Sunday, April 5, 2009

Are HBCUs Hiring Enough Black Professors?

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I recently saw a study stating that our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are not graduating Black students at the same rate as non-Black institutions. This study was particularly disturbing, since many consider HBCUs to be a place of protection and support for students of color. We shouldn’t jump to immediate conclusions based on the results of the study, since piling all HBCUs into one category would be silly. Some universities have more rigorous admissions standards than others, and many top HBCUs do an excellent job of graduating students.

I was not able to attend an HBCU for college, since I had both bad grades and an empty wallet. I later hoped to teach at an HBCU, but getting a position with one is not as simple as you might think. During recent visits to a couple of prominent HBCUs on the East Coast, and speaking to many of my colleagues in the profession, I figured out what might be going on. I expected that my visits would be overrun by African American professors, all in support of strong, progressive Black scholarship. I assumed that those nurturing young African American students would be, for the most part, African American as well.

I was wrong.

Not only was I wrong, I was DEAD wrong. In fact, for many HBCUs, African American professors are as rare as popsicles in a forest fire. This is especially true in Schools of Business. To say that I was shocked and confused would be an understatement. I was devastated and curious to find out why African American professors have disappeared from HBCUs. How could HBCUs be given so much credit for nurturing young African American minds when there are few African American minds available on campus in the first place? Were Black professors choosing not to apply for positions with these schools? Were our most brilliant Black scholars forgetting about HBCUs and abandoning them?

It turns out that, in many cases, it is actually the other way around.

You see, in academia, there are cliques. Many of these cliques are formed around the ethnic background of the scholar. Some scholars protect those in their cliques and ensure that academic cronyism works in their favor. When African American scholars apply to many HBCUs, they are rejected for hire by someone who is not African American. The applicant is arguably at a disadvantage because they are not in the gatekeeper’s clique.

In other words, many of the primary decision-makers at American HBCUs are not African American, and they are refusing to hire African American faculty. So, rather than sending your African American child to learn from other strong African American professors, your child may go through his/her entire 4 years without having a single Black American professor in class. The nurturing support you expect your child to receive from people who look like him/her may instead be coming from BET or Maya Angelou books. HBCUs have, in some cases, become America’s next great plantation, where, like NCAA sports or our public school system, the product is Black, but African American managerial influence is kept outside the gate.

Does this mean that HBCUs are not a good investment for your child? Absolutely not, it depends on the institution. I am a huge fan of HBCUs and I feel that some HBCUs, such as Spelman and Morehouse, are better than any university on earth when it comes to creating intelligent and empowered students of color. Am I saying that only African American faculty should teach at HBCUs? Of course not. Some of the greatest minds in the world are non-Black. What I am clearly saying is that if you are sending your child to an HBCU because you assume they will be taught by African American professors, then you may want to do a double take…..the African American professors may not be there.

So, when I see that HBCUs are not graduating African American students, I am not surprised. It may be the case that they are unable to graduate Black students for the same reasons that the public schools don’t graduate our kids either. The mentors left in charge of our children are, in many cases, not from our own community. So if you want your child to learn from other African Americans, be sure to check the stats – don’t judge the book by its color.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” For more information, please visit


Anonymous said...

You one pompous sob.

RiPPa said...


I never knew. I skipped on the opportunity to go to Howard when I left high school, to go to Indiana University. Other than the fact that many of my family members had attended and graduated from Howard. I felt the need to be my own man and create my own destiny. Plus, coming out of Brooklyn, I kinda wanted to see what the Midwest had to offer (LOL). You made some good points here and it is definitely food for thought.

Brandon Mckenzie said...

Dr. Boyce,

I am a white American living in rural south Georgia. My sister has been dating a black man for over 6 years who in which has been largely accepted by my family. I am far from racist and cringe to the idea that some (both white and black) may consider me a racist. I am also gay. This is important because like blacks, Gays are also a minority.

I have never claimed to be for Gay rights or Black rights but instead human rights. I believe that we all should be treated equally with no special labels to separate us from one another. I am against labels.

While I have experienced bigotry in my life, I have also experienced negative judgment from the Gay community due to my large respect I gain from people regardless of gender, race, and yes, Sexuality.

I believe racism lies on both sides. Racism is a issue that impacts us all regardless of race. True, racism was much more of a black issue back in the crow days but I am 26 years old and that is not my generation. My generation is the one we live in today and it (racism) is no longer a one sided issue.

My concern that I wanted to bring up is the Oakland California situation. Four white officers were shot and killed by a African American after a police chase a few weeks ago. This man is also the suspect in several rapes including the rape of a 12 year old girl. The fact that four white officers were shot by a black man was never made an issue. Personally, I believe it should have never been made a issue considering I, personally, don't see color. During the funeral, fellow police officers of the slain spoke at the funeral in tears. Many of those officers were black. Again, race was never an issue until a radical group of blacks went and protested and praised the actions of the shooter of those cops due to what they feel as the injustice in the black community by the police. I want go into great detail on the issue because I am sure you are aware of it. The question that I pose to you though is where are the black leaders at today that would condemn the actions of these protesters. I read your blog and saw nothing regarding this, I have heard nothing from Rev. Al Sharpton nor have I heard anything from Rev. Jesse Jackson. Can I get your reflection on this issue? We both know that if a black unarmed man was shot by a white officer there would be protests and lots of noise being made from the civil rights community. Where are they (civil right groups) with respect to the Oakland California issue though?

