The privilege enjoyed by middle-aged white males in American society is a source of great consternation to liberals and progressives everywhere. Ironically, the places where middle-aged white male privilege runs the deepest is in the very set of institutions that decries middle-aged white privilege the loudest, those centers of liberal and progressive thought, colleges and universities.
Now we learn from a presentation of the Special Committee on Diversity to the University of Virginia Board of Trustees that in the fall of 2o11 men held 76% of TTT (tenure and tenure track) positions while women held only 24%. For fully tenured positions, men outnumbered women by a five-to-one margin. It goes without saying that tenured faculty members receive the highest pay and enjoy the greatest perks and job protection.
The racial imbalance was even worse. In the fall of 2011, “under-represented minorities,” which include African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and “Two or Mores” — constitute only 15% of the tenure and tenure-track faculty.
Thus, by the conventional measures used to criticize American society at large, the University of Virginia is a bastion of sexism and racism. If the sexism and racism is not overt, one can only conclude (assuming one is a liberal or progressive) that it is afflicted by the kind of “institutional” sexism and racism that is said to be so prevalent elsewhere.
Apologists of academia might argue that the tenure and tenure-track professors are significantly older on average than other faculty members, and that they rose to esteemed status by virtue of their seniority. Thirty or forty years ago, society was not as diverse as it is today, and white males were far more likely to earn advanced degrees and become faculty members, therefore today’s disparity simply reflects the disparities of a past era. But, then, very few professions enjoy the protections of tenure. That practice, justified on the grounds of “academic freedom,” has ossified and perpetuated the racial disparity.
Still, it appears that the old white guys are finally retiring and opening up slots for newcomers. And it does appear that gender inequity is being addressed. Of all offers of TTT faculty positions in 2011-2012, 51% went to men and 48% to women. (One individual declined to identify his/her gender!)
But are racial injustices being corrected? We don’t know. Forty-three percent of the offers went to professors who self-identified as white, 3% to African-Americans, 15% to Asian-Americans, 1% to Hispanics/Latinos and none to American Indians. That doesn’t sound like much of an improvement, except for Asian-Americans. But 38% went to individuals who did not report their race/ethnicity. Who are those 38%? Are they minorities who fear being discriminated against? Are they whites who fear being discriminated against? Or is something else going on?
I would suppose that an institution that was genuinely interested in addressing racial injustice would get to the bottom of it. Until it does, the numbers are meaningless.
Update: How about that? George Martin, a UVa alumnus, was elected last night as the first African-American Vice Rector of the Board of Visitors. “When George Martin attended Virginia, he was one of only 250 African-American students in the entire student body,” stated Governor Bob McDonnell in a press release today. “Today, the University of Virginia is well known for having one of the highest graduation rates for African-American students in the entire country.”