Monday, MAY 12, 2014
The Columbia Chronicle
Educating ‘the other’ at Columbia Can the college navigate diversity in curricula, faculty? Story by Tatiana Walk-Morris, Campus Editor
Design by Kayla Koch, Senior Graphic Designer
Faculty and Students diversity statistics, Fall 2013 Marcus Martin, former president of the Black Film Society and senior Cinema Art + Science major, spoke in a student-produced documentary to express his frustration with Columbia’s lack of diversity in its faculty. The Black Film Society, a student organization that hosts critical discussions about films, produced “Black Sheep,” a documentary featuring students and faculty talking about the lack of female and minority representation in the Cinema Art + Science Department’s faculty and curriculum, which Martin and others were frustrated with. “A lot of the faculty [are] limited in their understanding of black art in the sense of black story,” Martin said in the film. “And because of their foreignness to it, they don’t know how to critique it. They don’t know how to give us what we need and yet we’re paying the same amount of money as the next person.” The lack of diversity in faculty and staff is not limited to one department. Although Columbia brands itself as the largest and most diverse private nonprofit arts and media college in the nation, the college’s faculty demographics have not kept up with the growing heterogeneity of its students. Race, ethnicity and gender are not inhibitors of an instructor’s teaching abilities, but Columbia’s lack of faculty diversity can cause some students, like Martin, to feel disconnected from teachers and curricula. As of fall 2013, 82 percent of Columbia’s full-time faculty and 85 percent of its part-time faculty identify as white non-Hispanic, according to statistics from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. In terms of gender, the college is doing better. Approximately 53 percent of Columbia’s full- and part-time faculty are men, and the other 47 percent are women. However, about 34.1 percent of Columbia students identify as an ethnic minority, according to Royal Dawson, assistant vice president of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, while approximately 79 percent of full-time faculty at higher education institutions identified as white, according to 2011 National Center for Education Statistics. The center did not have figures for adjunct faculty members. The college’s statistics break eth-
NON-RESIDENT AMERICAN INDIAN/ALASKAN NATIVE
33 PACIFIC ISLANDER
120 AMERICAN INDIAN
0.65% 2.2% 2.5% 2.6%
Information from The Office of Institutional Effectiveness
nicity into categories such as African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander. However, Columbia does not have a separate category for faculty of Middle Eastern descent because the college must categorize ethnicity based on federal guidelines, according to Dawson. While Columbia has a disparity in numbers of minority faculty members and students, it is not alone. According to an article published in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Higher Education, 47.1 percent of full-and part-time faculty employed at two- or four-year universities are women and only 18 percent identify as a racial or ethnic minority, putting Columbia in line with the national average. With four out of five full-time faculty members listed as Caucasian, cultural differences between faculty and students can affect students’ experiences at Columbia.
When Linda Garcia Merchant, a former adjunct professor in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department at Columbia, was admitted into the college’s Master’s of Fine Arts program, she expressed an interest in making films for Latino and Spanish-speaking audiences, adding that she wanted to pursue a master’s degree so she could teach. Merchant said the department did not have a Latino professor to provide feedback on her film, prompting her to seek help from Latino film teachers at other colleges. Merchant did not anticipate that Columbia professors would try to alter her work or that she would eventually be asked to leave before completing her degree. Merchant said her professor asked her to almost completely restructure “The Benjamin of The House,” a film chronicling the family drama of a protagonist named Benny whose name is based on the ill-fated biblical
Benjamin. Her professors asked her to change various aspects of the film, ranging from the name of her characters to translating the entire script from Spanish to English. “If you can’t try things out in graduate school, where can you try them out?” Garcia said. “The coursework is fine. The structures are fine. It’s when you get to the art that there’s a problem. It was always about ‘appealing to this broader audience.’” Michael Caplan, associate professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department and one of Merchant’s professors, said he recalls asking Merchant to translate her script to English so he and the other students in the class could understand it. However, he said he does not recall asking her to change the characters in her film. Although some students would like a more diverse faculty and staff, legal barriers meant to promote diver-
sity may be stifling it. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strictly prohibits employment prejudice based on several factors, including race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Given that such discrimination is outlawed, the college cannot—and does not want to—hire faculty based on their race, according to President Kwang-Wu Kim. In the future, Kim said he wants to appoint an administrative member to oversee diversity across the college and hire faculty with various perspectives, adding that hiring people based on their ethnicity would not fully address Columbia’s problem with faculty diversity. In higher education, diversity is usually used as a term to address race, Kim said, but the conversation needs to include other factors such as political beliefs and socioeconomic backgrounds.
xx SEE DIVERSITY, PG. 12 May 12, 2014 • 3
Published on May 12, 2014