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The Unbearable Whiteness of Amherst College

Unfortunately, the demographics of the faculty haven't changed much since this picture was taken in 1908. (Detroit Publishing Company / Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, the demographics of the faculty haven’t changed much since this picture was taken in 1908. (Detroit Publishing Company / Wikimedia Commons)

(Ethan Corey and Gina Faldetta)– At the end of this past spring semester, the appearance of a baby moose in President Biddy Martin’s backyard inspired a student-led movement for the moose as the new school mascot. With over a thousand likes on its Facebook page, the Moose threatens to knock Lord Jeff off his pedestal. At a time when the percentage of white students at the College has reached at an all-time low, we can’t help but ask if the white man is losing his place at Amherst College.

Thankfully, a quick glance at the campus directory will completely extinguish this concern. Out of the 97 full professors (the highest rank of tenure) listed in the campus directory, all but eight are white. On top of that, according to tax data released by the College, the top five highest-paid members of the faculty—whose average compensation of $258,216 is more than twice that of the faculty as a whole—are all white men.

Highest Compensated Faculty (Source: Amherst College 2013 Form 990 Federal Tax Return)
Faculty Member Total Compensation
Austin Sarat, Professor of Political Science and LJST $339,465
Ronald Rosbottom, Professor of French and European Studies $247,426
John Cheney, Associate Dean of Faculty/Professor of Geology $243,769
Stanley Rabinowitz, Professor of Russian $236,382
Professor Frederick Griffiths, Associate Dean of Faculty/Professor of Classics and WAGS $224,037

The racial homogeneity of the faculty becomes much less severe as you go down the ranks, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we’ve been making nothing but progress when it comes to hiring a diverse group of professors. Although the College has significantly increased the number of Asian faculty members since 2007—there were nine Asian faculty members in 2007 and 19 in 2012— the number of Black faculty members actually decreased, falling from nine in 2007 to six in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. The number of Hispanic faculty members has remained unchanged since 2007.

This creates large gaps between the diversity of the student body and the faculty.  In 2012, only 35 of the College’s 209 professors identified as persons of color—less than 17 percent. In contrast, 44 percent of students identified themselves as persons of color. The disparity is especially acute for Black and Hispanic students—they each make up 13 percent of the student body, while Black and Hispanic professors each compose only 3 percent of the faculty. Amherst Faculty Ethnic MakeupStudent Body Demographics The staff is even whiter. According to a 2012 survey, only 12 percent of staff members identified as persons of color. And like a majestic mountain, the Amherst College staff is topped with snowy white. Every single one of the eleven senior administrators listed on the College website is white. This is actually a regression from recent years, when at least one member of the senior administration came from a minority background (Dean Larimore in 2013, Dean Boykin-East in 2012, and Dean Hart in 2010 and 2011).

Staff and faculty diversity have been historically relevant issues at Amherst. In 1991, after a wave of student sit-ins in the wake of the LA riots, the College appointed Hermenia Garner as its first full-time “Affirmative Action Officer,” charged with improving representation of minorities at the College. But after her retirement in 2002, nobody replaced her. In the past twelve years, at least four separate committees (a task-force convened in 2002, another one in 2006, then in 2009, and most recently this year) have recommended that the College hire a replacement, ideally with more power and jurisdiction. In fact, the draft report released in May by the Strategic Planning Committee on Diversity and Community recommended just that:

The diversity of the Amherst faculty and staff does not reflect the diversity of the student body. A [Chief Diversity Officer (CDO)] could provide support for all departments to develop diversity plans (through hiring, programming and training) and direct departments to networks and sources of information about how best to increase the diversity of their applicant pools. A CDO could also help departments develop and put into practice a statement of core values around diversity and community to be used as a point of reference in devising job descriptions, conducting job interviews and evaluating job performance.

