Redefining diversityDuke has, for many years, worked to promote faculty diversity. And yet, despite improvements in some areas, the University has failed to significantly increase the number of Latino faculty on the payroll. Of our 1,768 tenured professors, only 2 percent are Latino. These numbers remain low even a decade after the launch of the Faculty Diversity Initiative, a program designed to increase the percentages of black, female and other minority faculty at Duke.
Most discussions about diversity on campus revolve around the need to maintain a broad spectrum of identities—including wide-ranging gender, racial, sexual and socioeconomic identities—in the undergraduate student body. Faculty diversity rarely gets the attention it deserves. The underrepresentation of Latino faculty reminds us that diversity should be a priority at all levels of the University.
Faculty diversity matters. It bolsters a vibrant intellectual community by ensuring that a broad range of perspectives are represented. Having a diverse faculty also helps create a diverse student body. In its petition to extend the discontinued contract of a Latino professor, Mi Gente, Duke’s Latino Student Association, notes that faculty members from minority communities can serve as mentors and advocates for underrepresented communities and provide opportunities for students to “fully express and explore their unique identities.”
North Carolina has the 11th largest Hispanic population in the U.S., and 6 percent of Duke’s student body identifies as Hispanic or Latino. Latino representation is important, and Duke should work to recruit more qualified Latino faculty.
In its recruiting practices, the Faculty Diversity Initiative seems to have failed to achieve diversity outside of the black-white, male-female binaries. A diverse community is one that includes a wide range of perspectives, identities and experiences, and we should not limit our conception of diversity to include only a small set of groups. Focusing on a narrow array of groups can make diversity initiatives seem like instruments of accumulating “diversity capital”—a valuable asset in a higher education community for which “diversity” is more often a buzzword than substantive aim. It also jeopardizes the development of a robust spectrum of faculty representation, and the Faculty Diversity Initiative should, for this reason, work to develop a more expansive definition of diversity.
Assembling a diverse faculty is difficult. In the case of Latino faculty, the candidate pool is small. This is often because structural inequalities prevent Latinos from accessing the kinds of educational resources that would put them in a position to apply for a faculty position at Duke. Hiring decisions are made at the end of a series of systemic barriers that crowd out minorities. Using hiring decisions to correct for these barriers cannot solve the root problem.
In a world devoid of inequality, hiring decisions would be based solely on teaching competency and research prowess. But inequality exists, hiring is imperfect and promoting faculty diversity is important. We recommend that the Academic Council continues to promote diversity—broadly defined—within the faculty. Specifically, the Council should continue to promote pipeline programs to tenure-track positions and increase recruitment efforts. If Duke believes in the importance of diversity, it should double down on its attempts to recruit qualified professors from underrepresented groups.