Tuesday, January 2, 2018

¡Campeón!, ¡Campeón!: Everyone Needs a Champion Now and Then

Two-car garages gauntlet the alleys of the Levittown-like Oxnard neighborhood of Bartolo Square. As I washed my Datsun 280 Z2+2 behind my childhood home one weekend in 1984, Chicanita and Chicanito kids played. As the brood of Mexican immigrant parents, they spoke Spanish while they chased and ribbed each other, noisily. Then a lone Doberman Pincher approached us from down the backstreet. Once they noticed the hund, the children shrieked and screamed, “¡Campeón!, ¡Campeón! ¡Ayudanos, Campeón!” Then from their backyard came a handsome black and tan German Shepherd. As their pastor alemán spied the menace that was his Germanic cousin, Campeón growled and rushed away the Doberman. The Chicanitos cheered, “Yeahh, Campeón! Yeahhh! Campeón!” In triumph, their champion pranced back to his yard. A few minutes later, the Doberman returned and the feat reran.

The kids adored Campeón, their defender.

I think of this story as I obsess over the recruitment and selection of potential tenure-track faculty peers from historically underrepresented groups (HUGs), particularly those of Mexican origin. For HUGs applicants to survive the salmon run of a tenure-track opening, at least one member of a search committee must serve as their champion. Without such an advocate, faculty less attuned to the dire need for more HUGs peers dismiss, or even cull, their applications. Some of these faculty simply don’t comprehend the rarity of HUGs scholars; others, I suspect, hold a conscious or unconscious concern to the notion of people of Mexican origin or other HUGs serving in equal number to their European-origin selves. Then there are a small minority of colleagues who view people of color as never their equal, much less superior.

Due to this reality in many, if not most, institutions of academe, the effective recruitment of HUGs tenure-track professors hinges on champions within a recruitment committee to counter the traditional sponsorship of prospective colleagues that mirror the historically dominant within the ranks of not only teaching but also administrative. To protect group control, a foe or foes of HUGs applicants play the role of assassin who stalk and chip away at the competitiveness of threats to their demographic doppelganger, often a person within their social network. Faculty not committed to diversity beyond rhetoric seek out chinks in the armor of HUGs applicants from the start to advantage their furtive, but often suspected, choice. If the elimination of a stellar HUGs applicant is not accomplished by the end, the agent of the status quo embarks upon a crude coup de grace. Then when he or she is questioned by an outside person why a HUGs candidate was not recommended to the administration, the assassin will reply, “Well. You know we look for them but they did not appear in the applicant pool. Umm, maybe next time.”

How do I know this? In my 25 years in higher education, I witnessed peers nitpick the bona fides of HUGs applicants, strategically advance the person under their sponsorship, trash a gem of a HUGs candidate, then, at the end, champion with ferocity, or plead for, the “most qualified” person they desire to join the exclusive club of tenure-track faculty.

Indeed, it is not unusual for applicants in general to have little chance from the get go. When key faculty members want to bring on board a ringer, they craft a job announcement centered on that person’s cv. Hence, the makers of an advertisement eliminate language that casts a wide net inviting just as, if not more, qualified HUGs applicants. And even when HUGs do apply, guardians of the status quo will declare in a committee deliberation, “This person is qualified but is not really what we’re looking for.” “This person does not have publications.” “This person does not have teaching experience.” Or, when invited onto campus, “This person had an (uppity) attitude.”

Individuals who cull the applications of HUGs hopefuls employ such grammar. So it is imperative that HUGs champions be more cunning. A campeón or campeones of HUGs applicants highlight the assets, not the deficits, in such applications as well argue the professional promise a person from the historically underrepresented holds, maybe a future university president. After all, how much teaching experience did most of us have for our first faculty job? How many publications did most of us carry within our scholarly belt upon the completion of our doctoral programs? Most of us, none. So why create arbitrary litmus tests that we did not face at the commencement of our careers, especially at a comprehensive system such as the California State University (CSU).

Within most faculty departments white professors, men and women, dominate. Hence, they reign over recruitment committees that serve as the judges that screen applications for a tenure-track position. Sure, a token HUGs member or two will be included to assert the inclusivity of a search. Such tokens, especially those without tenure or not fully promoted, will rarely, out of self-preservation, challenge the direction of a search in the control of white senior colleagues. To counter this situation, recruitment committees must include an equal or dominant number of HUGs members, ideally with one or more who are fully tenured and promoted to transform the dynamic of the process. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that a HUGs assistant professor will chance career martyrdom, real or imagined, in the face of those who will serve also as the jury of their own tenure and promotion.

So what’s the takeaway?

Unless, administrative functionaries partner with the campeones of HUGs recruitment, a sinister tokenism will continue to prevail, at best, in the form of only one person of color in a department. The tacit message conveyed, “We have “our black,” “our Mexican,” “our Asian.” We’re in control. No more diversity needed here.”

Although faculty drive the recruitment process of tenure-track faculty, administrators must actualize the principals of equity and inclusion, i.e., Affirmative Action. This must be done by the inspection of job announcements to ensure that they invite the greatest number of applicants from all backgrounds. This administrative oversight, moreover, must police minimum and preferred qualifications that exclude fields and specializations often important to HUGs scholars. Deans, provosts, and campus presidents must also demand that recruitment committees recommend two or more finalists, with a least one being a HUGs; if not, the search will be declared a failure.

In fact, the Chancellor of the CSU must implement the Rooney Rule of the National Football League that commands team owners to interview HUGs candidates when head coaching and senior management positions open. This way CSU presidents who issue letters of appointments can base their decisions on the comprehensive needs of their institutions.

But to advance the number of HUGs within college and university departments everyone must be actively committed to the transformation of a campus culture to one that embraces the representative inclusion of people of color beyond the token one or two. To achieve this, department chairs, deans, faculty, presidents, provosts, and staff must articulate a consistent message that prizes the best practices of equity and inclusion to recruit, retain, and promote HUGs faculty. In this regard, extant faculty of color—especially CSU professors of Mexican origin as Hispanic students are the largest within a HUGs plurality, at 38%, in the system—must communicate to executive administrators that they will back them 100% in the hiring of HUGs candidates when they receive push back from the defenders of the status quo.

This support is crucial as the number one consideration of at-will functionaries is the preservation and the advancement of their individual careers. Managers calculate the political costs and benefits of every decision they make. Due to this fact, the feet of functionaries must be held to this transformative fire as they often issue bromides on the importance of diversity and exploit photo ops with brown faces without the sacrifice of political skin in order to safeguard their progression from chair to dean, dean to provost, provost to president, president to chancellor.

In closing, with every advancement achieved, being a campeón for the underrepresented becomes easier as HUGs begets HUGs.