The faculty voted in fall 2011 to move forward on hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, but several months later President Martin and Dean Call decided to call off the search, writing in an email to the College community:

Earlier in the semester, Dean Call and I proposed, and the faculty agreed, that we move forward on the search for a Chief Diversity Officer. Having gathered information about the challenges associated with that position at other institutions and having heard about the difficulties our peers have encountered in filling the position, we have paused to reconsider our options. […] I can imagine an academic administrator with a portfolio within which diversity would be a critical, but not the only responsibility.

So far, no such position has been created, and the College still lacks a replacement for a key employee who retired over a decade ago.

The College also has a “targeted employment policy” intended to promote diversity among faculty members by making it easier to hire individuals who “invigorate or enrich the racial, cultural, gender, and/or intellectual diversity of the faculty.” But there’s little evidence to suggest that departments frequently take advantage of this program when making new hires: Since 2000, only 29 percent of new faculty hires came from minority backgrounds, according to data shared with AC Voice by the Dean of the Faculty’s Office. At that rate, faculty diversity will match the student body approximately…never.

Obviously, it would be unproductive to posit some arbitrary ratio at which it would be “sufficiently” diverse, but a school which publicly advertises its diversity and commitment to social equality must be held to a higher standard. As AC Voice writer Sharline Dominguez makes clear in her most recent post, an institution dominated by members of one race inevitably leaves many students feeling marginalized and excluded.  White people holding a virtual monopoly on power is more or less the literal definition of white supremacy. If Amherst wishes to live up to its rhetoric about racial equality, it has do something about the sea of white faces that fill the overwhelming majority of positions of power at the College.

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16 comments on “The Unbearable Whiteness of Amherst College

  1. Anonymous
    July 7, 2014

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch to equate having a white administration as white supremacy, especially since they’re not imposing some pro-white agenda on everyone. Increasing the diversity of the staff takes more time than increasing the diversity of the student body, it’s something that takes time; the college does not hire a new round of staff every year like they bring in a new group of students every year. Be patient, the diversity of the staff will increase over time.

    • Anon
      July 8, 2014

      LOL. “Just cause everyone’s white doesn’t mean they’re white supremacists. It’s only been 192 years. it takes time to hire diverse staff. Just keep waiting.”

    • Liya Rechtman
      July 18, 2014

      You would maybe be right if the college didn’t basically hire a new set of staff every year… Have you been keeping up with the progress of the Amherst administration? We get new administrators with higher frequency than we get new students at the moment.

  2. Sam
    July 7, 2014

    Wonderful article, Ethan and Gina. Amherst, not shockingly, has a lot of work to do on diversity. One thing which I want to highlight which should make us just as anxious as the white-masculine identities of our most highly compensated faculty is the administrative duties of our highest compensated employees. Biddy is not surprisingly paid the highest at $458,507 per year. But, note that Mauricia Geissler, our Chief Investment Officer (a bureaucratic, money-making position), is paid higher than every other employee other than Biddy ($345,480). Director of the Folger Library Michael Whitmore, while a former professor, is also paid more than any professor – $352,237. None of these people teach. If Amherst purports to be a teaching college and not merely an investment bank with an educational branch, one must wonder what our fiscal priorities are.

    • JKoo '12
      July 7, 2014

      Speaking strictly about the Chief Investment Officer (don’t know enough about the Folger Library–other than the fact that it’s a highly-regarded independent research library in DC administered by the Trustees which otherwise is quite separate from the College proper), Amherst oversees an endowment of nearly $2 billion and spends far more than a student’s tuition fees per student on the whole package (how much of that is administration is another discussion). Growing the size of our endowment to continue providing an education valued in excess of already exorbitant tuition fees requires competent financial management. If you want to compete with the financial sector for good management, you have to offer competitive salaries. It’s certainly a lot of money for this entry-level non-profit employee, but $350k is NOTHING compared to what people who work in for-profit investment make (ex. The guy in this article, after working for only 4 years for Citibank, was offered $3.5 million over 2 years I personally think there’s an absolutely absurd amount of money tied up in finance and that our financial/economic system is in need of significant reform, but the discussion of whether financial sector salaries are too high is irrelevant here: just because Amherst is a non-profit educational institution does not mean the College does not need to compete for able financial managers.

