Our Response to Racism Should Not Be More Unpaid Work for Black Faculty, Part I


Craig Klugman, PhD

Publish date

Tag(s): Legacy post
Topic(s): Black Bioethics Education Professional Ethics

This essay is part of a 2-part series on the burdens placed on black faculty in academic bioethics. The second part, by Keisha Ray, Ph.D. can be read by clicking here.

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

During the beginning of the #METOO movement, female academics named those who had harassed them, universities created (or expanded) reporting structures and formed committees to help improve conditions for women on campus, and movements were made to try new ways of working such as restorative justice. Most of this work, however, was done by women, extra work they took on to improve the university environment. And that work was on top of the fact that female faculty already do more service work than men. In the pandemic, female faculty have taken on added home responsibilities more so than their male counterparts, and thus they haven’t published as much, a reality that may harm their careers later.

In responding to George Floyd’s killing, protests against racial injustice, and systemic racism in our communities and institutions, universities and professional groups are offering webinars, online trainings, town hall meetings, and reading lists. Calls for more content in medical schools mean more currriculum must be created. And who is being asked to do all of this extra work? Faculty of color. Progress on racial bias in academia will not be solved by asking faculty of color to be experts, particularly when they are called on to be experts on their lived experience and not just on their scholarship, and to do so without extra pay. It is not the job of black faculty to educate their peers and their administrations.

Faculty of color already have a larger service burden than their white faculty colleagues. Every search committee has a faculty of color to help make the university look diverse. They serve on diversity and inclusion committees (what university would want the optics of an all white D&I group?). They also tend to do more student advising, serving as role models for students of color and leading related student groups. And that does not include the systemic racism and discrimination faculty of color experience in the Ivory Tower ranging from being viewed as less capable, less likely to have their research taken seriously (especially on non-race topics), being pigeonholed into being a scholar of race (even if, as has been the experience of one of us, that was not the intended scholarly career course), and students consistently rate faculty of color lower than white instructors on course evaluations.

This year, Barbara Ross-Lee became the first black female dean of a medical school ever. In U.S. medical schools,only 3.6% of the faculty identify as black or African-American despite being 14% of the U.S. population. Expecting this small number of faculty to take on the duty of changing the culture of medicine is unrealistic and unfair. But in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the protests that followed, this seems to be what we are asking black faculty to do now. We are asking black faculty to partake in the enormous task of educating the world on race while still maintaining their personal lives and their careers.

One answer is that we need more faculty of color. That’s not simply trying to entice people to move to your institution from where they are at, but rather increasing the number of people in the pipeline, which means partnering with colleges, high schools, and elementary schools. Kids are more likely to choose careers where they see people that look like them. This needs also means developing talent from within the institution a process that requires giving less service work to black faculty, not more, so they can build their careers. We need more faculty of color in administration and in leadership roles. This can be done by having mentoring programs and offering leadership development to those who seek to be in these roles.

A second response is to consider a balance between the disabilities community’s notion of “nothing about us without us” and overburdening faculty of color. Some questions to consider: Is this person being asked to be part of this group only because they add diversity to this group? In other words, if their presence is for window dressing then it is not a good use of a person’s time or knowledge. How will the faculty member benefit from this service?

A third response is to make it easy for faculty of color to say no. Often, participation on a committee or with a group is done through nudging, encouraging someone to be part of the effort. For example, an administrator or more senior faculty member says “You will help attract more minority students” or “This will look good on tenure packet”. If you really need a faculty of color for this project, then help them get out of anioher service obligation—in no circumstance should they do more than their white colleagues.

A fifth response is not to view faculty of color as representatives of their racial group or as the race expert. Having a single faculty of color on a committee means that you have one person’s experience, but certainly can’t expect them to speak for all black people. Similarly, when a question comes up in the committee about “what minority faculty think” or “how minority students will view this idea”, all eyes should not immediately turn to the black faculty members on the project.

Without a doubt bioethics and medicine need greater diversity and inclusiveness. The answer, however, is not found in requiring a higher service load of faculty of color but rather for everyone to embrace the goals of social injustice and equity and the work that will require.

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