Decline of White Patriarchal Privilege at UVa?

by James A. Bacon

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.”


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  1. To me the real injustice is that it’s such a big deal what race and gender a person is. I’m with Martin Luther King Jr, when he said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. ” I want the best PERSON on the job, not someone who is hired because of skin pigment or gender.

    But obviously that is not politically correct, so instead we value who they are or what they know and are they the best person for the job. It’s sad, so very, very sad that we’ve degenerated to this. Yes I know that there have been/are places where little ‘kingdoms’ are set up to keep ‘people of color, or ethnicity or gender’ out of a place/job. But as usual, once government steps in, it basically screws things up. There are reasonable laws set up so that if a black man with a college degree goes for a job that requires a college degree but the job is given to a white high school drop out, he can (and should sue). But things have gotten so screwed up that if the colors are the same but the educational accolades were reversed, the black man would still sue and stand a chance of winning.

    I don’t really care if the place I work is diverse or not. I do care that the people I work with have a clue and can do the job. Because in my line of work (as in many others) if the person on the other end, or doing whatever important task (like insuring that a lockout-tagout has been implimented), I can die. And yes, I’ve seen FAR too many people, that at the end of the day, you begin to seriously suspect that they were hired due to color or gender rather than knowledge and ability to do the job.

    1. reed fawell Avatar
      reed fawell

      Accurate, I could not agree with you more.

      PS – Although I must say that it is quite enlightening to learn from the above article how Tenured Faculty at UVA make real life decisions that impact them personally, as opposed to lecturing others endlessly on their usual Professorial topics re morality.

  2. should be who they are over what they know …

  3. Jim – What are you suggesting? That UVA retain its current tenure/professional system, or that UVA engage in some affirmative action to get the #s in balance? It’s easy to criticize a problem, harder to fix it.

    1. I’m not sure what I’m suggesting — I hadn’t gotten that far. I’m just pointing out a widespread hypocrisy. I’m open to suggestions.

      1. So no matter what one may think, it’s hypocritical? You may as well say that it doesn’t matter what one thinks (or does). As so many caring people say, “The poor will be with us always,” as they go about their sinful ways.

  4. I actually agree with Accurate but we have this concept that people who were discriminated against for several generations need some kind of help to get back to relative parity.

    Oh.. and be advised that military folks get preference on many jobs over civilians. This is ANY military, not just those who have served in combat.

    But the essential point that Accurate makes cannot be denied and yet for how many years did we give jobs to white guys no matter qualifications?

  5. No one in private industry is required to hire anyone. You can’t use race as a hiring factor, and you can’t use it in firing. But if you decide a white person is a better fit for your business than a minority, that’s fine, you just can’t say “whites only.”

    Military and public institutions are different, and for good reasons. It’s important for a police force to reflect the population is works with. It’s important for a public university to allow anyone who qualifies to enter the school – no matter what they look like. You also have some historic inequities to deal with – UVA is a good example. Blacks were excluded from UVA because of their race – the first black didn’t graduate from the College until 1959. Blacks weren’t allowed into fraternities until the late 60’s.

    I think it also makes sense to use statistics in making decisions about university admissions. Does it make sense that the student bodies at UVA and other premier public institutions are primarily female? [UVA 55% women, UNC 58% women.] Are women inherently more talented than men, and will they contribute more to the university than women? I don’t think so.

    1. Interesting line of thought….

      I would agree that women are not inherently more talented than men, or vice versa (except possibly at extreme ends of the Bell Curve). But if more women than men have what it takes to gain admittance to universities, then more power to them!

      1. Your statements are logically inconsistent. Women are no more talented than men, but it’s ok to favor them in admitting them to public universities?

        1. Being better prepared for college is not the same as being talented. My son is very bright — but he’s not very disciplined and he doesn’t get very good grades. My two daughters were both very disciplined and they were straight A students. Same talent, different results.

          1. Apparently, according to criteria for college admissions, more men are “undisciplined” than women. If we accept that men and women have equal potential, doesn’t the fact that many more woment are accepted to prestigous colleges than men mean that the criteria used by the Universities for admission, such as “undisciplined,” are biased towards women? It’s all how you set up the test.

          2. Universities biased toward women? Really? I thought all the major institutions of society were thought to be biased *against* women. We’re exploring new ground here.

  6. there is no way to win this argument IMHO. It’s totally true that generations of black people have suffered from discrimination but there is also no way to convince a lot of whites that even though they do not currently discriminate that they may well be better off because their ancestors did benefit from discrimination.

    The white professors hired at UVA (and many other institutions) probably had few black professor competitors simply because there were few black PHD graduates to start with because many were kept from going to good high schools that would graduate them with sufficient credentials to attend good colleges and attain PHDs that would qualify them to compete for UVA (and other institutions) professorial positions.

  7. reed fawell Avatar
    reed fawell

    Yes, of course, universities are bias toward women – that is why far more women than men are accepted. Should we do something to change that. No, if it adversely impacts women who have otherwise fairly earned Admission.

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