions with large endowments and funding sources can pay higher salaries and therefore attract more minority faculty, he said. That fact puts the U., with much lower salaries than its peer schools, at a disadvantage.
But those obstacles have not hindered efforts. Within the past month, the university has advertised in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a national weekly newspaper, for ethnic minorities and women to submit applications to a special faculty "vita bank."
Coleman said anytime there is a faculty opening, qualified minorities and women with applications in the bank are notified. In addition, the specific department in search of a new faculty member will get qualified candidates from vita bank.
"It's a much more holistic way of approaching the problem," he said.