As issues of affirmative action in higher education return once again to the American spotlight, and universities and top business schools strive to diversify faculties and student bodies, the Yale School of Management seems to be stuck in another era.
A recent study by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported that SOM is only one of two top-ranked business schools without an African-American faculty member. Currently, blacks comprise only three members of more than 200 students in this year’s graduating class and only seven of the Class of 2003.
“It’s unfortunate, just extremely unfortunate,” said Ola Sawyerr SOM ’02, the only black woman in her class. “This type of thing shouldn’t be happening at Yale.”
Sawyerr, a member of the Black Business Alliance Group at SOM, has been trying to work with administrators at the student affairs and admissions offices to improve the school’s diversity record but said that attitudes only recently have begun to show change.
“A lot needs to be done,” Sawyerr said. “Who knows how long it’s going to take, but it definitely needs to be a priority, which it wasn’t in the past couple of years.”
Of the black students at SOM, more than half grew up in Africa, and of those the majority are from one country: Nigeria. Over the business school’s 25-year history, only 133 out of more than 4,000 of SOM’s graduates have been black, Sawyerr said.
“I see a lot of SOM minority alumni who get disconnected from the school because the experience was not great for them at the school,” Beatrice Belizaire SOM ’01 said. In her class there were only four black students, and two of them were international students, she said.
“And the lack of faculty members — that’s definitely something they need to work on,” she added.
Deputy Dean Stan Garstka would not comment on the issue, but professor Shyam Sunder said that the School of Management has been working hard to recruit minority professors.
“It would be highly desirable to make sure that of those people who are available and qualified to be faculty, that black candidates are given a fair opportunity,” Sunder said.
Sunder said he regularly asks universities to include minorities in their lists of recommended candidates.
Sawyerr said that someone in the administration should be held accountable for the lack of diversity at the school.
“The Law School, the Med School, they’re diverse. What are they doing? Why can’t we do that?” she asked. “No [business school] is in the top 10 that’s not diverse, because you’re cheating the students of perspectives that are extremely valuable.”
Director of Admissions Jim Stevens responded that SOM has in the past been placing a top priority on acquiring the best students.
“We’re trying to attract the very best student, period,” Stevens said. “Every student that we admit to the School of Management is qualified to be there.”
But to increase diversity, the school has begun taking minority recruitment workshops to major urban areas and periodically organizes similar events at the Yale Club in New York.
“This past year, we’ve been able to double our number,” Stevens said. “It may still be a small number, but we’re a small school.”
Sawyerr said that the school, however, needs to pick up its pace.
“If you’re bringing a class of 240 people, and you’re only bringing about seven blacks, and one African-American, that’s unacceptable, totally unacceptable,” Sawyerr said.