Article examines the responsibility of institutions to provide diverse faculty that will provide role models for minorities
The author examines the power and limitations of using the role model argument to support faculty diversification. This "role model" argument has been used consistently to support the need for diversity. However it is often seen as ancillary to any other arguments that are in favor of the case. The author focuses on black female law teachers. She used the 1990 protests at the Harvard Law School as an example. During the protests Professor Derrick Bell, Harvard's first and most senior black law professor protested the absence of tenured black women in the law school.
It surfaced that many faculty members believed that affirmative action policies would lead to the demise of excellence. They felt that the politics of the situation would favor the appointment of a black woman instead of outstanding white teachers. The author argues that it is the responsibility of institutions to provide diverse faculty. She presents this in support of the same kind of role models. However she believes that this must not be done at the expense of quality.
Who is a role model?
The concept of a role model, with race/gender based preferences is ambiguous. The term role model can be applied in all or one of the following senses:
All teachers fall into the category of ethical templates. They can set the either high or low standards. The author uses the argument of the law professor. The way in which the law school teachers speak and behave suggests something about the way in which law school professors should act.
All teachers are ethical templates but only few are symbols of special achievement. The definition, by Judith Thomson and George Sher, philosophers, that role models are individuals who inspire others to believe that they are capable of high accomplishment, is often employed. An important requirement of this definition is recognizability. This does not mean that institutions that hire blacks as role models should hire those that "look black" rather than those who don't. It means that the students should in some way identify with the role model. The nurturers are those who take an active role in mentoring, tutoring, counseling, and special cultural and scholarly events. Being a minority group member is neither necessary or sufficient for being a role model to minority students.
The ambiguous definition of the term role model is not the only problem. The use of the role model argument also leads to;
Affirmative action involves using a broad range of criteria for selecting faculty. One may believe that criticism of the role model argument is a direct criticism of the affirmative action policies. This is not necessarily the case. Affirmative action policies mean an increase in the minority power. As shown previously with role models this is not necessarily the case.
The claim that same-kind role models are necessary has been viewed with some skepticism. It is only by examining the experiences of minority and women that people can get beyond their skepticism. White men who predominate higher education tend not to inspire minority students to achieve their full potential. Minority faculty could increase the chances that minority group members will find peers and role models.
Professors have defined agendas that ignore the intellectual needs of minority students. Many times minority issues are excluded from classroom discussions.
The case for same kind role models is based on the sense of abandonment that minority students feel. This is directly related to their tendency for under-achievement and their high attrition. Many groups claim that white professors can serve adequately as role models, however the evidence is clear that they haven't.
There should be role models - templates, symbols, and nurturers. However the argument should not be used as an excuse to treat women as inferiors. Minorities have special role modeling needs with which minority faculty are uniquely equipped to deal. Diversification of faculty is not enough and general faculty will have to be encouraged to be responsive and respectful.