Commentary on Lourdes Follins’ “Lifting Voices: Experiences and Perceptions of Historically Underrepresented Faculty at Three CUNY Community Colleges” by ARC Student Fellow Kalina Gjicali

As the largest urban public higher education system in the country, CUNY represents a diverse population on all levels: from students to faculty. Although this diversity is often praised, we must think if the diversity of the faculty represents the diversity of the student body as well as how underrepresented faculty members are being supported in their roles in academia. Historically underrepresented faculty members mere presence in higher education institutions enhances performance and enriches the educational experiences of all students. Although there’s much literature to support this, much of this research is not reflected in practice. And despite the underrepresentation of people of color, LGBTQ, and disabled persons as faculty members, a greater challenge comes with: What are the experiences of these faculty members in higher education institutions, what are their social support systems, how are they navigating and understanding opportunities for tenure, promotion, and reappointment? These research questions are investigated in a tale of three community colleges of CUNY: LaGuardia Community College, Kingsborough Community College, and Bronx Community College.

Throughout CUNY community colleges, the student body is composed of 86% people of color and 44 % of the faculty body is people of color. There is an apparent discrepancy between who is in the seats of classrooms and who is standing in front of the room. The goal is not necessarily about making it an equal ratio; it is about following the research about the added benefits of having underrepresented faculty members on college campuses. However, for the historically underrepresented faculty members who are working on college campuses, it becomes imperative to know what are the experiences of these faculty members when it comes to recruitment, retention, promotion, and tenure?

Preliminary analyses of interviews done with over 60 faculty members across the campuses mentioned, indicated different levels of satisfaction with teaching when compared to compensation, feelings of microaggression, and feelings of separation from the full-time faculty in their departments. Most participants said that they love their job and love their students, but were dissatisfied with salary (typical 27 hour teaching load – 9 courses per for full-time faculty). Female faculty of color felt racial and gender microaggressions (e.g., were perceived as incompetent instructors by their students). Additionally, some participants indicated that they were not satisfied with their school’s efforts to diversify faculty.

There were a few recommendations that were generated as a result of this discussion: (1) on the issue of inequity – need to promote general appeal and concern for teaching in community colleges (2) understand How does one know about positions at CUNY? How does CUNY reach people? What is the dissemination of information to faculty in community colleges? (3) And promoting mentorship – What does that mean and what does it look like? Are only department chairs available to non-tenured faculty just once a year? What would a model for ongoing, constructive feedback look like?

~Kalina Gjicali

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