The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education stands with those fighting against racial injustice

June 4, 2020

We condemn the state acts of violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others in the Black community. We recognize the grieving families and all Black brothers, sisters, and siblings who are victims of white violence, institutional racism and its compounding indignities. We stand with the faculty, staff, and students in our higher ed communities who are accepting their responsibility to do the emotional work to dismantle white power and privilege.

At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, banners fly reminding us to “learn to change the world.” We take up that charge at COACHE by listening to many thousands of faculty each year, learning from their experiences, and revealing inequities to those who inhabit the academy’s seats of power. By illuminating disparities across a variety of demographics including racial and ethnic background, we challenge those faculty and administrative leaders to be accountable to the values their institutions purport to uphold. We work to bring light to the systemic ways inequality is created and sustained in higher education.

For 15 years, the voices from our surveys have described the toll of the status quo on the most vulnerable faculty. When we asked, “What is the number one thing your institution can do to improve the workplace for faculty?”, one recent respondent took the care to answer:

“The institution could improve the workplace through substantial and compelling training in the habits of empathy, listening, and attention. I and a few other colleagues, mostly faculty of color, feel that our external appearance is conspicuous while our internal experiences are invisible and unwelcome among the broader faculty."

In our survey research, white privilege is made manifest in the “sense of fit” that white faculty enjoy more than any other race. These data further demonstrate the “illusion of inclusion” perpetuated most often by white faculty, who are about 20 percentage points more likely than Black faculty to agree that their colleagues are committed to diversity and inclusion and that there is visible leadership for diversity on their campuses.

We are committed to another COACHE study that will bring to light the artifacts of structural racism. Based on our preliminary analysis, universities annually spend 10 to 20 times more on retaining white faculty than on retaining underrepresented groups. When search firms, tenure and promotion committees, department chairs, deans, and provosts each act in the parochial interests of their organizations, they are complicit in perpetuating a whiter, less equitable academy.

Our Collaborative’s founders wrote 20 years ago that faculty diversity has been “too little for too long.” Whiteness still reigns a generation later, nursed by the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” that is higher education’s hallmark. There has certainly been progress, but race is the underlying issue of American history; its gravity is inescapable.

Many well-meaning faculty retention programs seem to be designed to “fix” Black faculty, not the broken structures that exclude so many of them. We implore our partners and prospective partners: use this unignorable moment to engage white faculty in becoming aware of and exercising their privilege to reform recruitment, workloads, rewards, and recognitions. Enlist your COACHE data—both quantitative and qualitative—in this sensemaking effort.

We will continue to listen and learn from our partners, scholars, and allies. We encourage our research partners to enact racial justice on campus, starting with empowering communities of color with data. In our research and in our lives, we are all committed to making certain that Black lives matter.
The Team at the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE)

Harvard Graduate School of Education