While VCU touts the most diverse student population in Virginia, the faculty is still extremely white-washed.
In fall 2014, VCU’s teaching and research faculty consisted of 1,653 White professors, 289 Asian, 105 Black and African American and 57 Hispanic and Latino professors, according to a Dec. 12 presentation to the Board of Visitors by Wanda Mitchell, the vice president for Inclusive Excellence.
“If we want to be a premier research institution we need to reflect the diversity in this country and this world,” Mitchell said. “And being exclusive doesn’t allow us to be excellent. We want the best and brightest, but we want there to be diversity and equity in that group.”
President Michael Rao reiterated the importance of this at last Tuesday’s annual State of the University address. During his speech, Rao addressed the university’s commitment “without compromise” to strengthen diversity and accessibility for students and faculty.
“Our diversity has made us a national model, and now we strive to shape the national conscience,” Rao said. “To do that, we’ve got to continue enhancing diversity at VCU in all its forms.”
The president also added that VCU is bolstering efforts to recruit and retrain “premier underrepresented faculty members.”
This area for improvement is even more evident when looking at promotion trends across the last four years. From fall 2010 to fall 2014, Mitchell’s December report to the BOV exhibited another problematic area among the tenured faculty demographics at VCU.
Within that four-year span, the number of Asian tenured faculty increased by 26 individuals, totaling 74, while the number of black professors remained stagnant at 37 and Hispanic and Latino faculty decreased from 15 to 14. The number of white tenured professors decreased from 579 to 564.
Furthermore, the number of tenure-track professors increased from 33 to 51 among Asian staff, but only increased by one — from 10 to 11 faculty — among the black and African American demographic, and again decreased among Hispanic and Latino professors — from 7 to 4. That number increased from 142 to 159 among whites.
In contrast to the overwhelmingly disproportionate racial landscape, Rao emphasized that “we have closed the graduation gaps for minority students,” at the annual State of the University address last week.
“We’re a predominantly white institution; in the history of education white males have gone into the teaching profession,” Mitchell said. “We realized we have gaps. We’ve become more targeted and focused on closing those gaps.”
Mitchell said that VCU is not looking to override current hiring practices in order to meet a “quota,” but rather work with department leaders to hire staff who will contribute positively to the campus climate and authenticity.
“When I first got here I went to look at the numbers,” Mitchell said. “So I knew there were some challenges before I got here.”
In July, Mitchell met with the VCU Black Education Association and Equality VCU to discuss their perceived as challenges and to address where opportunities for advancement were.
Rao has also reaffirmed his commitment to diversity and inclusion within these underrepresented communities. During the university address he referenced his partnership with the Faculty Senate and Black Educators Association to “review and ensure effective strategies to recruit and retain premier underrepresented faculty members.”
Furthermore, the president highlighted a task force led by Mitchell and President Emeritus Eugene Trani to recommend ways to further diversify the institution.
According to Mitchell, Rao will also be hosting an open town hall meeting in late March or early April to further engage these topics from the perspective of students, faculty and staff.
“Transparency is another part of creating an inclusive climate and people having a voice you can give people a voice but you have to take action too,” Mitchell said.