Lack of Black Educators on University Campuses

A conversation taking place across many campuses throughout Canada and the United States is where are the black professors? Clearly, there are educated scholars and academics of colour, but why are they not getting hired and tenured by universities?

Reading over some comments by university presidents, deans and provost  they all argue the importance of having an inclusive faculty and what it brings to the university and student engagement, both academically and financially. Arguing that it is an economic necessity and can be used as a special feature for recruitment, funding, and ranking (James, 2009, p. 129). I always feel uncomfortable when the argument for diversity and inclusiveness on campuses is used for economic benefit they bring instead of bringing positive change to the learning environment. However, even with this argument, there is very little action being done to make faculties more diverse.

Carl E. James (2009) stresses that there is affirmative action or employment equity programs in place across most Canadian universities, yet there continue to be a low number of racial minority faculty members at universities (p. 132). There is no shortage of academics who are racial minorities or visible minorities, the main issue that is holding back the appointment of racial minorities in academia is institutionalized racism. James explains that critical race theory “names and discusses ‘the pervasive, daily reality of racism in society which serves to disadvantage people of colour (p.134).”  As it stands, some people have difficulty viewing racism as a systemic structure, most view racism as these one-off individual comments. As Stovall (2006) explains:

Racism, like capitalism, is an accepted structural phenomenon centered in maintaining the status quo. It is not, and never has been, the result of individual bigotry it is often reduced to. Instead of race as a category, racism (i.e., White supremacy) should be understood as a set of systemic structures that maintain a racial ruling elites as demonstrated through enforcement of policies and laws that govern the land (Stovall, 2006, p. 250).

Meaning there are structures in place to normalize racism in academia and in other fields. For real change, universities need to have improved policies that look at recruiting and hiring racial minority faculty members, at the moment most Canadian universities are lacking in this area. Even with diversity hiring officers and equity programs in place, they are just not enough. Les Back (2004) discusses the culture of universities and racism, they discuss that universities have always been a white hegemony from their inception. They argue:

The discourse is evident in the claims by institutions that the predominance of White faculty in unintentional – it is just that universities as the rationalization goes, are not able to recruit qualified minority members, for it goes without say that all ‘qualified’ individuals can apply and will be appointed. It is farcical that this constructed notion of ‘racial unintentionality’ remains and will persist as long as individuals continue to believe that minority members are ‘always welcome even though they are not there’ (Back, 2004, p. 252).”

It really makes you think, when you view universities campuses today in Canada, the student body is very diverse yet there is no to little change in the faculty members that are teaching these students. As mentioned earlier, a lot of it has to do with institutionalized racism and that some universities don’t want to have that conversation or believe that the equity policy they have in place will work and hire racial minority faculty members. James suggests that not only do universities need to have equity and diversity policies that ensure the recruitment of racial minority faculty members. But faculties and universities need to acknowledge “and [talk] about the identities of faculty members, noting who should be recruited in order to have a diverse faculty – one that not merely reflect the student population but also, and importantly, represents different perspectives (James, 2009, p. 141).”

Evidence shows that faculty members of colour bring much more to the university than their white counterparts. It is not just their scholarship and ability attract different funders and make the campus ‘unique’. Stanley (2006) reveals that they play a much more crucial role, they mentor students of colour, serve on the university equity and diversity committees, provide support to local communities, provide support to other faculty members of colour, and educate administrators, staff and students about diversity (Stanley, 2006, p. 719). Faculty members of colour bring a whole different experience to university campuses when they are hired, this aspect alone is a benefit to recruit racial minority faculty because there ‘reach’ is beyond the university campuses. However, the ‘reach’ that they have makes it more demanding to be a faculty of colour. Henry and Tator (2007) reveal that faculty of colour have more pressure on them than their white counterparts. They demonstrate that “there are inordinate demands placed on faculty of colour, for instance, minority students wishing to have them as mentors and role models, the broader students wishing to have them as mentors and role models, the broader student population seeking their expertise, their colleagues asking them to speak on issues of diversity and racism, and administrators needing their ‘physical presence on committees to prove that the committee is representative’ (Henry & Tator, 2007, p. 25).” This means that faculty of colour have an increasingly large role to play on campuses, which can also be a burden and result in them burning out. These faculty members have a dual role to play, not only do they have to meet their commitments related to their scholarship and contractual obligations, they have a series of other commitments mentoring students and educating others on racism and discrimination.

I was recently at a panel discussion in the Faculty of Environmental Studies on “Where are all the black professors?”, on the panel, there was a black professor from the Departments of Languages and Linguistics. He shared that it is difficult being a faculty member of colour because he has a lot of students that come to him for mentorship or discuss issues facing the Afro-Caribbean and Black community. This exemplifies the need for faculty of colour since students are coming up to this professor and seeking advice, mentorship, and someone they can talk to. However, he shared that he feels overwhelmed by this because he is one just out of few black professors on the campus.

So where are the black faculty members? They are not being recruited and hired, these academics do exist, but there is a structure of racism and discrimination that are holding them back. If universities really want to hire racial and visible minority faculty they can. What is next? How do we change universities to be more diverse and inclusive? There needs to be a change in equity policies that are in place at most Canadian universities to actively search for academics and researcher who are racial minorities. Universities need to have an honest conversation about racism in university and how they can address it. They also need to note that many faculty members of colour are playing two roles on campus, one of scholarship and contractual obligations and then one of a mentorship and support to students and staff. This can negatively impact hiring and tenure when these faculty members have these commitments. It is intriguing to know that provosts and deans can view the economic benefit and the benefit it has on student engagement of having faculty of colour, yet nothing is actively being done to make this happen.


Back, L. (2004). ‘Ivory Towers? The Academy of Racism.’ In I. Law, D. Phillips, and L. Turney (Eds.), Institutional Racism in Higher Education, (pp 1-6). Trent, UK: Trentham Books.

Henry, F. & Tator, C. (2007). Through a Looking Glass: Enduring Racism on the University Campus. Journal of Higher Education: Academic Matters, Feb, 24-25.

James, C. E., (2009). ‘It Will Happen without Putting in Place Special Measures’: Racially Diversifying Universities. In F. Henry & C. Tator (Eds.), Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity 137-159. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Stanley, C. A. (2006). Coloring the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. American Education Research Journal, 43(4), 701-736.

Stovall, D. (2006). Forging Community in Race and Class: Critical Race Theory and the Quest for Social Justice in Education. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 43(4), 7-29.

Recommended Reading:

Racism in the Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity

E(RACE)r Summit on Race and Racism on Canadian University Campuses

Lack of  diversity leads to burden on professors of color

Absent from the Academy: The lack of black academics in the UK limits the wider impact of universities 

Canadian campuses suffer from lack of racial inclusion