UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale Ben Krain

Members of the Black and Brown faculty committee at UA Little Rock met virtually with UA Chancellor Christina Drale today to address what they see as systemic racism that keeps their salaries lower than white faculty and stymies their advancement. Many have filed individual complaints; they have decided to come together to make a case so that the university cannot say that suspected incidents of discrimination are isolated.

Among the many other talking points: While the number of minority students is increasing, the number of Black and Brown faculty is declining. Several Black and Brown faculty have had to appeal to obtain tenure or promotion, and their scholarship is unfairly scrutinized and discounted. Black and Brown faculty they share disproportionately in the burden of minority mentorship and their work in that area is discounted in considerations for tenure and promotions. A Racial Climate survey shows distrust of administration by Black and Brown faculty. Federal discrimination laws are ignored.

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During the one-and-a-half-hour Zoom meeting, attended by more than 200 staff and faculty, Drale acknowledged such problems as an all-white cabinet (which at least now includes women, she noted), the need for training and education about diversity that starts at the top, the need for a change in policies that “outlive this moment” of widespread protest of racism in the country, that fact that student evaluations of their teachers are harsher on black and brown faculty (and women, too, Drale noted), and that the diverse student body needs to see themselves reflected in the faculty.

However, Drale said she was unaware of the issue of pay disparity. Dr. Brian Mitchell, an assistant professor of history at UA Little Rock, responded that that issues raised by the Black and Brown Committee, including the pay disparity, had been presented to the administration last semester and “we have received not specific reply to those concerns and issues.” Mitchell said there are few Black and Brown faculty who say they’ve experienced no discrimination, and that they feel isolated and ignored. “There is a snowball of problems within the university and I don’t feel the university is addressing them at all.”

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Mitchell also pointed out in the chat function on Zoom that since 1927, there have been only six full professors who have been black at UA Little Rock.

Drale said the administration would investigate pay to see if a disparity exists.

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Dr. Laura Barrio-Vilar, an associate professor of English, told Drale that “most of us Black and Brown faculty have experienced an intentional effort in various degrees to disqualify what we do. … I would like to see a formal investigation of the huge amount of invisible labor that we do,” such as the informal mentoring of students that they are asked to do. The extra work — “cultural taxation” — means faculty have less time to do the research and publication that they need to get ahead in their careers.

Other issues raised: Complaints of discrimination in exit interviews need to be made public and department chairs held accountable if they have driven away faculty. The multicultural center on campus has never been fully funded, and in fact has been defunded. (Drale agreed that that was a problem and said she’s turning to external sources of funding to invest in the office.) More Black and Brown faculty need to be recruited.

Dr. Sherry Rankins-Robertson, a professor in the department of rhetoric and writing and who is white, noted that faculty who are at the bottom of the pay scale have to work in summer, which takes away their time to produce scholarly research and puts them “behind the 8 ball.” She said she’s aware of microaggression against the Black and Brown community and said they “takes a toll” on them. “The white faculty and staff must serve as allies,” she said. She recommended that the Black and Brown Committee be made a standing committee of the Faculty Senate and that there should be a “campus-wide read this fall” of books such as “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo or “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. “It’s a white problem and white people need to fix it,” Rankins-Robertson said.

Asked where minority staff and faculty should go to state their concerns about discrimination and racist treatment by other faculty and students, Drale suggested the employee relations officer of human resources. But in response, Mitchell — who as do other minority professors has an EEOC complaint against the university — said the HR polices “are in conflict with federal law” and “so barbarous that faculty members have given up and don’t believe any complaint will be properly investigated.” He said records required by federal law to be kept “commonly disappear.” Drale said she took Mitchell’s observation seriously “and I will follow up on that.”

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In an interview after the meeting, Mitchell said the Black and Brown Committee had hoped the chancellor would “lay down a timeline to engage these questions” raised in the talking points memo and creating committees to investigate and have results by a certain date. He and others commenting on the Zoom chat said they were disappointed that the chancellor seemed focused on diversity training alone.