Diversity under-represented at UA

Faculty diversity has not changed over the last 17 years at the University of Alaska, according to data collected by Human Resource Services Director Ron Kamahele. In his research, Kamahele found that the State of Alaska’s working population is more diverse than the staff, faculty and administration at UAA.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Conversely, he found that white working populations were lower in Alaska than at UAA, meaning white faculty, staff and administration are over-represented at the university. In particular, Kamahele found that Alaska Native representation was very low in comparison to the working population of the state.

“I did a separate study on applicants to UAA jobs and what I found was, yes, there are very low numbers of Alaska Natives represented in UAA employees and it’s a very low number of Alaska Native applicants for jobs,” Kamahele said. “It’s directly related to there are very few applicants that led us to sort of an action item to encourage and promote whenever we do have a vacancy among the Alaska Native community to try and attract people to actually apply. I mean, we can’t change that number if we don’t get more applicants.”

On Sept. 12, the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan was presented to members of the UAA community. The plan seeks to increase diversity in faculty, staff and administrative positions through seven main objectives:

  • Objective 1: Create/Establish Policies and Procedures that Increase Diversity of Faculty, Staff, Administrators
  • Objective 2: Provide a Framework for Advocating and Managing Diversity
  • Objective 3: Develop a System of Accountability for the D&IAP
  • Objective 4: Examine and Support UAA Student Success
  • Objective 5: Diversify Curriculum and Instructional Strategies
  • Objective 6: Focus on Space and Facilities Planning
  • Objective 7: Include Community Campuses in the D&IAP

E. Andre Thorn is the director of the Multicultural Center and one of the tri-chairs of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. He said that the 500-plus-page plan is unprecedented in UAA history.

“I think [this is] the most comprehensive study of all UAA campuses, including the community campuses, faculty staff and students that we have pertaining to diversity and inclusion issues since, I believe, that’s ever been taken on the UAA campus,” Thorn said.

Over the last 17 years, there has been little change in diverse representation in faculty ranks, and Thorn said that demonstrates a lack of accountability. The third objective of the D&IAP is to develop a system of accountability, with the recommended action being that UAA leadership develops a detailed implementation plan and that they produce and publish an annual progress report tracking D&IAP progress.

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“There must be some accountability… If you have 17 years of no growth, that’s indicative of no accountability, right?” Thorn said.

The D&IAP states that 80.4 percent of UAA’s faculty, staff and executive employees are white, compared to the State of Alaska’s working population at 69.8 percent.

“On almost every measure, white males are overrepresented in every category: faculty, student, staff, administrators. Is that problematic to anybody besides me? Do students feel like they should be able to see themselves in the classroom?” Thorn said.

UAA’s student population is more diverse than its faculty. The 2016 Factbook for UAA shows that there are more African-American, Alaska Native and Hispanic students in the classroom than professors. The opposite is true of white students; the Factbook states that 58 percent of UAA students are white, compared with 80 percent of professors.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

“That means our white population is overrepresented in those areas and our diverse populations are underrepresented,” Thorn said. “That would identify a gap that would need to be addressed at some point by some measures.”

The D&IAP’s first object is to increase the diversity of employees by targeting recruitment to focus on underrepresented populations with an emphasis on Alaska Native employees.

“Status quo is not good enough,” Thorn said. “We need to kind of shift that up a little bit and get that information to the populations; we say we want to attract to UAA and Alaska.”

Over the last year UAA has had a high number of turnover in the administrative ranks, with many positions being held by interims.

“[Many of them] have been interim appointments who happen to be white males, perpetuating that similar kind of scenario. That can’t happen,” Thorn said. “You can’t put white males in interim capacity who, [as] the pattern has been, … acquiesce into the actual positions, and then you worry about why we are not diverse when you had an opportunity to put some folks of color, or some women, or some women of color in those positions and have them ascend into the leadership positions.”

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen said he would like to see more diversity in faculty because he believes it will help with student recruitment.

“I would like to have more Alaska Native or Asian-American or African-American faculty. I think it actually — it’s not a determinate — but I think it would help tremendously in our ability to recruit and retain a more diverse student population,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen said it helps to have diverse faculty recruit diverse students that hopefully become faculty later on.

“If we don’t have a lot of Alaska Native students working through our programs and who are getting graduate degrees and doctorate degrees, then it’s going to be really, really hard to hire Alaska Native faculty,” Johnsen said. “The same case can be made for any ethnic group. Years ago, it was women in particular.”

At the D&AIP presentation, tri-chair and professor Maria Williams said having someone who represented her ethnicity in a teaching position changed her career path.

“I never had a Native professor until I was a junior in college and it changed my whole career trajectory,” Williams said. “I ended up here because of that. And you hear that story over and over again from students who move on.”

Journalism major Zakiya McCummings recalls having only one black professor — Associate Professor of English Jervette Ward — in her time at UAA.

“I think that kind of inadvertently says, ‘academia is not for you,’” McCummings said about the lack of diversity in faculty positions for her ethnicity.

McCummings said that initiatives like D&AIP can’t just be promises but that it must be active.

“It’s hard as a person of color to really have faith in these things happening,” McCummings said. “It really comes down to, ‘show me.’ You say that you care that I’m not represented, you say that you are making it your mission to make sure that I am. Show me… A promise means nothing. Action means something.”

At the University of Alaska, the number of staff, faculty and administrators who identify as black or African-American has decreased over the last few years, from 3 percent to 1.97 percent of total headcount, while the Alaska working-age population for black or African-American has increased from 3.51 percent in 2010 to 4.04 percent in 2015.

“I hear those statistics and I kind of want to laugh, not because it’s funny but it’s one of those situations where if you don’t laugh, you’re crying,” McCummings said. “Not to be condescending, but the question’s kind of ridiculous, people are like, ‘Why is it that white people are more represented?’ It’s because we value white people and white skin over people of color. It’s not rocket science, it’s just the way the world is.”

From 2013 to 2015, the percentage of black or African-American applicants to UAA jobs decreased 41 percent.