OPINION: Academia is not racist, despite claims to the contrary

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article arguing gender and racial minorities are often passed up for promotions in academia.

As universities double down on diversity, equity, and inclusion, applicants that rank low in the oppression hierarchy often bear the brunt of employment discrimination.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (The Chroniclerecently published an article entitled “Promotion Rejected? Your Record May Not Be the Problem,” documenting why a number of university professionals are passed up for promotions. 

Among the several reasons listed, “You didn’t look like the rest of the department” is the most intriguing, as the authors’ interpretation of this reason lacks substantive proof.  

People of color, especially women of color, are the most unlikely to receive promotions or get onboarded, authors Christiane SpitzmuellerJuan Madera Erika Henderson Michelle Penn-Marshall, and Cynthia Werner argue.

“[A]s a woman of color in an otherwise all-white or primarily white department, and particularly in a department that is also male dominated, you may have been at a disadvantage at the outset in terms of fit,” the article reads. 

As universities double down on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), applicants that rank low in the oppression hierarchy often bear the brunt of employment discrimination. 

Just recently, the University of Wyoming (UW) was embroiled in controversy for not promoting a part-time employee to a full-time role since the employee is a White, Christian male. 

Jeffery Wilkins, a now former employee of UW, is suing for discrimination after his supervisor told him that to get promoted to a full-time position he would need to identify as something other than a White, Christian man, and suggested that he rely on his degenerative eye condition to move up the ranks. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s (UPenn) police department is deliberately diversifying campus police staff through Affirmative Action policies, as Campus Reform exclusively reported in September. 

The Captain of Diversity at UPenn ensures that the campus police department keeps a “ratio of minority group employees in approximate proportion… [to] UPPD’s law enforcement service community.”

[RELATED: WATCH: Emily Sturge on Racial Diversity Hiring at College Campuses]

Additionally, behind many university presidents’ desks now sit non-White men and women. 

An Inside Higher Ed analysis shows that from “June 2020 through November 2021, more than a third—35.4 percent—of the presidents and chancellors that American colleges and universities hired were members of racial minority groups.”

Even more, 30% of women hired at an educational institution were members of a minority group, and “women of color made up 13 percent of all presidents hired.” 

Between 2020 and 2021, of all university presidential hires, 25.3% were Black, according to the analysis. 

To put this in perspective, the number of Black university presidents hired during that time-frame outpaces the percentage of Black people in the U.S. population by more than 12%, a Campus Reform review of the latest Census report reveals. 

In an effort to better understand how the authors of The Chronicle article drew their conclusion, each author was contacted by Campus Reform for comment. 

None of the authors responded to the request, however.

Campus Reform contacted the University of California-Merced, where Christiane Spitzmueller currently serves as the university’s vice provost. 

Jim Chiavelli, assistant vice chancellor, external relations at the University of California- Merced, responded to Campus Reform’s email alleging that Spitzmueller authored a data review on the subject of employment. 

The data review provided to Campus Reform titled, “Faculty Service Loads and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family?,” however, was not authored or even co-authored by Spitzmueller and does not relate to the topic of employment. 

Rather, the so-called data review studied “the amount of academic service performed by female versus male faculty.”

[RELATED: Diversity statements can determine who gets hired at universities]

Chiavelli was contacted again and told that the data review appeared irrelevant to the article in The Chronicle and that it was not authored by Spitzmueller as he had formerly said. 

He responded, saying that he could not provide any more information. 

The above information on pervasive DEI-friendly hiring decisions and practices, as well as comparative census data, puts these authors’ argument into question, suggesting that precisely the opposite of their thesis is taking place.

To argue that Black Americans, or especially Black women, are at a disadvantage when it comes to promotions in academia due to gender or racial bias is in tension with more general evidence of higher ed’s DEI-friendly initiatives, as many universities in the nation have hired minority groups at a percentage rate higher than the percentage they make up of the U.S. population. 

It’s possible that an opposite trend exists when it comes to promotion and tenure, but the authors of this piece have provided us no concrete reasons to think so. 


Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.