Vanderbilt Study Shows Black Professors Are Expected to Entertain as Well as Educate


A new study by Vanderbilt University reveals that even in academia Black people are still struggling with stereotypes and discrimination. According to the Vanderbilt study, Black college professors were expected to be “entertaining,” while they were conducting seminars and academic research papers. The survey interviewed 33 Black faculty members at colleges across the country.

“Interviews with the scholars revealed that an overwhelming majority were advised regularly by white peers to be ‘more entertaining’ when making research presentations, as well as to ‘lighten up’ and ‘tell more jokes,” said Vanderbilt University.

The study also revealed Black female professors were often critiqued on their clothing choices and told to “smile more” during presentations.

Ebony McGee, a former engineer who advocates for people of color in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, said the study revealed that, even in academia, many whites saw Black people as entertainers.

“These microaggressions harken to a long history of Blacks being objectified for entertainment value, all the way back to the blackface minstrel shows, which depicted African-Americans as comical, lazy or dim-witted,” she said. “Today, the racialized objectification of African-Americans may not always be as overt as it was a century ago, but the ‘black as entertainment’ ideology remains alive and well.”

The study also revealed another problem in academia, which is still overwhelmingly white. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Blacks make up less than 9 percent of full-time faculty members. However, an article by Slate pointed out that Black professors often have adjunct (part-time) positions.

“The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report also shows something else: ‘The proportion of African-Americans in non-tenure-track positions (15.2 percent) is more than 50 percent greater than that of whites (9.6 percent),” said Slate.

Adjunct professors make much less than the average college professor’s salary. Slate said a report by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce found adjunct professors on average make less than $25,000 per year. Some of them make as little as $1,500 per course, and they also receive no benefits. Several media outlets have reported that many adjunct professors, still saddled with large debts from obtaining advanced degrees, are on food stamps. According to the AAUP, 70 percent of college professors are now adjuncts.

Boyce Watkins, a finance professor, author and media commentator, warns Black academicians that most white schools are fundamentally hostile environments. He talks about his struggles trying to get a tenured position at Syracuse University.

“During his 12 years at Syracuse University, Dr. Watkins was also a highly productive scholar, but this is reflective of a lifelong commitment to excellence,” according to Techyville. “In his time at Syracuse, Watkins published more solo authored research papers than any finance professor in the history of the university. But he was up against a grave obstacle: Syracuse University had not once granted tenure to ANY African American in any of the departments of its business school. When Watkins was hired in 2001, there wasn’t a single African American faculty member in the entire business school.”

Watkins also wasn’t helped by a public spat with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who he accused of making racist comments. O’Reilly responded by sending a producer to Syracuse University demanding Watkins be fired. Watkins warns Black academicians they might run into a glass ceiling trying to advance at the college level.

“Only the severe mental illness of racial discrimination can allow someone to look at a campus that hasn’t granted tenure to any Black finance professor in over 100 years and then try to somehow argue that I wasn’t qualified for the same promotion that has been given to hundreds of white men before me. That’s a truly sick way of thinking and I refuse to accept it,” Watkins told Techyville. “I know I am qualified, and I know how hard I’ve worked to succeed. No one is going to take that away from me.”

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