      You cannot ask for new facilities, more professors, more financial aid, and increased need-blind recruitment of international and low-income students without solid fiscal management and growth. I don’t like how much money is tied up in Amherst and think that the size of the administration seems to be growing at an alarming rate, but it’s unrealistic to think that the College can keep spending more on its students without competent financial management–or passing greater-than-inflation increases in tuition onto the students (which it already does). Amherst does not exist in a bubble (well yes, but I mean in an economic sense). It cannot set salaries purely based on what its fiscal/ideological priorities are; it must follow market trends and pay out salaries based on what competing educational and for-profit institutions are offering.

  3. Anon
    July 7, 2014

    Opportunities — in employment, education, social interaction, or anywhere for that matter– should be made available to all who qualify, regardless of sexual, ethnic, religious, and racial identity.

    The first priority in staffing a college should be creating a faculty that has the talents, experiences, and passions that reflect the intellectual and educational needs, nuances, and desires of the student body.

    A faculty that reflects the diversity –as defined by Gina and Ethan– of the student body is absolutely desirable.

    However, I would not expect the Administration to achieve such a standard any time soon. There seems to be more than enough red tape at the College. Let’s be honest, the Administration is not always expedient or effective, even in it’s own initiatives. Having a faculty that matches the student body in its diversity is a great idea, but it is one that is unlikely to become reality in the upcoming semesters.

    Professors are professors, and should be qualified by their ability to educate, not by their identity. A diverse faculty would be fantastic. But as long as professors perform at a high level, I cannot complain.

    • Anon 2
      July 9, 2014

      I agree with anon:

      “Professors are professors, and should be qualified by their ability to educate, not by their identity. A diverse faculty would be fantastic. But as long as professors perform at a high level, I cannot complain.”

      Also, we must remember that our professors are coming from a generation without diverse student bodies. We can’t just expect a faculty that matches the diversity ratio of Amherst if they did not receive that similar opportunity when they were students.

      It’s not ideal, but there is lag time.

  4. Common Sense
    July 26, 2014

    This article is laughable at best. Unfortunately, due to the PC environment of the college, aimlessly throwing around buzzwords such as “diversity” and “white privilege” will always garner a nod of approval despite the article’s obvious absurdity. Five minutes of research would tell you that the highest paid professors are the ones that having been teaching at Amherst the longest–that is how compensation works pretty much everywhere. Your attempt to make this a matter of race or ethnicity is ignorant and disgusting.

    But I would like to know: What issue are you trying to raise? That there aren’t enough minorities in high positions to satisfy your standard of diversity? I suppose, then, that we should just fire professors with proven track records of excellence because they aren’t diverse enough to provide the desired number of minorities. After all, the goal of hiring professors has changed from finding the most qualified population of educators, to finding the population that can best be flaunted in the New York Times for diversity…

    I guess my point is this: Regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, and other categories that are used in this day and age to classify people, you shouldn’t be hired/receive greater compensation because of it. It should be based on merit alone to provide the best $60K/year education to the students of the college.

    • Ethan Corey
      July 27, 2014

      “I guess my point is this: Regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, and other categories that are used in this day and age to classify people, you shouldn’t be hired/receive greater compensation because of it. It should be based on merit alone to provide the best $60K/year education to the students of the college.”

      I guess my point is this: There are talented academics of every race, ethnicity, gender, and “other categories” who can offer the best $60k/year education to the students of the college. In that context, having the faculty come predominantly from one specific category (white men) is inexcusable. Moreover, it’s bad for our education. Who the hell wants to learn history just from the perspective of white men? Who only wants to read white male authors? Et cetera. In the humanities and social sciences in particular, a diversity of perspectives is crucial to gaining a full understanding of the complexities of reality, so having a predominantly white male faculty means that we’re missing part of the picture.

