Minorities take place at head of the class

Staff Writer,
Abilene Reporter-News
Sept. 15, 2000

Herbert Buckner was surprised to see a young black man at the lectern in his British writers class this fall at Abilene Christian University - surprised that the professor reflected his own race and youthfulness.

And surprised that it took two years before Buckner had a class with a black professor at ACU.

Buckner never considered the racial makeup of the faculty at ACU when he chose it over a number of other schools as a freshman two years ago. Coming from Houston, he just assumed that ACU would have a multicultural face to it, just like other schools he was familiar with.

Now a junior, Buckner is pleased with his new professor.

"I was very proud to see him, especially as young as he is," Buckner said. "I just took it for granted there would be more (minority faculty) than there were."

The new English professor is Steven Moore, who is finishing his doctorate at the University of Nebraska while settling into his new office at ACU. Moore is one of eight black full-time professors at ACU, which has a total full-time faculty of 229.

The university also has eight Hispanic professors, two Native Americans and one Asian. The gender breakdown is 69.9 percent male and 30.1 percent female.

ACU is slightly ahead of McMurry and Hardin-Simmons universities in making its faculty more diversified, but all three are striving for a more multicultural look, officials say.

At all three universities, the student body is more diversified than the faculty. That's something administrators would like to change.

"We'd like our faculty to look more like our student body," said Tom Winter, associate provost at ACU, which is home to students from 60 nations and all 50 states.

Local university admissions counselors say a diverse faculty isn't a major consideration for prospective students. Students are more likely to look at the number of professors holding doctorates or student-teacher ratios, counselors say.

But a multicultural face does make minority and international students feel more at home once they're on campus.

"I think they recognize that as an indicator that we are a more welcoming place," Winter said.

Recruiting challenges

Local administrators find that recruiting minority faculty is more difficult than attracting a variety of students. Dr. Paul Lack, vice president for academic affairs at McMurry University, said the school recruits the best faculty possible, regardless of race or culture.

"We welcome applications from anybody and everybody," but minorities aren't as likely to find Abilene to their liking as larger, more culturally diverse cities, he said.

The minority faculty members who find their way to Abilene prove to be as enriching to their colleagues as to students, said Dr. Mel Hailey, president of the faculty senate at ACU.

Even with its limited outlets for minorities, Moore, who attended black Church of Christ denominations growing up, jumped at the chance to move to Abilene and teach at ACU. Moore met another ACU professor at a conference and was asked to apply. After meeting other ACU faculty, he didn't hesitate.

"I knew right away I could have a brand new love at ACU," he said.

One reason Moore chose his profession is that he saw few familiar faces in classrooms as a child. With no black professors as role models, Moore knew his decision to turn his love of English into a career was a right choice. Now he has the opportunity to be the role model he missed out on.

"I understand the importance and need for an educational institution to have minority professors," he said.

Music students at Hardin-Simmons are accustomed to the distinctly Asian face of Stacy Kwak, a part-time piano professor and member of the Abilene Philharmonic. Her German husband, Tido Janssen, also teaches music at HSU and draws more attention because of his accent, Kwak said.

A native of Seoul, Kwak came to the United States in 1980 and earned degrees at the Eastman School of Music in New York and at Boston University, where she met her future husband.

It was Janssen who landed a job at Hardin-Simmons. In the process the university added two people of diverse cultures to its faculty.

Kwak said her students don't seem particularly interested in her background, perhaps because they are familiar with seeing Asian faces in Abilene.

"They're mostly interested in my classes," she said, "whether I'm going to be tough or easy."

Administrators say they will continue to try to build diverse faculties, so much as a student recruiting tool as an enriching factor for the campus and the community. Hailey, ACU's faculty senate president, said the benefit is obvious, both to minority students and to faculty trying to understand different perspectives.

"We become a better university when we have a faculty that is diverse like we are becoming," he said.

Contact higher education writer Loretta Fulton at 676-6778 or fultonl@abinews.com.

Copyright ©2000, Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications


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