Diversity of faculty an issue for St. John’s

St. John’s University is in the top 10 most diverse colleges in the United States by student population, according to U.S. News & World Report. It is one of the statistics that the University is most proud of, a distinction that has helped it to attract larger applicant pools every year. The diversity of the faculty, however, is a commonly voiced concern of the student body.

The full-time faculty at St. John’s, as of fall 2005, is 81 percent white, non-Hispanic; 11 percent Asian; 5 percent black, non-Hispanic; and 3 percent Hispanic, according to the Department of Institutional Research.

To some students, these numbers are highly and unnecessarily skewed against the hiring of minority professors.

“I’ve noticed it,” said Brittani Francis, a junior film and television major. “All my professors are white, and I’d like to see more minority professors. The school I transferred from was more diverse.”

Not all students, however, see it as such a problem.

“That’s nothing I notice,” said Elizabeth Chimah, a sophomore biology major. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I just go to class and whoever the professor is, that’s who it is. Black, white, just teach me.”

Even if some students do not see the lack of minority professors as a problem, the administration at St. John’s does.

“Could we be better than we are?” said Dr. Julia Upton, the University provost. “Absolutely. Is it a concern? Absolutely. Do we have programs in place to try to alter this? Absolutely.”

Along those lines, the University is working toward increasing faculty diversity.

“The University is very committed to the value of diversity,” said Dr. Clover Hall, vice president of institutional research and academic planning. “In fact, ‘commitment to the value of diversity,’ is one of the institutional priorities that is addressed in the University’s current strategic plan.”

Hall said that specifically, the programs include advertising for open faculty positions in diversity-based publication and hosting a web seminar on the recruitment of diverse faculty, recently held for academic department chairs and deans.

Upton also made a suggestion to help solve the problem.

“One thing students can do is consider becoming professors themselves,” she said.

When asked what problems St. John’s has faced in hiring more minority professors, she was quick to answer.

“Probably our biggest problem is that we’re trying to achieve something that everyone else is seeking,” Upton said, “and there are so very few people out there.”

However, Jessica Nabongo, Haraya’s vice president of service, questions the dedication of the University in attracting minority professors.

“The fact of the matter is that there are very few minority B.A. and Ph.D. holders out there [looking for work as professors],” she said, ” and I’m unsure if [the University is] trying as aggressively as possible [to attract them].”

Nabongo said that one major factor may be that St. John’s does not offer salaries that are competitive enough to attract a large number of minority professors.

Upton said that the diversity of the student population at the university can be a great advantage, but she also mentioned that the location of St. John’s can work against it, because of the high cost of living here. For some, however, the diversity factor outweighs the negatives.

Dr. Jaime Rodriguez, a history professor in his first year teaching at St. John’s, summed up the one positive factor that St. John’s must emphasize in order to attract professors of every kind.

“Coming to St. John’s [as a professor] is a privilege,” Rodriguez said, “due to the diversity of the student population.”