'Culture of Arrogance'

Black faculty members "continue to struggle for full inclusion in the academy," according to a new book, Exposing the "Culture of Arrogance" in the Academy: A Blueprint for Increasing Black Faculty Satisfaction in Higher Education (Stylus).

September 13, 2005

Black faculty members "continue to struggle for full inclusion in the academy," according to a new book, Exposing the "Culture of Arrogance" in the Academy: A Blueprint for Increasing Black Faculty Satisfaction in Higher Education (Stylus).

The book is based on surveys of and interviews with black faculty members and the experiences of the two authors: Gail L. Thompson, an associate professor of education at Claremont Graduate University, and Angela C. Louque, a professor of education at California State University at San Bernardino.

Thompson recently responded to questions about the new book.

Q: Can you define the "culture of arrogance" in the title of your book?

A: In the book, we describe the “culture of arrogance” as a mindset that is based on four beliefs: (1) whites are smarter than blacks; (2) blacks do not have the aptitude to do outstanding work; (3) whites know what’s best for black students; and (4) the research of black scholars is inferior to the work of whites. As we state in the book, this mindset, which “is based on negative beliefs that equate African Americans and black culture with pathology and inferiority is rooted in racism and deficit theories,” has “created a culture of arrogance in American society, especially among educators.”

Q: What surprised you most about the results of the questions you posed to black faculty members?

A: I was very surprised to learn that although most of the questionnaire respondents were satisfied to some degree at their current institution, nearly 40 percent planned to leave for various reasons.

Q: Many professors starting their careers report feeling overworked, undervalued and treated with a lack of respect. What do you think is unique or accentuated for black faculty members?

A: Black faculty, especially those in predominantly white institutions (PWIs), do have unique experiences, because as members of a historically oppressed group, they have often found themselves marginalized, stereotyped, treated less respectfully by students, their colleagues, and administrators, and subjected to cultural insensitivity and racism at work. Moreover, in addition to the duties that other faculty perform, they also are expected to mentor black students and other students of color, even if these students have not taken courses with them. Furthermore, the lack of a critical mass of black faculty in most departments at PWIs contributes to a great sense of loneliness and isolation for some black faculty who may find it difficult to find mentors at these institutions. Another difference is that in African American culture, black professionals are expected to “give back” to the
community outside of the university. This adds to the workload and may make it difficult for black faculty to find enough time to devote to their research interests.

Q: What are the "unwritten rules" and how do they affect black faculty members?

A: The “unwritten rules” are expectations for faculty that are not explicitly stated when a person is hired and aren’t written in any faculty handbook. Not knowing them can be detrimental to black and non-black faculty, because ignorance can cause an untenured faculty to make mistakes that can prevent him or her from gaining tenure. These “rules” pertain to hiring, the tenure process, promotion, the value that is placed on getting published versus devoting time to community service, and also to interpersonal relations among faculty and between faculty and administrators. For example, in our study, nearly 60 percent of the questionnaire respondents agreed that one of the unwritten “rules” is that “There is a ‘pecking order’ in which junior faculty are treated less respectfully than senior faculty.” However, if a black faculty member doesn’t know this ahead of time, the individual may assume that he or she is being disrespected because of his or her race.

Q: How pervasive is racism in academe today?

A: Eighty-four percent of the questionnaire respondents in our study said that cultural insensitivity is common at their institution and 84 percent said that racism is common. Seventy percent had experienced racism from one or more colleagues, 51 percent had experienced racism from an immediate supervisor, 57 percent had experienced racism from other administrators on campus, and 74 percent had experienced it from students. Nearly 70 percent said the racial climate at work affected their job satisfaction, and nearly 70 percent said it had caused stress for them.

Q: Are there institutions or types of institutions or characteristics of institutions (besides historically black colleges) where black faculty members are supported?

A: In chapter 8, we described a senior faculty member who had been at her PWI for decades and had no plans to leave. She stayed and was content because all of the ingredients that are necessary were present: mentoring, respect for her work, respect for her background experiences, respect for her culture, respect for her contributions, fair tenure and promotion practices, and full inclusion in the decision-making process at her institution.

Q: What would be your advice for a white department chair or dean who wants to make black faculty members feel encouraged?

A: To be effective, I believe that administrators, including deans and department chairs, must first of all face their own demons -- baggage constituting their own stereotypes, preconceived notions, and deficit mindsets about African Americans that can lead to “liberal racism” and patronizing behavior -- through personal and professional growth work. Administrators should also get to know black faculty on a personal basis, keep the lines of communication open, and ensure that new faculty are provided with good mentors.

I also believe that administrators should provide ongoing diversity workshops and presentations to faculty, staff, and students, and hold people accountable for their behavior. As we say in the book, “There is no excuse for any leader in the academy to be ineffective [with black faculty members].... Effective leaders are courageous in implementing change, they promote full inclusiveness, they respect dissenting voices, they do not pit one group against the other, they are proactive, they are assertive, they make their constituents feel valued, and they create a supportive work environment.” However, they “must also ensure that a critical mass of members of underrepresented groups are hired and become integral parts of the organization.”


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