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Christakis: hiring racially diverse faculty a ‘pipeline issue’

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The university’s 2018 draft strategic plan identified increasing faculty and staff diversity as one of its core goals, a concern voiced for years by student and faculty groups.

Seventy-four percent of the University at Albany professors are white, according to a 2017 SUNY operations committee report. Meanwhile, National Center for Education Statistics data indicate around half of all UAlbany undergraduates are non-white.

Two weeks ago, co-chairs of the Strategic Planning Committee James Stellar and Michael Christakis gave a strategic plan draft presentation at a Student Association meeting.

Christakis said the university would work towards hiring more diverse faculty, despite a ‘national problem’ of a lack of minority candidates.

“There’s a pipeline issue in regards to hiring diverse faculty,” said Christakis at the Feb. 21 meeting. “Only so many doctorates are being awarded to African Americans.”

Debernee Privott, president of the UAlbany Black Faculty and Staff Association, disagreed.

“I don’t believe that. That is something that I take issue with as a member of an underrepresented group,” said Privott on Thursday. “I’ve seen enough of qualified applicants to know that these individuals exist and sometimes they just need to be encouraged to apply.”

Privott, who has served on dozens of search committees for faculty and staff, said that BFSA should play a larger role in the hiring process.

“I will be honest and say I don’t think we play that role,” she said. “It’s happenstance, it’s not like someone saying ‘Okay, you’re part of BFSA, that’s why we want you [on the search committee],’ that’s not how it’s happening right now.”

Black professors currently make up 5.3 percent of all faculty at UAlbany. Hispanic professors make up 3.7 percent of the total, and Asian professors 15.5 percent.

The numbers are different than the undergraduate diversity percentages, with black students making up 17 percent of the study body according to 2016 NCES data. Fifteen percent of students are Hispanic, and 8.5 percent are Asian.

“I think that what’s needed is for the university to actually hear the students and to listen to what they have to say,” said Celine Diagne, president of the Albany State University Black Alliance.

Holding a town hall or conducting a survey on students’ desires were ideas Diagne said could help.

Diagne said that as a black woman, she always learned best from black women professors because of shared experiences and common ground.

In a statement Friday, Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, director of Media and Community Relations, pointed to several ways the university currently tries to encourage faculty diversity.

This included participation in the SUNY Faculty Diversity Program, where SUNY provides schools with monetary rewards for hiring minority-group faculty.

Carleo-Evangelist also pointed to a SUNY fellowship program that provides research opportunities for minority faculty, and noted that the UAlbany Office of Diversity and Inclusion oversees faculty search processes.

Across all SUNY colleges, a 2017 operations committee report found that the percentage of black academic rank faculty had risen 0.1 percent in twenty years.


Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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