The Graying of American Faculty Is Bad News for Blacks

According to a new survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, tenured professors are holding on to their positions on college and university faculties longer than has been the case in the past. Many of the scholars who stay on past age 70 are scientists and they do so in order to maintain full access to research facilities.

Nationwide, 2.1 percent of all full-time faculty members are over the age of 70. But at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, an even greater percentage of the tenured professors have passed the standard retirement age. For example, in 1992 none of the tenured professors in the College of Arts and Sciences at Harvard College were over the age of 70. Today, nearly 10 percent of the tenured professors at Harvard are over the age of 70. Harvard now has 186 tenured professors over the age of 60 and 156 under the age of 50.

At MIT nearly 6 percent of the tenured faculty is over 70. In 1994 less than 1 percent of all tenured faculty was older than 70.

This graying of college and university faculty is bad news for blacks. Because these long-time professors, the vast majority of whom are white males, are declining to give up their faculty positions, there are fewer opportunities for younger faculty, a far more racially diverse group, to gain tenured positions.

Today, blacks are about 5 percent of all full-time faculty in American higher education. JBHE research has shown that at the current rate of progress, it would take more than a century for racial parity in faculty positions to be achieved. The large numbers of older, predominantly white, tenured faculty makes progress toward racial equality more difficult to achieve.