June 25, 2019 | 73° F

Professors union hosts panel on race and gender discrepancies in academia at Rutgers

Photo by Rutgers.edu |

Members of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers held a panel that discussed ways to spread improvements of the University's faculty diversity onto its senior-level educators.

During yesterday’s International Women’s Day, the Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) held a panel to discuss race and gender equity, as well as the findings in its latest report.

“Despite the fact that we are as diverse a student body in as diverse a state as New Jersey, we don’t reflect accurately the diversity in our faculty ranks,” said Carlos Decena, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies. 

Decena, also one of the panelists, said improvements have happened, but primarily among faculty who are vulnerable — non-tenure track, assistant and associate level professors — and not among the higher-level positions.

Diversity, inclusion and equity should be thought about together, he said. With that, one of the main takeaways from the report and panel is that pursuing diversity, inclusion and equity is not just a “Board of Governors exclusive job,” but something everyone can pursue together through collaboration and debate, he said.

The panel took place shortly after 11:30 a.m. in the Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus, and began with a brief introduction from Deepa Kumar, an associate professor of Media Studies and president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. 

She discussed some of the report’s findings that looked at topics like hiring practices, pay, race and gender across all three campuses at Rutgers.

AAUP-AFT analyzed data from 1997 to 2017, according to its report. When looking at gender, it found that by 2017 the percentage of tenured faculty who are women had risen to 38.5 percent from 29.2 percent in 1997. But within those numbers exist some disparities.

The more senior-level positions, distinguished and full professors, are still dominated by men. Eighty percent of current distinguished professors at Rutgers are men — 20 percent are women. Seventy percent of full professors are men at Rutgers — 30 percent are women, according to the report.

Kumar broke down those ranks. She said when people join on the tenure track they start as an assistant professor, and when they get tenure they become an associate professor. After five years, they are then eligible to become a full professor, and after five more years, becoming a distinguished professor is possible.

There are also racial and ethnic disparities in faculty that do not match the state or University's student body diversity, according to the report. In New Jersey, 15 percent of the population is African American, 20 percent is Latino and 9.8 percent is Asian.

Among tenured and tenure-track professors at Rutgers, the percentage of African-American faculty declined from 5.4 percent in 1997 to 4.2 percent in 2017, according to the report. 

It also found the number of Latino faculty rose from 2.4 percent in 1997 to 3.9 percent in 2017, and the number of Asian faculty members on the tenure track rose from 8.6 percent to 13.9 percent in the same time period, according to the report.

“This is a problem, because the students who come here can go through many semesters without ever seeing anybody who looks like them teaching their classes,” Kumar said. “And it sends a message about what kind of prospects they can expect to have once they graduate from college, and so we want a faculty body that’s just as diverse as our student body.”

Following an introduction to some of the report's findings, the panelists discussed their own work. 

Panelists alongside Decena were Edward Ramsamy, an associate professor and chair of Africana Studies, and Charles Haberl, an associate professor and chair of the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL).

Ramsamy discussed his work on the Task Force on Inclusion and Community Values. He said that among the many recommendations in the report was the need for a diversity requirement in the undergraduate curriculum.

Decena spoke next. He discussed race and said that diversity among faculty ranks is not aligned with the more powerful, higher-level positions.

“So part of what we’re seeking to highlight is that in a setting like Rutgers, it’s not enough to say that we want to diversify and that we want to pursue a kind of social justice agenda when it concerns gender and race equity concerns,” Decena said. “But that we need to think very carefully about the relationship of the diversity of the population to access to power at the level of the University.”

As the event happened on International Women’s Day and during Women’s History Month, gender was a major topic as well.

Kumar said that the #MeToo movement shows women taking matters into their own hands and bringing issues about discrimination and injustice toward women to the light.

In the report, she said AAUP-AFT found that many women get stuck in the associate-professor rank. She said the group is trying to pull momentum from happenings like the #MeToo movement to improve working conditions for female faculty, as well as others.

“Our union is what we call a social-movement union. Which means we’re not just interested in negotiating salaries and bread and butter issues,” Kumar said. “But we believe in the common good.”

Ryan Stiesi

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