About 56 percent of students oppose the University considering race when hiring faculty members, while 35 percent support the policy, according to a Herald poll conducted this fall. The remaining 60 percent of students said the University should not consider demographic factors in faculty decisions. Of students who oppose the policy, about 38 percent believe the University should consider other aspects of diversity, like gender, when hiring faculty.
The University currently employs an affirmative action policy for hiring decisions that is designed to attract more women and racial minorities to the faculty. Last year, 80 percent of faculty members identified as white, and about 60 percent were men, The Herald reported.
Several students interviewed pointed out that racial discrepancies are obvious in every discipline at the University and send the wrong message to students.
“When you see that the overwhelming percentage are white and are not people of color – when you see none of them look like you – it makes you question … why aren’t there more people of color on this staff?” said Bryan Payton ’15.
Payton added that promoting racial diversity among the faculty would help people of color overcome societal barriers. “The numbers are largely reflective of inequality in our society,” he said. “Ninety percent of (chief executive officers), lawyers, doctors are not people of color.”
Opponents of the use of race in hiring decisions said the University should hire applicants most able to provide a good education to students. “Our number one goal needs to be how are they going to contribute to the overall University,” said Heath Mayo ’13, an opinions columnist for The Herald. The University needs to ask “how are (applicants) going to further the academic discourse,” a question “that’s completely separate from what race are you or what gender are you.”
Justin Braga ’16, a member of the Brown Republicans, agreed. “Brown should be trying to have the best professors,” he said. He added that this view does not neglect diversity, because “in the process, we’ll end up having a diverse staff.”
Andrew Powers ’15 said he supports the use of race in student admission decisions, noting that “if (a student has) achieved the same things as someone whose had more resources available, that should be taken into account,” while for professors, race is “not as important at that age.” Powers said if he saw evidence that a diverse faculty improved the effectiveness of an education, he would consider re-evaluating his opinion.
Lydia Bennett GS said a good education presupposes a diverse faculty. She said a diverse faculty allows the student body to “get a more accurate picture of the way the world looks.”
“People bring understandings of the world based on how they move around in the world,” Bennett added.
Major universities must be conscious that the professors they hire shape discourse – a power that comes with as many risks as it does privileges, Bennett said.
“These are people who are creating knowledge about the world,” Bennett said. “When one group creates most of the history, there are a lot of groups that get left out.”
Race played an important role in determining students’ opinions on the use of race in faculty hiring. While white students were no more or less likely than their peers to support the policy, 70 percent of black students said they agreed with the University’s decision to consider race – compared to 30 percent among the non-black population. Hispanic students also favored the use of race to a greater degree than the rest of the student body, with a near-majority supporting the policy. Asian students represent the only demographic that support the consideration of race in faculty hiring decisions to a lesser degree than the school as a whole – 18 percent said they agreed with the policy.
Students said they attributed the differences based on race to each group’s perceived benefit from the policy.
The percentage of students who support the consideration of race increased with every grade year, with first-years supporting the policy the least and seniors the most. Fewer than 30 percent of first-years supported the University’s policy, compared to 35 percent of both sophomore and juniors and 42 percent of seniors.
Mayo said he thought the age difference in support for the policy represented a generational shift. He said these first-years are seeing a world where race no longer serves as a detriment because they have grown up in class next to minority students.
Bennett offered a different reason for the varying beliefs among the classes – that students who have been at Brown longer appreciate the benefits of a diverse faculty more, while first-years have not yet begun to understand how lucky they are.
Students who receive financial aid also support the policy more than their peers who do not receive aid. Students who do not play a varsity sport support the use of race more often than their athlete peers.
Written questionnaires were administered to 959 undergraduates Oct. 17-18 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 5.7 percent for first-years, 5.5 percent for sophomores, 5.9 percent for juniors, 6.4 percent for seniors, 4.3 percent for students receiving financial aid, 4 percent for students not receiving financial aid, 9 percent for varsity athletes and 3.1 percent for non-athletes.
Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.