      Beyond that, the idea that faculty hiring should be based on “merit alone” is misleading. Who defines merit? The fact is, a lot of traditional measures of merit implicitly favor individuals from white, affluent backgrounds, without actually providing a good picture of how effective that individual will be as a professor. Especially in a context when our student body has become markedly more diverse in recent years, hiring individuals with the culture competence and shared experiences to relate with students from less privileged backgrounds is part of providing students with the best education possible.

    • Gina Faldetta
      July 31, 2014

      Yo if this article is “laughable at best” you should have just commented “hahaha!”

  5. Gil
    August 3, 2014

    I guess my point is that this is a poorly researched piece of PC drivel. Is there really systemically underutilized minority faculty talent that Amherst is turning a blind eye to? Great-more affirmative action for faculty, not just students. Diversity over talent.
    Good luck getting parents to fork out 60k for this nonsense.

  6. Alan
    August 6, 2014

    Who cares if the majority of the faculty is white, for godsakes? Diversity has devastated this country. Assimilation is what made this country the leader of the free world. Diversity only divides, it does not unite its citizens.

  7. alan
    August 7, 2014

    Who the hell cares if there are a lot of white students or faculty at Amherst?

  8. GW
    August 7, 2014

    As a WAGS student, Gina, what do you think of Professor Frederick Griffiths, #5 on your black list of highly compensated white male faculty? Would you see him replaced?

  9. anon
    August 22, 2014

    The premise of this article is that when white men speak, they necessarily articulate the perspectives of white men. It’s this premise that allows the author to ask, rhetorically, “Who the hell wants to learn history just from the perspective of white men? Who only wants to read white male authors?” and to argue that “having a predominantly white male faculty means that we’re missing part of the picture.” If we had faculty who were not white and male, presumably, we would have parts of the picture and versions of history that were not white and male. Biology is destiny, it would seem. But note: Ethan Corey’s article is written by a white man whose speech does not articulate the perspective of a white man, who indeed criticizes the monopoly over speech held by white men. Ethan’s very criticism implies that it is possible for white men to speak in ways that do not advance the interests of white men. But if the article itself both depends upon and actualizes this possibility, then the article is structured around a version of the liar’s paradox: its performance as an utterance is antithetical to the content of its utterance. Considered on its own terms, meanwhile, the premise of the article leads to regrettable conclusions. Austin Sarat has dedicated his life and his work to the abolition of the death penalty, which as Ethan knows disproportionately affects black men. By the author’s logic, Clarence Thomas would be in a better position to teach Amherst College students about the death penalty: because biology is destiny, and because Clarence Thomas is a black man, Clarence Thomas understands the reality of the death penalty for black men better than does Austin Sarat, and is in a better position to teach and to speak about this reality than is Austin Sarat. Phrased more sharply: if the College were to announce that Clarence Thomas were teaching a course on the death penalty, the demands of consistency would require Ethan to support and even praise this announcement. But of course, Clarence Thomas strongly supports the death penalty, not only for mentally disabled individuals but also for individuals under 18. This is an extreme position with direct implications for the black men who right now disproportionately sit on death row. The examples could be multiplied, but the point should be clear: biology, to summarize Simone de Beauvoir, is not destiny.

    As for the statement made by a few of the posters above — that diversity and affirmative action are merely PC — the fact of the matter is that both diversity and affirmative action are top priorities for both multinational capitalism and the US military, institutions hardly known for their political progressivism. On this point, it’s useful to consider the amicus briefs in Fisher v. U T Austin, as summarized by this Forbes article:

    That the demographics of the College need to change is a point on which few disagree. But demographic reasoning and critical reasoning are not the same thing, and progressive authors who write on this topic would do well to temper the latter with the former.

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