University should put students' interests first

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

In an effort to racially balance its faculty, Southeast Missouri State University hired two women, both minorities, as instructors in its formerly all-white, 16-member communication department.

And to hire them, the university bent the standards, if not the rules. Typically, beginning instructors must have completed all but their dissertations for their doctorates to be hired.

The two women hired to teach news writing, Tamara Zellars Buck, who is black, and Cindie Jeter, who is half Cherokee, have bachelor's degrees. They've started working on their master's degrees.

The university makes no excuses. A diverse faculty is necessary to prepare students for a diverse world, administrators say.

The students don't seem to mind it. At least two of them say real-world experience matters most to them. Buck was a reporter at the Southeast Missourian for five years before accepting her university position.

Jeter worked in radio at KZIM in Cape Girardeau and elsewhere for more than 20 years. Still, communications department chairman Ferrell Ervin conceded a white male with Jeter's experience and level of education wouldn't have received her job.

So the question remains: If you snatch professionals with minimum levels of post-secondary education out of their jobs and put them in teaching positions, do their students get the same quality education for their money as in classes with more educated instructors?

No matter how the university spins it, the hirings have more to do with accreditation criticisms than anything else. The North Central Association of Colleges and Universities re-accredited Southeast last year for an impressive 10 years, but the review team noted the university needed to "aggressively" work to hire more minorities, which currently stand at 10.5 percent of all full-time employees.

True, accreditation is vital for the university and its individual departments. But with nine years left, administrators had time to keep looking for highly qualified minorities for the positions.

Larry Proctor, hired at the same time as Buck, is the perfect example. He was teaching at Washington State University when a friend told him about an opening in the department of health and leisure at Southeast. He accepted the job.

Proctor is finishing up his doctorate at the University of Southern Mississippi, meaning he meets Southeast's standard.

If the university puts student interests above accreditation, certainly both will work out successfully and to the benefit of all involved.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: