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Charles Hamilton Houston quote

  News & Views

Ranking the Nation’s Leading Liberal Arts Colleges on Their Levels of Black Faculty

Many of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges are located in rural areas of states in the Northeast or Midwest. Yet many of these colleges have been successful in attracting significant numbers of black faculty.

Nationwide, blacks make up 5.3 percent of all full-time faculty at American colleges and universities. But a more accurate picture is obtained when we eliminate from the count the nation’s predominantly black colleges and universities. With that adjustment, our computations suggest that, nationwide, blacks are slightly more than 4 percent of the full-time faculty at predominantly white institutions of higher education.

Black faculty levels are difficult to determine at many large research universities because their faculty numbers are distorted by the high number of medical school faculty. Attending physicians at teaching hospitals affiliated with medical schools on these campuses are considered faculty members. At some large universities these medical faculty members number in the thousands. The computations of the number of black faculty at the liberal arts colleges are not complicated by this problem because these colleges do not have medical schools. For these institutions we present the figures here.

Many of these leading colleges are located in remote rural areas far from black and urban population centers. Therefore, one would expect that these colleges on the whole would have an extremely difficult time recruiting and holding black faculty.

But this is not the case. At more than half of the nation’s 50 highest-ranking liberal arts colleges, blacks are more than 4 percent of the total full-time faculty. And a good many of these show 5 percent or better.

Among the nation’s 50 highest-ranking liberal arts colleges, Wesleyan University in Connecticut has the largest number of black faculty at 19. Ranking second is Mount Holyoke, a leading women’s college in Massachusetts. At Mount Holyoke, there are 17 black faculty members. At Smith College, also a high-ranking all-women’s school in Massachusetts, there are 16 black faculty members. Other leading liberal arts colleges with 10 or more black faculty members are Occidental College, Swarthmore College, Lafayette College, Pomona College, and Carleton College. Also, there are at least 10 black faculty members at DePauw University, Colgate University, Vassar College, the University of Richmond, Wellesley College, Oberlin College, Bucknell University, and Washington and Lee University.

On a percentage basis, Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia leads the way. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that the 10 black faculty members at Haverford make up 9 percent of the college’s total full-time faculty.

In percentage terms, Mount Holyoke also shows a strong performance. Blacks make up 7.2 percent of the total faculty at Mount Holyoke College.

The only other high-ranking liberal arts colleges where blacks are at least 6 percent of the total faculty are Occidental College, Swarthmore College, and Lafayette College.

According to the latest Department of Education data, there are no black faculty members at Centre College in Kentucky or at Harvey Mudd College in California.

There is only one black among the 179 faculty members at Bowdoin College in Maine. Here one is inclined to blame the college’s remote location. Yet Bates College, also in Maine, which ranks academically lower than Bowdoin, has nine blacks on its faculty. They make up 5.9 percent of Bates’ total faculty.

Other liberal arts colleges where blacks are less than 2 percent of the total faculty are Middlebury College, Colby College, Skidmore College, Furman University, and Whitman College. Of these, the performance of Furman University is the most unfavorable in view of the fact that the university is located in South Carolina, where 30 percent of the population is black.