I wounder what Martin Luther King, Jr. would say? He never held down one to raise another.

Thank you for your time,

Brandon Mckenzie

Anonymous said...

Boyce wont touch that with a 10 foot pole. He is just your dime-a-dozen race baiting educated Negro.

Anonymous said...

Great article Dr. B. I'm glad we are discussing what's happening with our HBCUs. I am not going to send my kids to a school unless it is proven that they have African American professors.

Anonymous said...

To the person above me: Why? Shouldn't you be more concerned with the education your child is receiving than if a university is meeting a certain quota?

Anonymous said...

I attended a HBCU for undergrad and graduated from a BIG 10 University for my masters degree.

Hmmm.Having a roster of all black professors is NOT why I chose my institution as an undergrad nor why I recommend it to people today. Did you know that EXPOSURE to great minds has no color limitation or exclusivity? My professors were black, white and in between while hailing from all over the globe. My classmates did as well. The benefit of my HBCU experience over the majority institution that I later graduated with honors from was the EXPOSURE to great minds filled with diverse ideas and perspectives. I learned to look within for my strength and EDUCATE those who brand and label based on exterior packaging. I teach my 5 and 6 year old kids the same today, "Brand names are often simply generics with fancy outside packaging."

In reflection, when I landed my first corporate position out of undergrad I was the ONLY AMERICAN in my team of international financial analysts. My ability to adapt, learn and contribute quickly is basically how I went on to apply and land a FULL FELLOWSHIP to my graduate degree program. My HBCU experience provided me with awesome opportunities for competitive LEADERSHIP, OUTLOOK, and CULTURAL RESPECT that went beyond the classroom and roster of professors. How? Well, I couldn't get a "C" on an assignment and blame it on me being black or the test being culturally insensitive. I couldn't lose an election because I was the only black on the ballot. I couldn't blame my white professor for being biased in his or her grading because I was black. EVERYBODY COMPETING was practically BLACK.

Either one was prepared or NOT. Either one was going to WIN or LOSE. It was NOT for being BLACK. I learned wonderful things about black culture through DOING and BEING.

So I carried those lessons with me right to the top of my game in corporate America and with a whopping $90K FULL FELLOWSHIP for my MBA.

Today I advise my mentees to research, research, research and choose an institution because it prepares you PERSONALLY to be all that you were born to be...NOT SOLELY BECAUSE YOU WERE BORN BLACK but because you were born with a PURPOSE!


Anonymous said...

Like the person above, I attended a HBCU. I had white professors, black professors, a Russian professor and many other ethnic groups. It was a melting pot of culture and ethnicities. As you stated, you can't throw all HBCU's in the same arena and that's very true, but don't want your blog to misguide those who are interested in attending HBCU's.

Any person that I meet, I recommend going to a HBCU. The classroom is important, but I think we should all know that we learn much more in college and most of that learning is outside of the classroom. It's the environment, your peers, campus activites and its culture. For those who attended a HBCU and did not have a diverse group of professors, then you missed out, but I'm sure you experienced things there you couldn't find anywhere else.

I am finishing up a graduate program that is top 15 in the nation and I look at the culture of the univeristy and its undergraduate population and it doesn't have the same warmth and love that I received the day I stepped on campus as a freshman. Just think about all options...

Dr. Ellesia Blaque said...

When I originally went to college I chose an HBCU, specifically, Bennett College. That relationship did not go well and I was expelled for housing another student who had been expelled for drug abuse, but was my best friend. When I, some 13 years later, attempted to transfer my credits from Bennett to Temple University, I found that Bennett's curriculum was substandard and despite my credits in English (my major), only six of my overall credits transferred, none of which were in English, but rather for my work as a radio announcer at A&T State via North Carolina’s consortium program. I now have a Ph.D. from a PWI (predominantly white institution), which is where I also earned a B.A. and M.A.

I think people forget the historical need for HBCUs, which began as a response to Jim Crow by offering training to blacks in the field of secondary education and social work to fulfill the needs of blacks in the south. That time has passed, albeit, the need, particularly in the sciences and math, remain. However, African Americans need not, and do not, focus on those fields alone, but have expanded their presence in the mainstream discourse in the humanities and other fields of study. Many, if not most, HBCUs are often outdated in their curriculum design and old fashioned in their social cliques. Many times HBCUs can't even hold their accreditation (Morris-Brown in 2002, Barber-Scotia in 2004, Edward Waters in 2007), leaving black students with high student loan bills and no degree.

If HBCUs want to re-establish their standing in the black community and really earn it, they need to come into the 21st century in not only their curriculum designs, learning outcomes, and assessment techniques, but also in their technological facilities and capabilities. Additionally, HBCUs are more interested in teaching than publishing, the latter being an entry point into the discourse about the Black Experience. Moreover, we as African Americans need not continue to look at the old guard academics, such as Dr. Henry Gates, Jr., but rather the younger lions of academic scholarship and research. With regard to the hiring practices of HBCUs, once again, and in the spirit of Alain Locke's "old negro," HBCUs depend upon sources outside of the black community to make decisions integral to the growth of the black community and HBCU faculty. This type of thinking remains oxymoronic, particularly in 2009. Thus, when black students want to engage prominent, well educated African American professors, catch the few us who are teaching at PWI's because there is where we can be found.

Thanks for listening/reading.