Dec 10, 2021

UT’s Black Faculty Numbers Are Up — But Just Barely

Reporting Texas

Courtesy of Andres Garcia

Five years after Reporting Texas detailed a disproportionately low number of Black faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin, the situation has barely improved.

In 2016, 3.6% of UT-Austin professors were Black. In 2020, that number had only risen to 4.1%, about 156 of close to 3,800 faculty members, according to university data.

UT-Austin is not alone among Texas colleges in lacking Black faculty. In 2020, the University of Texas at Dallas had only 43 Black faculty members out of more than 1,300. Texas A&M University had 125 Black faculty members out of about 3,500. Only 3.7% of the faculty at Texas State University in San Marcos was Black in 2020.

More Black people live in Texas than any state — about  3.9 million people, 13% of the population.

In response to the lack of Black faculty, Julia Clarke was appointed as associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion in 2020. Clarke had joined UT-Austin over a decade ago and is now a professor of paleontology.

“In my other roles within the school, we have attempted to recruit three Black faculty members in recent years, and all three recruitments for different reasons didn’t work,” Clarke said. “What I’m trying to illustrate with that is, there have been efforts, and there will be more.”

There are a number of reasons that recruitment efforts so far have failed, Clarke said, such as a smaller pool of available candidates and the fact that exceptionally talented candidates are sought after by multiple institutions.

“There’s a lot of urgency felt to make change,” Clarke said. “I’m interested in looking at what we can do in terms of our culture, to make this the most not just inclusive environment, but an environment for success, before we actually commence the next recruitment process,” Clarke added.

UT-Austin’s office of the executive vice president and provost has launched several programs to address staff diversity. One effort, Proactive Initiatives for Pool Excellence in Searches, was created in 2021 to support search committees in expanding the diversity of their applicant pools.

UT-Austin’s School of Architecture has dealt with lack of diversity since its founding. “In terms of Black faculty, there are only four that I’m familiar with in the entire School of Architecture,” said Todd Brown, the school of architecture’s 2021-23 race and gender in the built environment fellow. “Two of us are new, we just got hired this semester and we are not permanent.”

“Lots of architecture schools are not critically addressing issues of race. It’s something I’ve been doing in my work for almost 10 years,” Brown said, adding there’s a lot of work to be done. “In the last five years, more people have begun to take an interest in the topic. UT-Austin is at the forefront of the discussion with its Race and Gender by Design Initiative.”

Partially funded by UT-Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the Race and Gender by Design Initiative facilitates diversity among students and design and planning professionals and also diversity in teaching and research on race and gender-related inquiries in American cities.

Meanwhile, the school is seeking increases in student diversity. “This year, we’ve had more Black and Hispanic students than we have ever had in the past,” said architecture professor Coleman Coker. “In that regard, we are making changes but they are too slow and not enough.”

In 2016, Black and Hispanic students made up 21% of enrollment at the School of Architecture. This year, they make up 25% of the population. Black students only comprise 4% of enrollment.

Architecture has been perceived as a white male profession, Coker said. “We have not had much luck reaching out effectively to Black communities,” Coker said. “That’s really starting to change and there’s been outreach efforts in both the profession and in academia to try and remedy that but we’re still a long, long way off.”

Adrien Sebro, 31,  is one of the first Black professors in UT-Austin’s radio, television and film department. Hired in 2018, he aims to be a resource for Black students in the department.

“It’s very important to me, and that is one of the reasons I’ll be staying here. It’s difficult being the only person working with diversity efforts,” Sebro said. “Holding my other colleagues accountable, holding students accountable, holding the larger school accountable to diversity efforts.”

Sebro attends Black Faculty and Staff Association meetings most months to feel a sense of community. “It’s good to know there are people who understand my predicament,” Sebro said. “It’s tough being the youngest faculty and the only Black one.”

He says his colleagues are interested in making the college more appealing to racial and ethnic minorities. “If they weren’t, then I’d be much more ready to leave. For now, there’s nothing department-wise that will keep me from staying,” Sebro said. “The university, specifically Moody and our dean, are doing a lot of work to change a lot.”

UT-Austin created a Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity in 2021. The plan has four objectives: attract, recruit and employ a diverse faculty; retain, develop and promote a diverse faculty; establish an equitable and inclusive climate; and support innovative and diverse scholarship, teaching and service.

“Being direct and deliberate on these things is the way to promote this change,” Sebro said. “We bring more people of color by showing that we actually care about them, not in a superficial way because people want to go to a place where they’ll feel comfortable.” 

During her interview process, Deena Kemp, a Black assistant professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations, was aware that being a person of color was one point of consideration, she said. “I knew I was being hired as part of the university’s efforts to increase the diversity of its staff, so my experience has been very supportive.” 

Now part of faculty search committees, Kemp received training  diversity, equity and taking a proactive approach to recruiting. “Not just waiting for people to apply but actively seeking people out who may discount themselves,” Kemp said.

“If you look at the number of assistant professors versus associate professors versus full professors, the higher you go on these levels, the less representation you see,” Kemp said. “So it’s not just about finding and recruiting people; it’s also about supporting, helping people develop, reassessing the standard by which people are being evaluated for promotion and this includes the unspoken standard.”

Claudia Mora, dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences, said university leaders like herself need to make sure that diversity, equity and inclusion “is baked into all of our processes like student admission, faculty hiring and performance evaluations.”

Sebro, the RTF professor, sees diversity as a way to leave the university in a better place than when he arrived. 

“It’s unpaid work,” Sebro said. “These are things that I don’t necessarily have to do but I want to.”