Less than 1% of tenured UA faculty are biracial, Pacific Islander, Native American

Isabel Hope, Assistant News Editor

Biracial, Pacific Islander and Native American faculty members account for less than 1% of tenured UA faculty, making them the least represented minority groups in the University’s tenure system. 

There is one biracial tenured professor and one Pacific Islander tenured professor. There are no Native American professors on tenure. 

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has one Pacific Islander professor, one Native American professor and four biracial professors on tenure. The University of Alabama at Huntsville has one biracial tenured professor. This is less than 1% of both schools’ tenured populations. 

Nationally, Pacific Islanders hold 7% of all faculty positions in the United States while biracial and Native American faculty around the country hold less than 1%. 

Hillary Green, associate professor of history in the UA department of gender and race studies and co-program director of the African American studies program, said she believes the lack of diversity in tenured faculty is a system failure. 

Green taught at Elizabeth City State University, a historically Black college, before coming to the University and said her students were used to seeing faculty members of color at “all levels of institutional power.” 

“I’ve had students every semester since I’ve been [at the University] say that I was the first Black teacher that they’ve ever had,” Green said. “When I got tenure, they celebrated with me because we understood there were so few. The norm is no diversity.”

White faculty members make up 78% of tenured UA faculty, while Latinx and Black faculty members account for 3% and 6% of tenured positions respectively. Asian faculty members account for 11%. 

Monica Watts, UA’s associate vice president for communications, said the University is committed to increasing faculty diversity as demonstrated by its Path Forward Diversity Report

“Over the past few years, the number of minority faculty on our campus has risen as a result of Dr. Bell’s strategic plan … We still have much work to do and look forward to continued progress,” Watts said. 

Green said the University is focused on hiring, but not retention. She said she believes that in order to increase representation, there needs to be a “change in culture” where students can see themselves represented in the faculty. Green’s vision would include recruiting more biracial, Pacific Islander and Native American professors. 

“The University needs to do a lot better,” she said. “They’ve been so concerned about hiring individuals, but not keeping individuals.”

Green pointed to Nikole Hannah-Jones, an Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist who was recently denied tenure at the University of North Carolina, as an example of the challenges that people of color face in the tenure process. 

Hannah-Jones was set to receive a tenured faculty appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, but the University Board of Trustees decided not to grant tenure after her 1619 Project faced backlash from conservative groups. 

Green said the system can be improved by continuously working to keep students  — especially biracial, Pacific Islander and Native American students who hold less than 1% of higher education positions at the University — interested in academic leadership. 

“How do you carve a pathway so that these individuals are treated as scholars worthy of tenure rather than people who just take up space?” Green said.

Tabranecia Patterson, vice president of the African American Graduate Student Association, said she thought the University could do a better job of promoting academic leadership opportunities to students of color and sharing on-campus resources. 

“The struggles that I have endured came with just not being informed of opportunities,” Patterson said. “I had to decide for myself that I wanted to get more involved. And the other graduate assistants in my program are predominantly white, so it is important to be informative about getting involved.”

Green encouraged students to take teacher evaluations seriously and write letters of support to professors from minority groups so they have evidence of teaching in their files. 

Patterson said it’s important to see tenured professors of color at the University and makes campus more “accepting” to minority students. 

“Seeing people of color in certain positions within UA really motivates me,” Patterson said. “It encourages me to keep going because maybe one day I could motivate younger students to have a better future.”