Three Senior Scholars of Color Discuss their Research and Diversity at Temple
By Elizabeth L. Sweet, Geography and Urban Studies, College of Liberal Arts;
Karen M. Turner, Journalism, School of Media and Communication;
Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Theater, Film and Media Arts, Center for the Arts
The Senate Committee on the Status of Faculty of Color (FOC), in collaboration with the Paley Library, held the last “Chat in the Stacks” Faculty of Color speaker’s series for the 2013-14 academic year on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. The “Chat,” which began six years ago, is held four times a year or twice a semester. The purpose of the ongoing series is to highlight the research and creative work of faculty of color and to illuminate the breadth of scholarship interests of this group of Temple faculty. The event is relevant in light of the state of faculty diversity at Temple—a crucial topic made even more timely by recent protests and the preliminary release of statistics by the Provost’s Office. This year’s closing “Chat” was very special. The event recognized three outstanding Senior Scholars from the Temple University community. The distinguished Senior Scholar presenters were Dr. Wilbert J. Roget (College of Liberal Arts—French), Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas (CLA—History), and Dr. Howard Myrick (School of Media and Communication—Media Studies and Production).
A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, University of Indiana and Xavier University, Dr. Roget, specializes in French-Caribbean literature with an emphasis on the theory of antillanite developed by Edourad Glissant, with some of his most recent work appearing in World Literature Today and the Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th century.
Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas’ work centers around 19th and 20th century African American History, women and religion. A graduate of George Washington University, her most recent work Jesus, Jobs and Justice (Knopf and Random House, 2010) looks at the history of African American women and their relationship to religion in America. It has just been released in paperback by Temple University Press (2014).
Media specialist and television and film producer, Dr. Howard Myrick teaches media studies and production in the School of Media and Communication. In his earlier life, Myrick spent time as the Director of Research for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and as a director with the Armed Services Radio and Television Service. He was a member of the now defunct Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission.
At one point in their Temple careers, all three senior scholars were active in the African/African-American Faculty and Staff Association (AAAA). For a brief time they wrote for its newsletter, contributing articles on the state of diversity at Temple University.
Harkening back to some of their earlier work together, the April “Chat” focused on today’s heightened concerns about diversity at Temple. The contributions of these three senior scholars to the scholarship at Temple and their long standing diversity activism were highlighted and applauded. Not only did they discuss their current research, they also reflected on past and present issues of diversity and inclusion at Temple.
Twenty years since Roget, Collier-Thomas and Myrick talked about Temple University’s history of diversity in several articles in the 1993 and 1994 AAAA Newsletter, the scholars discussed their earlier experiences with alienation, pushback and even what some might consider racial threats in the context of their work at Temple. Despite those challenges, each scholar has thrived at the university and moved beyond those tensions to excel as researchers and as educators. Not only this, but Roget, Collier-Thomas and Myrick have made contributions to the Temple community, while continuing the fight for more equity and equality on campus. By the end of the “Chat” the audience was energized, committed, and inspired to push for more diversity and community engagement in an effort to make Temple a more welcoming and progressive place of learning and scholarship that respects and embraces diversity and community.
So what did we learn from the past writings and “Chat” discussion of the three scholars?
Temple, founded in 1884, admitted Blacks from the beginning. The experience of African Americans, however, was not always welcoming or respectful. Collier-Thomas provided an illuminating history in the 1994 AAAA Newsletter that documents the presence of Blacks but also the contexts of segregation, invisibility, and hard-core racism they experienced. Collier-Thomas’ article also provided a detailed look at the community resistance and organizing in the face of Temple’s expansion in the 1960s, which at that time displaced many North Philadelphia Blacks.
By the end of the 1960s, community activism and resistance led to the implementation of what was first called the Afro-Asian Institute, which included curricula in Afro-Asian Studies. To accommodate that initiative, additional Black faculty and staff were hired. According to the history, the Steering Committee for Black Students was a pivotal actor in improving conditions not only for Temple staff, students and faculty, but also for more equitable and serious engagement with the North Philadelphia community. In her 1994 newsletter article, Collier-Thomas also discussed a report about racism at Temple compiled in 1976 by Temple history professor Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick. As a result of that report, the Temple administration created two committees to review diversity and racial discrimination on campus. Then in 1999, in response to racial tensions on campus, the president appointed a 25 member University Affirmative Action Committee (UAAC) that advised him and his cabinet on affirmative action policies, practices and procedures. In addition to recommendations for the need to have diversity among administrators and advisors to the cabinet, the Activity Report from the Faculty Affirmative Action Committee (FAAC) also recommended “departments to consider hiring [Future Faculty Fellows - graduate students from underrepresented groups from a variety of disciplines] at Temple” as a way to address the lack of diversity among faculty and administrators.
