The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday May 17th

Editorial: Retaining BIPOC faculty must be a priority for higher education

Members of the Carolina Black protest the UNC decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones at the UNC Board of Trustees meeting at the Carolina Inn on Thursday May 20, 2021.
Buy Photos Members of the Carolina Black protest the UNC decision to deny tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones at the UNC Board of Trustees meeting at the Carolina Inn on Thursday May 20, 2021.

It should come as no surprise that, at a University shrouded in national controversy at the hands of its predominantly white Board of Trustees, UNC’s ability to retain faculty members of color is severely limited.

The University has said it has a goal of increasing the number of hires from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.

Yet the faculty members of color currently at UNC are devalued and put in positions that force them to reconsider their role within their departments and the University as a whole.

After the BOT initially failed to vote on tenure for journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, several professors of color noted that this controversy was only the most recent symptom of a problem that has existed for years.

These professors feel overburdened and have had to create their own support networks where the University has failed to do so.

Hannah-Jones later rejected a tenure offer at UNC to teach at Howard University.

The problem persists when faculty of color are the only people of color in their department and/or the only tenured faculty members of color in their departments. This isolation is amplified when these faculty are treated as token members of various committees on race and diversity instead of their research.

The University must dedicate itself to creating a thoughtful work environment that honors and respects the time, expertise and resources of faculty of color. Here are some ways that UNC can better retain faculty members of color:

Work towards pay equity between the disciplines.

Black, Indigenous and other faculty of color — especially women — are more likely to work and research in the humanities, such as policy, education or English. At the same time, professors of color are severely underrepresented in STEM, which generally sees higher salaries and more funding than other departments.

By creating policies of pay transparency and pay equity between various fields of research, disparities between race and gender can be combatted. The value of one faculty member’s research should not be more than others, solely on the basis of which field the research is in – especially if this difference perpetuates inequities felt by faculty of color.

Create spaces to talk about racism and diversity on campus, and make them accessible.

Mission statements about racial equity aren’t enough without tangible bodies taking measurable action to fix issues of inequality on campus. Discussions about inequality should not happen behind closed doors, but in a way that engages the entire campus community.

Similarly, all of the emotional labor in these spaces should not fall on the shoulders of participants from underrepresented communities.

Part of the reason that the University struggles to retain faculty members of color is that it relies too heavily on these academics for their knowledge and experiences, and expects them to testify to these perspectives in committees and forums.

Lastly, these specially-curated spaces cannot be the only place where faculty of color feel seen and heard. Department chairpersons and members of the administration need to make conscious, full-time efforts to hear their perspectives as they make policies that affect faculty of color.

Increase representation in important decision-making positions.

White men make up two-thirds of the UNC Board of Governors, which holds most of the power over the University.

UNC has a student body that is almost 60 percent female. In addition, nearly 35 percent of its student body are from communities of color. For a university that claims to advocate for diversity and representation, the UNC System fails to provide this representation of students within its leadership.

Change is imperative. Students, faculty and staff of color must be adequately represented in decision-making positions and groups. With people of color consistently feeling undervalued at UNC, it's the first thing the University must commit to in order to retain diverse individuals in its faculty and staff.

@dthopinion

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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