Georgia State’s faculty diversity problem

Illustration by Amber Kirlew | The Signal

Georgia State has boasted about being one of the most diverse universities in the nation. However, that diversity doesn’t extend past the student level. Faculty remains primarily populated by white teachers and administration.

As of the fall semester of 2018, according to IPORT, a Georgia State database, 15.5 percent of Georgia State’s 2,854 faculty members are black, while 64.7 percent are white. Asian faculty only represents 10.6 percent of total faculty. There is no data on Hispanic faculty demographics.

“Oftentimes we have students who come through this department and say taking African-American studies is the only time they have ever experienced a black professor at Georgia State,” Makungu Akinyela, an associate professor and the director of undergraduate studies in the African-American Studies (AAS) department, said.

He said that Georgia State has a habit of touting diversity even though there is an apparent lack of it at the faculty level.

“Georgia State is making a real point of bragging about the number of [black graduates] coming out of the university,” Akinyela said. “We probably graduate more black students than just about any other university in the country.”

According to Akinyela, students benefit from having a professor that shares their background.

“It is important in terms of having examples of the possibilities of what you can do, having role models, being able to bounce your experiences off of someone who may have shared a common experience,” he said.

Akinyela said the AAS department not only benefits black students but also contributes to unifying African-American faculty on a campus-wide level.

“I’m here in the department of African-American studies, which is a very comfortable place to be black,” he said. “In fact, what we find it is that a lot of faculty of color outside of our department, just like the students, look to our department for a sense of support, a sense of community.”

Despite a stark contrast in the amount of white faculty employed versus any other race, Georgia State has historically included faculty diversity in many of its goals and initiatives. The 2011 Strategic Plan was a start, which was updated in 2016 with a new initiative on diversity.

“President Becker has organized a committee focused on ‘faculty diversity’. What is that committee doing?” Dr. Joyce King, a professor in the College of Education, said.
James Ainsworth is a member of the University Senate and serves as the chair for the Cultural Diversity Committee.
“That’s what motivated me to get involved in the University Senate because somebody needs to hold them accountable and keep them focused on trying to achieve that stated goal,” Ainsworth said.

He said that upon creating The Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty, a committee that oversees diversity, he told Georgia State University President Mark Becker that it was a chance for him to take action.

“To President Becker’s credit, I remember him saying, ‘Look, we are on the same team.’ And he proactively created a commission. Now, we are working really hard and trying to seriously do something about faculty diversity,” Ainsworth said.

Becker commented on the ambition of Georgia State in a letter to specific faculty in request of their membership committee.

“Many universities have established programs intended to promote faculty diversity, and yet very few have truly moved the needle. Good intent is laudable and yet inadequate,” Becker’s letter stated. “We therefore seek to once again be innovative in establishing programs that will become nationally recognized and adopted by showing that it is indeed possible to move the needle.”
Now, the committee is actively trying to find a solution to the ongoing challenge of diversifying the faculty.

“This semester, the commission is going to be conducting focus groups with faculty to try to figure out issues around how to recruit and retain a diverse faculty,” Ainsworth said.

But, he is realistic and knows that change does not come overnight.

“Frankly, this university’s administration has shown that they are good at getting done what they set their mind to,” Ainsworth said. “By creating the commission there is now a data-driven process. This school is not the ‘number two most innovative university’ by chance.”

Ainsworth said that he is interested in what Georgia State will look like in 10 or 20 years.

“You plant seeds now,” he said.

Currently, at the highest levels of administration, there are few black faculty members at Georgia State.

Only one Georgia State college dean is a minority. None are black or Hispanic, one is Asian and all others are white.

“The higher you go up, the less diverse the school is. This is part of the problem that I think President Becker is trying to address,” Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth hopes to see real, numerical results in the diversification of faculty but he also looks forward to the other results of the commission’s work.

“What one of the commission members said is, ‘What you really have to do to diversify the faculty is lay out the welcome mat,’ to say people from all racial backgrounds are welcome here at Georgia State as faculty,” he said.

Ainsworth has committed himself to this cause at Georgia State.

“I’m a believer that making a difference on this will enhance the quality of the education that minority students have at this school for the next generation moving forward,” he said.

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