Testimony Before NYC Council Committee on Higher Education 2-24-10

Testimony of Before NYC New York City Council Committee on Higher Education 2-24-10

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Council. It’s a pleasure to be with you, and a pleasure as well to join my CUNY colleagues in this important discussion.

My focus this morning involves the challenges we face in recruiting and sustaining a diversified faculty. Vice Chancellor Waters has given you a comprehensive survey of faculty diversity at CUNY and across the nation, a review undergirded by a wealth of statistical data. I won’t revisit the information she has provided, but I would like to begin with a few additional data points.

First, by way of establishing a baseline, I’d note that in 1995 minority scholars held 70,000 full-time faculty positions at U.S. post-secondary institutions. In 2006 that number had grown to 110,000 – a 58% increase. Encouraging news that, but the battle’s far from won. The numbers Vice Chancellor Waters cited tell a discouraging story: 5, 4, and 8, the percentages of African American, Hispanic, and Asian tenure track faculty respectively. As a nation we must do better.

Why despite two decades of earnest effort by American universities to diversify their faculties, are these numbers so low?

The answer lies not in a lack of commitment to building a diverse faculty. Most American colleges and universities have in place aggressive diversity programs. Few have been as successful as CUNY in achieving the goal of a fully representative faculty, but generally speaking, their efforts have been heartfelt.

The answer lies instead in market conditions. There are far too few minority Ph.D.s to satisfy demand.

National data tells us that 13% of graduate students are African American and 8% are Hispanic. Those numbers are somewhat deceptive; they blur clinical study with research degrees and don’t account for the 50% attrition rate in doctoral education nationwide.

The bottom line is that for the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to experience a significant shortfall in the production of minority Ph.D.s. Efforts to diversify faculties at CUNY and elsewhere will be frustrated by that fundamental market reality.

The aging of the American faculty and the fiscal difficulties of U.S. public institutions inflect that competition with an ominous chord. As competition for new faculty members in general, and minority faculty in particular, intensifies, public colleges and universities, where 83% of America’s students are enrolled, will be hard pressed to recruit young scholars of color. That is the current situation; it will get worse.

What, then, must we do? The answer is obvious. We need to attract more talented minority undergraduates to doctoral programs. Easier said than done, I’m afraid. Doctoral training is a long and arduous process. The average time to degree in the United States, across all disciplines, is 8 ∏ years. Stipends during that period average $16,000. The salary of a beginning assistant professor is considerably less than that of a first-year lawyer, medical resident, or financial services professional.
That said, the rewards of a scholarly life are considerable. They are not, however, as apparent or as easily explained as those of the more lucrative professions I’ve noted. Helping undergraduates of color to recognize those advantages and to consider academic careers has been advanced most successfully through pipeline programs which identify and encourage promising students early in their undergraduate careers.

Here again CUNY is a national leader. The CUNY Pipeline for Careers in College Teaching and Research has for the last fifteen years paired talented CUNY undergraduates with dedicated faculty members. Together they develop research programs, pursue summer study, and prepare for the Graduate Record Exams. Pipeline students meet from across the colleges to discuss their work and to hear presentations on a variety of subjects. In addition to intensive mentoring they receive summer stipends so that they may devote their time to academic preparation.

Similarly, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program seeks to identify and nurture minority students interested in research and teaching careers in science, math, and engineering. Seventeen CUNY institutions ranging from community colleges to The Graduate Center participate in this NSF-funded program.

A second range of CUNY programs is directed toward minority students who have made the decision to pursue the doctorate. The Office of Educational Opportunity and Diversity Programs at the Graduate Center provides financial support, counseling, and encouragement to minority students from all of the Graduate Center’s academic programs. I would note particularly our Magnet–STEM initiative which deploys NSF funding to advance the careers of minority students in Math, Science, and Technology.

During this academic year alone, the Graduate Center will spend more than 1.5 million dollars on these programs. Additional funding secured by Graduate Center faculty and administrators swells that commitment considerably. Current federal grants held by the Graduate Center, directed toward faculty diversification, total 8.4 million dollars. Past grants directed to this purpose add another 3.7 million dollars to the total.

I would note with particular pleasure our new Presidential Magnet Fellowships which provide five years of support to minority doctoral candidates. Each of these fellows will receive an annual stipend of $24,000, full tuition and fees, a $1,000 signing bonus, health insurance, and a $1,500 research and travel account.

From a parochial point of view, these investments may be unwise. We have no guarantee that any of the students we support through the Pipeline, Magnet, LSAMP, or OEODP programs will, at the completion of their studies, assume a faculty position at a CUNY institution. What we know for sure is that they will be pursued by colleges and universities from across the nation. Some will stay in New York; others will pursue their careers in California, Massachusetts, or one of 47 other states.

But from another point of view, CUNY’s investment is entirely prudent. We are committing our resources to expanding the pool of talented minority scholars, advancing thereby the cause of faculty diversification in the only way that really matters.
It is fitting that a university driven by a commitment to diversity, opportunity, and social justice leads the way. We at CUNY are proud to be in the vanguard of this critical mission.

Submitted on: FEB 24, 2010

Category: President's Office - Speeches