Dearth of Latino faculty mirrors national trends

Even as the University continues aggressive efforts to increase diversity in its faculty ranks, Latino professors remain a visible minority on campus — and not just at Yale, but in the rest of the higher education community as well.

Since 2005, when the Provost’s Office announced a seven-year Diversity Initiative to add 30 faculty members from underrepresented minority groups, Yale has hired 12 black professors. During the same period of time, the total number of Hispanic professors has actually declined, according to the University’s Office of Institutional Research. But according to administrators, the scarcity of Latino professors is not unique to Yale but rather, endemic to all of academia.

In the 2004-2005 school year, the University employed 17 tenured and 27 non-tenured Hispanic faculty members. This year there are fewer total Hispanic faculty: 18 tenured and 19 non-tenured, according to the OIR.

While the University uses the term “Hispanic,” also used by the United States government, to denote individuals of Latin-American and Iberian descent, the term “Latino” refers only to persons of Latin-American descent.

Judy Chevalier, deputy provost for faculty development, said the University has not succeeded in attracting substantial numbers of Hispanic professors, despite its efforts.

“Of course the progress has not been satisfactory,” Chevalier wrote in an e-mail. “The students are right to expect that Yale in 10 years should have many more Latino faculty than Yale has today.”

The number of Latino faculty at Yale is indicative of a reality — albeit a problematic one — within all of academia, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said, and the problem is not unique to Yale. Yale and other universities hire so few Latino faculty members because there are only a limited number graduating from American graduate schools, he said. The solution lies in increasing the number of Latino graduate students, he said.

“It simply parallels the problem that academia has in general — of appealing to minorities of all kinds,” Butler said. “It’s one of the reasons we’re trying very hard to improve the diversity of the Graduate School [student body].”

Several Latino faculty members interviewed decried the scarcity of Latino professors as well as the pace at which they are recruited — which is “glacial,” according to anthropology professor Enrique Mayer.

Administrators and professors identified several barriers to increasing recruitment of Latino faculty. History professor Lillian Guerra said the University’s past reputation as unfriendly to minorities may hinder its current efforts to diversify.

“When I applied for this job, most people told me I was crazy to do so,” Guerra said. “They didn’t know anything about Yale other than it’s not hospitable. Connecticut is a very segregated state. Yale is a very segregated institution.”

Guerra said last year she encouraged two Latino academics to apply for positions in Yale’s history department, but that neither applied. She said she thinks their decision not to apply was the result of Yale’s reputation for being a frigid environment for minorities.

Guerra added, “Yale has been a leader in so many respects, and Yale needs to be a leader in this respect.”

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said while he could not speak for the history of Yale, the University’s current stance is unequivocally pro-diversity.

“Colleges and universities that were not especially diverse historically could have been perceived as unwelcoming,” Salovey said. “But it seems to me our current Diversity Initiative and the manner in which it’s been embraced by everyone from [University] President [Richard Levin], the provosts and the deans communicates a different attitude — one that is welcoming.”

Some attribute the difficulty of convincing Latino professors to teach at Yale to factors beyond the University’s control. Mayer said Yale’s inability to attract Latino faculty may be due to the Elm City itself, which cannot compare to the Latino-heavy cultures of California and the Southwest.

“New Haven and Yale are not necessarily places where Latino culture dominates in the streets and the environment,” Mayer said.

About 12 percent of residents in New Haven County identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, compared with 14 percent nation-wide, according to U.S. census figures.

Although the administration has been pushing for years for faculty searches that specifically target under-represented minorities, Salovey and Guerra said the Diversity Initiative can only succeed if individual departments embrace the idea of diversifying their ranks.

With the Latino faculty at Yale scarce, the Latino professors who are here may find themselves overburdened by student advisees looking for academic role models of their own ethnicity.

Guerra said the majority of students in her classes are from minority groups and that approximately 30 percent of her advisees come to her because she can identify with them ethnically.

“I have had students who have not taken my classes and who come to me for academic advice, only because they know I’m Latina,” Guerra said.

Elisa Gonzalez ’11, who is Puerto Rican, said there is a strong need for Latino faculty members to mentor students.

“If you’re a Latina student like me thinking about going into academia, they provide not only a role model but also someone who can tell you about the challenges you might face … going into academia,” Gonzalez said.

Still, Chevalier said the University has a responsibility to recruit more Latino graduate students in addition to faculty members. She pointed out that only a small proportion of Ph.Ds awarded each year go to Latino candidates across the country.

Jorge Bravo, a Latino graduate student at Duke University who will assume a post as assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles next fall, agreed that the lack of slow of Latino faculty may be more a pipeline issue than because of a negative perception of Yale.

“For what it’s worth, I have an excellent opinion of Yale and New Haven,” Bravo wrote in an e-mail. “I in fact gave a talk at Yale a couple of years ago, and was well impressed with both Yale and New Haven. Every top university I know of struggles when it comes to recruiting Latino professors.”

Frustrated with the lethargic rate of recruitment of Latino professors, Latino student groups have united with other minority organizations with the common goal of expanding the number of minority faculty.

Adriana Garcia ’08, a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, said the group has held ongoing discussions addressing the lack of Latino professors over the past few years.

Campus student groups such as Dwight Hall, the Association of Native Americans at Yale, Asian Student Association and MEChA are planning to host an Ivy League conference next fall to discuss the need for an increase in the number of minority faculty and the importance of ethnic studies programs.

Elizabeth Gonzalez ’10, a MEChA member who is organizing the conference, said the goal will be to help minority students discuss different approaches to addressing such issues at their own schools.

Still, within Yale, productive collaboration among student groups remains in its early stages.

“This is becoming a very strong issue in the Native American community,” she said. “Hopefully, we’re going to be able to start collaborating with the Native American and Asian-American students to work as the pan-ethnic coalition.”

Garcia agreed. Student diversity far outstrips that of the faculty, she said..

“It’s time that we start looking into our classrooms and ask ‘Why is there not enough ethnic diversity, not just in the student population but also in the faculty?’ ” she said.

Garcia also noted that all Yale students would benefit from an increase in the number of Latino faculty, given the long-ignored role of Latinos in American history.

“It is essential to bring in the narratives of other ethnic communities that have been marginalized as the excerpts in history textbooks,” she said.

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