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UA minority faculty ratio still low

By La Monica Everett-Haynes
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 30, 2000
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In response to a report of a still-low minority faculty ratio at the UA, some professors say they have suffered some racial discrimination and lack of support in their jobs.

According to the UA's Decision and Planning Support's annual study, the percentage of ethnic minority professors is 7 percent - just as low as it was five years ago.

Studies found that there are about 172 minority professors - including assistant and associate professors - and 1,244 white, non-Hispanic professors.

Although several minority professors said they have, at times, felt racially discriminated against, it does not impede their ability to work in an environment where there are fewer minorities.

"Being a minority professor, being a woman professor - all of these things you can't just look at them as problematic," said Tsianina Lomawaima, American Indian Studies professor. "That may be part of it but there's advantages and strengths there."

Lomawaima, who was a student of the UA in the 1970s, said there were very few minority professors during her days as a student. She said being able to function without members of one's ethnic group is a personal issue.

"I managed to make it through the system," she said of her college education, which lacked high-status minority role models.

She added that she does not believe people cannot cope when underrepresented.

Elizabeth Ervin, vice provost for academic personal, said that although there is a low percentage of minority applicants to the UA, most all are qualified. She added that she believes that problems begin prior to college.

"It's a real mistake to say they aren't good enough or they didn't apply because there still is not a large number of qualified minorities in the hiring pool," Ervin said.

"Personally, we are not doing our job at the elementary and secondary school levels, and we're not encouraging those students to stay in school, and we are not doing a good job of retaining them, and when they are in school, we don't have enough programs to get them to college," she added.

Ervin added that because the number of applicants is not great enough, professors often feel isolated because they are not surrounded by ethnic minorities.

Elliot Cheu, assistant physics professor, said although there is a large percentage of Asian professors, there are no American Indians and only one Hispanic professor in his department.

"I am sure it would help," Cheu said about having more minority professors in his department.

Unlike Lomawaima, Cheu said students who don't see good role models "can't relate to the things in their life and that makes it more difficult to approach their professors."

Andy Byrnes, a biochemistry junior, said he does not believe in a need-based system of selection, but that diversity is important to the university.

"It matters because it provides a greater degree of outlook on the world but I also think it shouldn't be just because they are minorities," Byrnes said. "It should be merit based."

Byrnes added that minority professors - particularly in the math department - were "strong professors and knew their subject material more" than non-minority professors.

Although she said she knows minority representation in professors is important, Gennevieve Brown-Kibble, doctoral candidate in musical arts choral conducting, said the question of ethnic representation is immaterial.

"It doesn't have to matter but it does," Brown-Kibble said. "I don't look to someone for being a guide just because they are the same race (because) I'm not one that really needs to have a black professor - that's superficial stuff."

However, Antonio Estrada, a Mexican studies associate professor, does not believe minority students lacking adequate support to be "superficial stuff."

"I think they tend to lack role models and I wouldn't say so much mentoring because there are a lot of good non-minority faculty," Estrada said. "But seeing those role models in classes and administration help them to identify it as a place they should be."

Estrada added that although he has not run into racial problems, he believes the UA's low percentage of minority professors may eventually prevent potential students from applying.

The low percentage, he said, is more likely to be the cause of low salary, not education, experience or background.

Mikelle Smith Omari-Tunkara, associate art professor, said she felt she was racially discriminated a number of times during her employment at the UA.

"I never have enough (teaching assistants) and in the past I would always have to scramble or threaten to not teach my classes to get what I needed - TA's or graders," Omari-Tunkara said.

She added that she has seen a positive change this semester because of her threats, adding that she turns to the Africana Studies department for support and guidance.

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