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Even though 39.4% of the California population is Latino, Latinx professors represent the super-minority in the California State University system. In my university, Latinx scholars make up less than 5.9% of the total tenure and tenure track professors. This is concerning in a Hispanic-serving institution where 28% of students were Latinx in 2020.

Universities pretend to be paragons of diversity, equity, and inclusion, yet they are actually spaces of considerable exclusion. 

Similar to how standardized tests benefit students from wealthy backgrounds, conventional criteria for hiring and promoting faculty reward the most privileged professors. Faculty in hiring committees will often say, “That candidate has more traditional publications” or “That person has letters of recommendation from well-known scholars in the field” or “That individual went to a top school.” None of these preferences guarantee a committed and accomplished scholar, yet they arbitrarily keep faculty of color out. 

Based on traditional metrics, it becomes nearly impossible for some scholars of color to compete — many did not attend top ranked schools due to financial barriers, nor possess the social and cultural capital to secure well known mentors, and often conduct groundbreaking research that is not valued in the field. 

Although 62% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in California are earned by Latinos in the CSU system, 57.1% of the overall CSU faculty are white (versus 12.7% Latinx). 

These figures are not surprising, given that universities have an extensive history of racial exclusion — in fact, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were created as a response to Jim Crow. Post the Civil Rights Movement, the exclusionary practices in universities became subtle and difficult to see – the contemporary colorblind institutional racism that Dr. Eduardo Bonilla Silva identifies in his book Racism Without Racists

Many universities attempt to address their lack of diversity through DEIA initiatives — however, in practice, hiring committees only superficially assess a candidate’s ability to work in a diverse university environment. As long as a job candidate mentions being part of an underrepresented group, such as being first generation or systems impacted, they automatically check the “diversity” box. If only a declaration of being “first generation” or “systems impacted” automatically qualify a person to work in a diverse university environment — these criteria become nothing more than a de facto affirmative action for white faculty. 

On the other hand, faculty of color often experience impossible circumstances to get to the applicant phase. Many have overcome immigration issues, incarceration, have family members who have been incarcerated or killed in their communities, attended under resourced schools – and despite the resilience and learning that occurs during those struggles, this experience is not labeled as a skill set that sets candidates of color apart. If colleges and universities are designed to educate and inspire the next generation, should we not deliberately recruit these remarkable educators for our students?

Even when faculty of color make it through the hiring process, academia perpetuates other forms of exclusion. Assistant professors of color routinely experience microagressions. They are written out of reports and publications, ignored at faculty meetings or social gatherings, and are undermined by colleagues. Not to mention the professors of color who have been denied tenure, promotion or an equitable salary. In the last year and a half, in my department alone, three faculty of color have been denied equity salary increases by our college that would have created equity with white colleagues. 

When faculty of color go through the tenure process, some committee members weaponize student evaluations. Student evaluations are often riddled with bias — for example, women of color are often harshly criticized as being “mean” or “uncaring” because they have high expectations of students. Asian and international faculty are downwardly evaluated because of accents. Even when committees are instructed to be aware of implicit bias by students, reviewers overlook these lessons. 

When I was going up for tenure, the department and university made a mess of my tenure review. After the department committee voted on my dossier and provided a formal committee letter of strong support, a professor on the committee complained about the process. Faculty affairs discarded the initial letter of support. When I expressed my disagreement, I was warned not to proceed with a formal complaint — the administrator said to me, “Don’t forget that we [Faculty Affairs] also evaluate you.” The weak letter of tenure and promotion still remains in my file.  These are the “professional taxes” – the retaliation tax – that faculty of color pay on the path to tenure and promotion.

To be sure, many committees and university administrators work tirelessly to make the hiring and tenure process more inclusive. At my university, progress has been made to educate evaluators to take a holistic approach when evaluating faculty as part of the retention, tenure, and promotion process. It is also encouraging to see university efforts to diversify the curriculum and faculty. Unfortunately, many faculty ignore these lessons at the committee level or view larger university inclusion initiatives as trivial.

So, what should be done to make universities more inclusive? First, personnel committees should be mindful of their biases. When evaluating candidates, committees should avoid monolithic orientations about what constitutes good scholarship, teaching, and service. Secondly, hiring committees should stop relying on traditional metrics to exclude faculty of color and celebrate the non-traditional work of faculty of color (e.g., publications in a wide range of outlets, scholar-activism and its impact, public scholarship, intensive work with underrepresented students, experimental research, etc.). Finally, if we are to continue using conventional criteria that exclude Latinx faculty, we need more programs like McNair, which pipeline students of color into doctoral programs but also enculturate students to traditional metrics that will be used to evaluate them in the interview process and beyond.

Academia’s highly exclusionary practices that begin at the application phase and continue to the tenure and promotion stage make DEIA efforts at colleges and universities seem disingenuous. This is a call to administrators and faculty to dismantle the elaborate system that contributes to the 5.9% of Latinx professors who are either tenured or on the tenure track at my university — or similar universities – despite being Hispanic-serving institutions.

Claudio Vera Sánchez

Claudio Vera Sánchez is an Associate Professor in the Department of Justice Studies and Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.