The UAAC compiled a report looking at Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American and White full time faculty including administrators between 1989 and 1999. They found Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native Americans were disproportionately under-represented in comparison to whites who never went below 80% of the full time faculty during those ten years. By 2012 the percent of White faculty had decreased to 75 percent, but it was only the Asian and non-resident alien faculty that saw increases. Traditionally underrepresented minority faculty representation has stagnated or even decreased in some ranks. (Report to the President of the Temple University Committees on Affirmative Action 1999-2000, compiled by Tom Anderson, chairperson and National Center for Education Statistics 2012 data).
In that same 1994 AAAA Newsletter, Myrick presented statistics comparing the number of Black faculty and staff in the 1980s to the early 1990s. Even today, while the percentage of African American staff in the lower pay scales is significant, by the 1990’s the number of Black faculty only represented 6.6 percent of the total faculty and only 5.7 percent of the tenured faculty. According to National Center for Education Statistics data, by 2012 that number remained the same—5.7 of tenured faculty—but the total number of African American full time faculty at Temple has fallen to only 4.8 percent. In line with the growing numbers of residential students here at Temple, while the overall numbers of full time faculty have increased from 1648 in 1993 to 1998 in 2012, the numbers of traditionally underrepresented groups--specifically African American, Hispanic and Native Americans have not. As of November 1, 2012, there were only six African Americans, five Latinos and no Native Americans in the ranks of the group 233 faculty on the tenure track. In his 1993 AAAA Newsletter article, Roget describes his experiences of not being appointed as the chair of his department even though he won the vote of his colleagues. Roget also remembers some of the overt racism he experienced in his department at one time from other senior faculty. One colleague even suggested that “he run for chair at [the historically Black] Howard University.”
The combination of these three accounts, one historical, one statistical, and one narrative of some of the African American experiences at Temple, along with the contemporary data on diversity among faculty, staff and administrators just does not bode well for the future of a university that is positioning itself to be in the forefront of educating and training work ready global citizens. And yet, there has been renewed energy and hope that through activism and academics, Temple can become a place in the Conwellian Tradition where diversity is expected and embraced as an all encompassing value.
To encourage a continuing dialogue, a Diversity Symposium is being organized for Fall 2014. What is planned to be an annual event is being co-sponsored by the Faculty Senate, the Senate Committee on the Status of Faculty of Color, the Faculty Herald and the Academic Center on Research in Diversity (ACCORD) with support from the Office of the Provost. The goal of this upcoming symposium is to develop clear action items aimed at defining diversity at Temple and implementation strategies for improving the numbers of and work climate for diverse faculty, students and staff.
Listening to the three seasoned senior scholars talking about the breadth of their experiences in the academy has helped focus attention to the rich legacy of African Americans on Temple’s campus. The other element that has to be part of the discussion as we move forward has to be the community. Temple stakeholders must continue to maintain caring and respectful relationships with the broader North Philadelphia community. As Roget, Collier-Thomas and Myrick remind us, while we remember and applaud the past, there is still much work to be done for Temple’s future. •
Profs. Sweet and Williams-Witherspoon are the co-chairs and Prof. Turner is a member of the FOC. All three are also members of ACCORD.
(Authors’ note: In late April the Provost’s Office released faculty diversity data for 2011 - 2013 to the Faculty Senate Steering Committee. The information is by School and College. It was presented by faculty status, gender and race; however, it was not cross-tabulated. One of the key issues to be discussed at the upcoming Diversity Symposium will no doubt be this data. A request has been made so we expect by the fall to have additional statistical diversity information by rank.)
Collier-Thomas, B (1994) African Americans at Temple University 1895-1994, African/African-American Faculty and Staff Association Newsletter 1(2): 1, 8-11, and 15
Myrick, Howard (1994) A Statistical Look at the Status of African-Americans at Temple, 1985-1993 African/African-American Faculty and Staff Association Newsletter 1(2): 3
National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS Data Center Report 2012-2013.
Roget, Wilbert (1993) CAS Dean Rejects Appointment of AAAA Member as Department Chair, African/African-American Faculty and Staff Association Newsletter 1(1): 2-3