Despite President Shapiro's stated commitment to recruit more minority faculty members, the University placed 24th out of the nation's 27 highest-ranked universities in a recent survey comparing percentages of black faculty members.
The survey — which was published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education's winter 1999 issue — reported that out of the University's 734 professors, only 15 are African American, making up just two percent of the faculty.
"The numbers are disgraceful," said American studies program director Sean Wilentz, who is a member of the committee dedicated to recruiting more minority faculty members. "But I don't think that the numbers are a result of a lack of good will on the part of the University, but rather from the fact that the University has been losing people."
Director of Communications Justin Harmon '78 said he did not want to speculate on why the University has such a low percentage of African-American faculty members, noting that it is making efforts to improve the percentage.
"It is important that the University agrees with the survey that there is extremely low representation of minority groups and that it has to work on improving that," Harmon said. "Rather than disputing the survey, we have to say, 'Look, with our strength as an academic institution and our resources, we should be doing better, and we will do better.' "
Efforts to recruit more minority faculty members have increased since Shapiro made it a top priority for the University last year. Related initiatives include an opportunity fund, which serves as a source for academic departments to issue early advances to minority faculty members in order to fill anticipated vacancies, as well as aggressive recruiting.
"It is a very lengthy process and a challenge of retaining and hiring members of the faculties," Harmon said. "It is a very long and slow battle, but one that the University feels is important to take on."
"It is certainly an interest in retaining diverse faculty for its own sake, but another important reason is for undergraduate and graduate students to see strong faculty across the disciplines who are members of minority groups," he said.
Wilentz attributed the recruiting difficulty to the variety of personal decisions made by minority candidates for faculty positions. "It is a delicate process. It is not like hiring people into a corporation. When hiring academics, more intangible factors are involved," Wilentz said.
"We are talking about a small group of people. There has been a historical shift and the number of African-American Ph.D.s has grown. Because the numbers are small, singular personal preferences make the decisions," he said.
Though Wilentz noted that the committee was successful at recruiting one African-American professor to teach in the history department next year, he would not comment on how much overall progress has been made. "That is only the beginning, and the University is going to continue its efforts and vigilance necessary to increase the numbers," he said. "My hope is that the numbers will start improving quickly."
The survey published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education ranked Columbia first on the list, with 198 black professors, or 7.2 percent of its faculty body. The California Institute of Technology was ranked last of the 27 universities, with .6 percent of its faculty African American.
Princeton was ranked eighth in a survey comparing the percentages of black tenured professors.