California colleges’ hiring practices expose racial bias, new report reveals – San Bernardino Sun

Racial bias plays a role in executive hiring in all three of California’s higher education systems, according to a recent report commissioned by the College Futures Foundation — though one of those systems defends its record for diversity.

The study, titled “Whiteness Rules: Racial Exclusion in Becoming an American College President,” was conducted by research firm Bensimon & Associates and examined how executive-level hiring processes work within the systems of the University of California, California State University, and the California community colleges are structurally biased toward people of color and women.

While the report focused primarily on the presidents and chancellors of the state’s three higher education systems, it also said that lower-level leadership positions, such as vice presidents and deans, faced similar problems.

“There are presidential search practices and perceptions of who is fit to lead that favor white candidates, especially men,” said Estela Mara Bensimon, president and principal investigator of Bensimon & Associates, in a recent press release. These perceptions “often become obstacles to people of color seeking the presidency.”

The study included extensive interviews with college presidents, executive search firms and other stakeholders, B&A said in its press release, and provides evidence that candidates are often evaluated based on a variety of racial and gender biases.

The study also analyzed a number of other issues in college hiring, including a lack of transparency in the presidential quest, problems with job posting, recruitment and unfair application processes, and the influence of selection committees, boards of directors and recruitment firms on the process.

The report also said there was pressure among presidents and color candidates to conform to “white norms” in how they dress or speak.

“Presidents of color reported that if they deviated from these white norms, they risked not getting the job,” Bensimon said in her statement late last month. “There is an expectation of achieving whiteness, which is necessary not only to meet white people’s expectations—but above all, to not make color candidate selection seem like a risk.”

According to Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, about 70% of California’s college students are Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Black.

But just over half of all presidents or chancellors at California’s public higher education institutions are white, the report says.

And some universities and colleges had few, if any, non-white male top executives, the B&A report said. For example, since the inception of the UC system in 1868, only 11% of campus chancellors have been black.

Former UC President Janet Napolitano is now the only woman to run the system; her successor, former UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake, is the system’s first black president.

UC system officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But the CSU system defended its record of diversity in its leadership in a statement.

Headquartered in Long Beach, the CSU system trains the most ethnically, economically, and academically diverse student body in the country, according to its website.

And almost 70% of CSU employees are women and minorities, according to the system’s website.

Among the 23 campus presidents, 11 are now women and at least 11 are black. CSU interim chancellor is Jolene Köster.

“In addition to gender diversity, CSU’s presidential leadership represents the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of California’s students,” the chancellery said in a recent email. “Our 23 equal leaders have a passion for the students and the communities they serve.

“CSU is committed to growing diversity and inclusion across the university,” the email added, “including other key leadership roles.”

But Raquel Rall, a B&A researcher and associate professor of higher education at UC Riverside, said the reports’ findings showed that equality must be embedded in the search and appointment process to foster meaningful change.

“It has to be embedded in all facets,” Rall said at a presentation of the study at the end of October. “Our report is just a drop in the ocean.”

But the report doesn’t just raise concerns about the hiring process — it also offers some solutions.

For example, the report includes a toolkit, Tools to Redesign Presidential Search for Racial Equity, a manual that details how presidential selection committees can better recruit and hire a diverse pool of individuals.

“This timely report and toolkit can help institutions examine the racial and gender biases in their college presidential recruitment and selection processes,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president and CEO of the College Futures Foundation, in a statement, “and critical Racially conscious standards and fair dealing.”

Oakley served as chancellor of the California Community Colleges system for six years before leaving earlier this year to join the CFF, which works to increase the proportion of black and low-income students graduating from college.

Oakley, who served as Superintendent-President of Long Beach City College before assuming the statewide post, became a prominent education official in California and to some degree in the nation before joining CFF. Early in the Biden administration, he had a short-term advisory role at the US Department of Education. And among its greatest accomplishments was the community college chancellor helping initiate the vision for the system’s success, a student-centric way to close equity gaps, increase transfer rates, and increase the number of students earning certificates and degrees acquire.

Daisy Gonzales is acting chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, which oversees 116 campuses that educate 1.8 million students annually.

“It takes diverse and equal leadership,” Oakley said in his statement, “to close equal opportunity gaps for students.”

The toolkit provides context and guidelines higher education institutions can implement to reduce bias and improve equity and inclusion in their presidential search processes—further opening the door to more diverse leadership.

These strategies include assembling and properly training search committees, hiring racially aware executive search firms, evaluating and accountability of the recruitment process, and evaluating and improving job postings.

“If we are to successfully address graduation inequalities, socioeconomic mobility, and create more inclusive environments for students, faculty and staff,” said Bensimon, “California’s public higher education system must make diversifying college presidency and other leadership roles a priority.”

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