The Profession

Equity for Minority Historians in the Academic History Workplace: A Guide to Best Practices

Committee on Minority Historians, October 2007

To Deans, Department Chairs, Administrators, and Faculty:

This letter introduces “Equity for Minority Historians in the Academic History Workplace: A Guide to Best Practices,” written by the Committee on Minority Historians (CMH) of the American Historical Association and intended to guide the decisions and inform the practices of deans, department chairs, and senior administrators in universities and colleges. We also hope that it will serve as a resource for all historians, regardless of their rank.

A recent Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation report concluded that despite decades-long national efforts, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans still are significantly underrepresented as recipients of PhDs in the United States. Even though they comprise 32 percent of all U.S. citizens in the typical age range (25–40) of PhD candidates, they account for only 7 percent of all doctoral recipients. Indeed, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation describes this situation as a national crisis: “While the next generation of college students will include dramatically more students of color, their teachers will remain overwhelmingly white,” with “the continuing near-exclusion of a third of our population from intellectual leadership.”

The situation in the field of history provides little room for comfort. Despite modest gains during the 1970s, these percentages have not increased during the last 20 years, and in some cases, the actual numbers of minority faculty in history departments have fallen. This state of affairs is likely to grow worse, as the small numbers of faculty of color make it harder to recruit graduate students of color. And fewer minority graduate students in history will mean even fewer minority faculty in the field.

Continuous effort and new approaches by all professional historians clearly are required to resolve this crisis and improve on these numbers. Of special importance is the help of deans, department chairs, and senior administrators, as they have the capacity to shape both institutional culture and professional practices. Our guiding principle here is equity, so even though our main focus is on long-term change that will achieve equity for minority historians, many of our guidelines apply to all historians. We also recognize that each academic institution has its own mission and therefore not all of our guidelines will be suitable for every institution. Still, we urge you to embrace the spirit of our guidelines and use them to bring equity to minority historians at your institution. Each of you is important to creating an equitable historical profession, and you can do this by encouraging a promising undergraduate, helping a minority graduate student succeed, guiding a junior faculty member through tenure, and mentoring a tenured minority faculty member as he or she launches a fulfilling career.


Donald Grinde (SUNY-Buffalo),
Chair, Committee on Minority Historians

These standards are intended to guide the decisions and inform the practices of deans, department chairs, and senior administrators in universities and colleges and to serve as a resource for all historians, regardless of their rank. The bulleted items are intended to suggest examples and prompts to action and are not meant to be an exhaustive list.

Recruitment and Hiring

Because both the general and college-age U.S. populations will become more diverse in the next decades, all academic departments must diversify as well, both racially and ethnically. The current projections of the U.S. Census Bureau show that the size of the white non-Hispanic college-age population (the age group from 18 to 24 years) will shrink from 65 percent in 2005 to 58 percent in 2020 and will dip below 50 percent by 2040. Clearly, the discipline of history will lose some of its appeal to the next two generations of college students if the racial and ethnic divide between them and their teachers widens. Accordingly, for the profession as a whole to sustain its intellectual relevance in an increasingly diverse society, the composition of history departments must reflect these demographic changes.

Success in recruiting and hiring more minority historians will require work on many fronts. Most important, during the next twenty years, with overall enrollments in graduate history programs expected to decline, minority students should constitute a steadily increasing percentage of the students entering these programs and earning PhDs. Talented undergraduates of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds must be encouraged to pursue careers as historians and should receive sustained support throughout their doctoral studies.

Attracting more minority students to history graduate programs will be difficult, as recent judicial decisions have restricted, through admission and financial aid policies, the ability of universities and colleges to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their student bodies. The Committee on Minority Historians and other bodies of the American Historical Association are currently deliberating appropriate long-term strategies to address this challenge.

Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of a history department’s faculty requires special efforts and vigilance when hiring new members. Search committees must identify minority applicants whose specialization matches their department’s needs, and they should also recognize that the standard reliance on informal professional ties to find out about applicants may hurt minority applicants.

