On Staff: Conference Focuses Talk On Minority Hiring, Retention Hopkins, like many other colleges and universities, is committed to further developing a culturally diverse workforce. And those in leadership roles understand there's a big difference between seeking it and having it. At the first major public event sponsored by the Black Faculty and Staff Association last Wednesday, the emphasis was on how to make the leap from the former to the latter. The afternoon-long conference was anchored by a live videoconference titled "Creative Ways of Finding and Keeping Faculty and Administrators of Color." Sponsored and produced in Washington by the academic journal Black Issues in Higher Education and broadcast to more than 200 institutions nationwide, the panel discussion was hosted by civil rights leader and former state legislator Julian Bond and featured experts in the field of institutions and diversity issues. More than 100 deans, faculty members, administrators and staff attended the conference, which was sponsored by the BFSA with the support of the Homewood academic and student deans and Peabody director Robert Sirota. "This conference is right on target," said Provost Joseph Cooper in remarks prior to the satellite broadcast. "While we have made great strides in [recruiting and retaining people of color], more needs to be done, and we now need to develop a cohesive strategy to realize the promise we have made to ourselves and to our society. "We live in troubled times in which alienation is growing. And I think universities, as cultural institutions, have a special responsibility to advance the qualities and values we hold dear as a nation. If we can't make progress, who can?" he said. Alison Pullins has been steadily making progress. The Human Resources manager for the School of Continuing Studies, Pullins is president of the BFSA. She and the executive officers have been doing a lot of listening to faculty and staff since the organization formed in April and have identified a baseline, of sorts, from which progress in recruitment, advancement and retention of blacks as well as Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans can be measured. Projecting a bar graph drawn from information reported in the Jan. 12, 1995, university Affirmative Action Report, she noted that of the 2,088 full-time people of color employed throughout Hopkins, 4.4 percent make up the total number of employees in executive or management positions, and 84.6 percent of service and maintenance jobs are held by people of color. Among the faculty, 14.1 percent are minorities, as are 12.3 percent of the professional (PCN 300) staff, 28.8 percent of the technical and paraprofessional staff and 19 percent of the craft positions. The current payroll information identifies a total of 1,538 full-time university-wide employees as African American. The BFSA, whose membership is open to anyone at the university, wants fundamentally to keep issues relating specifically to African Americans on the administration's front burner while serving as a resource for faculty and staff and as a forum for discussion of a wide range of issues, including those involving other underrep-resented groups. A significant portion of the videoconfer-ence addressed the purpose and problems associated with hiring minority faculty. And for most of the panelists, the answer--beyond basic employment-- was students. Minority faculty bring new perspectives to the classroom, the panel said, by expanding the scope of what gets into the classroom. As one panelist suggested, in a world being brought together in complex ways in large part by a push for a global economy, new subjects will have to be introduced. And people of color are likely to be the ones to embrace--or promote--these subjects, which often look at non-Western cultures and societies and the way they interact with each other and with the West. Faculty--and staff--of color are also essential for nurturing a culturally diverse student body, they agreed, because they make their presence known and felt as role models, not just in the classroom but within the social framework of the university. On the Homewood campus, there are more than 30 ethnic and cultural student organizations. But recruiting and retaining people of color, especially faculty, is not just a matter of good intentions. One problem discussed by the panel was that women and minorities can increasingly look to a wide range of professions in which to make their careers. To become an academic, one must spend years in preparation--in many cases racking up huge student loans--and then cast their fate to the peculiarities of the tenure system. So the qualified pool of candidates is not growing in proportion to the number of institutions who are eager to recruit them, they said. The BFSA conference ended with an hour-long discussion, which, in part, raised a sense of frustration that the ongoing discussions of diversity were not necessarily leading anywhere. Participants wanted to formulate steps to move the intellectualizing toward action, Pullins said. Although no firm proposals were decided upon, there was a call for deans to be held accountable for helping to ensure that their divisions continue to make every effort to hire and retain people of color. Someone brought up the idea of a racism reporting system similar to the sexual harassment hotline managed by Human Resources. "There have been some reported cases of overt racism," Pullins said, "but most cases manifest in subtle and often unconscious ways." She points to a typical example of stereotyping in which a black man is followed through a parking lot because someone thinks he's going to steal your car and it turns out he's also an employee. "That sort of thing," she said. As much as implementing specifics, Pullins places great importance on changing attitudes about the importance of acknowledging and placing a well-defined, communicated value on cultural diversity. "If we learn and practice valuing diversity, we will differentiate [Hopkins] from our competitors, and our customers will take notice," Pullins told the audience. "That is why we view this videoconference as an opportunity to discuss ways to attract and retain people of color and better assure that Hopkins remains viable in the 21st century." Participants' comments and conference evaluations will be synthesized, Pullins said, and the results will be sent to the university leadership. To become a BFSA member, contact the treasurer, William Caffee III, at (410) 516-8367.
Go to Gazette Homepage