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An unintended consequence of ending affirmative action: less faculty diversity

An unintended consequence of ending affirmative action: less faculty diversity

Aminah loves being an undergraduate student in the Ivy League and finds the curriculum incredibly enriching. However, she has a Somalian refugee background and—despite her best efforts—is having difficulty finding faculty mentors who look like her. As a result, while school is going great, Aminah hasn’t been able to develop a deep intellectual connection with a faculty mentor the same way some of her friends have.

Students thrive with mentorship and often look to develop deep intellectual relationships with faculty mentors with whom they can relate. In simple terms, sometimes these faculty mentors look like them, have similar backgrounds, or have experiences that the student can easily relate to. This is not a necessity; however, it is well known that strong mentorship helps students succeed and achieve their long-term goals, making them less shy about asking for recommendation letters, and getting the guidance they need to achieve their goals in college and beyond.

While student bodies have become more diverse in the age of affirmative action, faculty compositions have remained far less diverse, especially when considering only tenured faculty. There have also been several newsworthy cases of non-white faculty at prestigious universities being denied tenure for inexplicable reasons. Interestingly, 96% of tenured black professors are at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and are rare outside of HBCUs, given the unique difficulty to achieve tenure for black faculty members. Unfortunately, this hurts our students of color, who may find it more challenging to find a faculty member they truly “click with” given the lack of diversity in the faculty ranks.

Furthermore, with the U.S. Supreme Court officially ending affirmative action, there is a real risk that the resulting decrease in student diversity on prestigious college campuses will carry forward toward even less diverse faculty pools. Indeed, this was already a brewing problem (even before Affirmative Action officially ended), with several top universities having more students from the top 1% of income range (family making over $630,000) than bottom 20% income range (family making less than $65,000). With Affirmative Action now gone, colleges may become further emboldened to reduce diversity in favor of identifying students who can pay full tuition. The end result will be even less diversity among faculty at top universities, as faculty members are typically selected from trainees who went to these same prestigious schools.

We owe it to students like Aminah to maintain diverse faculty pools at our nation’s top colleges. The worst-case scenario will be a lack of affirmative action, rampant legacy admissions, and universities preferentially selecting students from the top 1% of the wealthiest families. These decisions, while they may be financially sound for prestigious universities, will result in a stifling system that harkens back to history when only wealthy whites were admitted to Ivy League colleges, and will make them appear even more elite and out-of-touch than they already do. This could make it harder for graduates to serve their local communities as doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, engineers, and leaders, as they will be less likely to reflect the makeup of these local communities. Also, it will make it even more challenging for black and brown students like Aminah to gain admission, let alone find a faculty mentor they can truly connect with.

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