Already scarce black faculty are leaving SIU

By Gus Bode

It is a fact; students connect with teachers when they are engaged in the learning process. Usually a professor’s flair or charisma can make the chore of learning seem a breeze. Outlandish teaching styles applied to a bare-bones topic can heighten awareness and create a vigor rarely seen as students drudge to class every morning.

One of the most readily available ways to allow teachers to connect to their students is the mirror affect. Simply put, when students can see a piece of themselves in a professor heading a class, the connection between teacher and subject is drawn infinitely closer. With that knowledge the issue of race in the classroom becomes somewhat clearer.

When students of this institution such as Michael Eagle, who has spent six years at the University, can say that outside of Black American Studies they have never seen a classroom headed by an African American, the dismal hiring and retention practices of an institution geared to diversity in its mission is brought to the forefront.

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Of the 2,500 black undergraduate and graduate students, there are only 59 black faculty members in teaching positions. The number produces a 42:1 ratio between black professors and their students. This number is not only unacceptable but also a slap in the face to all black professors trying their hardest to promote the University and advance students of color into the workforce or graduate studies.

Now black professors are jumping ship to escape the undue hardships of having to mentor and inspire 42 students, research cutting-edge topics and try to advance their professional careers within the hallowed halls of this University.

Professor Kevin Cokely is one of those academics. With an offer on the table from a Big Ten university, with a larger student population and the golden coin of tenure, Cokely is no doubt going to leave SIUC for the University of Missouri. But, Cokely hinted at one of the pivotal decision making events that led to his eventual departure – a black face other than his in the department to which he was transferring.

“One of the things that made the university [Missouri] attractive is that the department that I will be going to has more than one faculty of color,”Cokely said.

If this University employed the same practices it seeks out for basketball stars and football players, maybe the issue would not be so disconcerting. Yes, the University has set aside $1 million for minority faculty hires, but it has been more than six months and with nothing to show for it. Instead, four faculty members are deciding that continuing down a path of heightened workloads is out of the question.

And who blames them? The University’s Black American Studies program is already stretched budget-wise and the solace of African-American faces outside of that department is relatively low. Where is the urgency? Where is the diversity? The goal of every academic institution in the 21st century should be the achievement of racial parity. When black professors are not only sought after but are actually acquired then maybe we could begin to see our reflection clearly in the mirror.

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