Researcher: UMKC faculty diversity 'worst' he has seen

Friday, April 28, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The University of Missouri-Kansas City has a serious problem with its racial climate and a serious lack of diversity in its faculty, according to an audit commissioned by the school.

The audit, conducted by an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, also said the most racist place on campus was in campus classrooms; black and Hispanic students felt isolated on campus, and noted a graduation gap between men and women in those groups.

Black and Hispanic students told auditors they often felt offended by faculty's seemingly low expectations of them.

UMKC Provost Bruce Bubacz said he was startled by the bad report.

"I know my colleagues. If there are things interpreted as racist, I don't believe they are deliberate," he said. "Still, this has to be communicated to the faculty. Whether or not it is true, it obviously is the perception of students."

Shaun R. Harper, a research associate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Penn State, conducted the audit.

He said when it comes to faculty diversity, "UMKC is the worst compared with any other school I have visited in the country."

Of the 115 full professors, only three are black and one is Latino, according to the audit.

The university employs 20 black professors and four Hispanics, including associate and assistant professors. The school has 408 people on its faculty.

"We are at a crisis when it comes to the African-American community at UMKC," Donald Matthews, director of African-American studies at UMKC, told the students attending a rally Tuesday on the campus.

"The attrition rate among black students is awful," he said. "There are only four (African-American and Latino) full professors here ... That needs to change. Challenge the system to do what is right."

Robert Herron III, 20, considered leaving UMKC this year.

"When I came here it felt like culture shock to me," said Herron, a black sophomore. "I found that odd because I was born and raised in Kansas City. It is not a sensitive community for black students. If I stay, the only reason will be to help effect change."

The audit suggested hiring more black and Hispanic faculty, as well as a chief diversity officer. It also suggested improving academic advising and mentoring efforts for minority students, and investing in a Hispanic culture center.

"This is something that does have to be addressed," said Bubacz, who added the university would begin training recruiters this summer in how to find faculty candidates from underrepresented groups.

The audit showed Hispanic and black students felt no sense of community on campus and that causes those students, especially males, to leave the school or to struggle to graduate.

Harper found only 17.2 percent of black males graduating within six years compared with 56.4 percent for their female counterparts. A similar disparity exists among Hispanics, with 33.3 percent of Hispanic women graduating in six years and only 12.5 percent of Hispanic men.

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