As Black History Month ends, it is an appropriate time to consider who has the opportunity to study and teach at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Rutgers-Newark, which U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks among the most diverse campuses in the nation, is a model of racial, ethnic and gender diversity. But that campus comprises slightly less than one-fifth of Rutgers students (18.9 percent) and Rutgers faculty (19.9 percent).
The university’s website proclaims diversity “one of our greatest strengths.” Yet, close examination of more than four decades of Rutgers data suggests a far less rosy picture.
Some historically underrepresented groups have made great gains. The number of women students more than doubled, growing from 11,300 in 1970 to close to 25,000 today. Asian-American students increased from 2 percent of the student body in 1976 to 23.3 percent in 2017.
Although the percentage of Latino students increased from 2.7 percent to 12.2 percent in this period, it still falls far short of their proportion (20 percent) of the population of New Jersey. By contrast, African American enrollment has decreased from 11.8 percent of the student population in 1976 to 7.8 percent in 2017 at a time when New Jersey¹s black population increased from 10.7 percent to 15 percent.
Data for Rutgers faculty show a similarly mixed record. Women have made gains over the past four decades, growing from 27 percent of the faculty in 1976 to 38.5 percent in 2016, although they are concentrated in the lower ranks of assistant and associate professor levels and comprise 53 percent of non-tenure track faculty. Asian-Americans have increased representation on the faculty from 2 percent in 1976 to 13.2 percent in 2018, as have Latino faculty at a far more modest rate, growing from 2.1 percent to 4.5 percent.
During that same time period African Americans in the faculty have actually
lost ground. In 1976 Rutgers employed 175 Black scholars (6.8 percent of the faculty); by 2018 that number had fallen to 97 (4.5 percent).
Based on these numbers, Rutgers faculty are calling for an investment from the university to promote real diversity. The faculty union has called for the establishment of a $15-million fund for recruitment and retention of faculty from historically underrepresented groups. Further, the union has proposed the creation of an additional 100 minority graduate fellowships.
When graduate workers have the opportunity for study and scholarship, it deepens the pool of candidates for faculty positions.
The union should be lauded for its bold stand in bargaining for diversity. The university and the citizens of New Jersey will benefit when Rutgers President Robert Barchi’s administration responsibly addresses these demands.
Since the 1990s, Rutgers publicity materials have rightly emphasized that diversity is essential to the university’s central mission: academic excellence, knowledge production, and education of citizens/workers well prepared to meet the challenges of the global system. Yet, in suggesting that Rutgers is doing exceptionally well in its quest for diversity, the university is telling only part of the story.
In recent years, Barchi has defined diversity so broadly that historically under-represented groups are just one small part. The president’s diversity hiring initiative in 2015 resulted in only eight new African American tenure track faculty, and 18 Latino faculty. The number of Asian American faculty went down during this period. This is a missed opportunity given the rich diversity of Rutgers’ student population.
Diverse students and faculty are indeed essential to Rutgers’ academic mission and to its transformation into an inclusive institution of higher education. Unfortunately, as the demographic data indicates, the university’s standard operating procedures for admissions, hiring, and retention do not suffice to preserve or enhance diversity on campus.
Barchi should listen to the faculty’s recommendations for recruiting, training and retaining a diverse faculty so that students have potential mentors and role-models for success at Rutgers, in higher education and in society in general. The last four decades have demonstrated that failure to take proactive measures results in fewer opportunities for New Jerseyss diverse student populations which will continue to decline if Rutgers fails to act now.
Mary Hawkesworth is distinguished professor of political science and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers, New Brunswick.