Department chairs can promote equity in faculty hiring by

  • Ensuring that all search committees consider minority applicants at each stage of a search.
  • Appointing to each search committee an affirmative action or diversity coordinator whose primary responsibility is guaranteeing that the search committee takes all practicable measures to increase the number of minorities who apply for the position. This responsibility should include consulting with the college or university officials concerned with diversity in academic hiring.
  • Asking senior historians, especially senior minority historians, in the field of the advertised position to recommend suitable minority candidates.
  • Searching for suitable minority candidates not only in traditional history programs but also in interdisciplinary programs such as American studies and ethnic study and area studies programs.
  • Using both spousal and “target-of-opportunity” hires to recruit minorities.
  • Sending job advertisements directly to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with doctoral programs.
  • Using specialized academic listservs to make sure that minority candidates are aware of job openings.

Departmental Climate

Deans, departmental chairs, and senior administrators should take a positive and proactive approach to create a campus climate that accepts and promotes racial and ethnic diversity. They must nurture a positive multiracial atmosphere so that minority faculty feel supported and included in the academic workplace. Unprofessional language in regard to race and ethnicity should not be tolerated in any form. The department should be collegial, sociable, and open, and its decisions should be transparent. It should develop a strategy to recruit, promote, and retain minority faculty.

Standards for hiring, retention, tenure, and promotion should be clearly stated and neutral with regard to race and ethnicity. In these several ways, the department can promote a climate of diversity that supports minority faculty, staff, and students. Department chairs can do this by

  • Insisting that service within the department is equitable and that neither race nor ethnicity is a factor in determining service.
  • Allocating departmental resources (travel, teaching loads, etc.) fairly.
  • Making sure that the history department values university-wide service.
  • Understanding that even though service demands usually rise once a faculty member is tenured, the responsibilities of minority faculty within the department should be equitable.
  • Drawing up transparent and clear, formal and informal guidelines for tenure and promotion that accommodate racial and ethnic diversity.
  • Judging peer-reviewed minority history journals in tenure and promotion cases equitably.
  • Recommending committee assignments that fulfill tenure and promotion expectations. For example, in some schools, service on university-wide committees may be important to getting tenure, but in others, such service may be viewed as a distraction from the “real” work of publishing in refereed scholarly publications.
  • Ensuring equitable mentoring responsibilities by holding the entire department responsible for advising minority students rather than placing this duty solely on minority faculty members.

Teaching Duties

Deans, department chairs, and senior administrators should make sure that the teaching obligations of minority faculty are equitable and comparable to those of other faculty of the same rank. Obviously, minority faculty should teach courses in their areas of specialization, which may not necessarily deal with issues of race and ethnicity. Indeed, many minority faculty are neither inclined to teach ethnic studies courses nor trained to do so. Similarly, chairs and faculty colleagues can safely assume that minority faculty will advise some minority students in the department, but they should not expect them to advise all of them. Expecting minority faculty to teach subjects outside their area of specialization and to advise all minority students would create an unreasonable and unfair burden that is sure to damage their careers and impede their professional development. Accordingly, department chairs can achieve equity by

  • Ensuring that the teaching responsibilities of minority faculty are reasonable and comparable to those of their departmental colleagues.
  • Inviting minority faculty to teach courses in their areas of specialization.
  • Not expecting minority faculty to teach courses outside their areas of specialization.
  • Being sensitive to the distinctive classroom dynamics that new minority faculty often face.
  • Organizing workshops for new minority faculty to introduce them to the problems they may face in the classroom and to suggest appropriate solutions.
  • Recognizing that the department as a whole, and not just minority faculty, are responsible for advising minority students.
  • Making certain that new minority faculty understand the criteria that will be used in reviews of their teaching.


Effective mentoring can contribute significantly to the professional development of minority faculty and to their understanding of an institution’s academic culture. Department chairs and senior administrators should ensure that minority faculty receive both formal and informal mentoring. Accordingly, chairs and administrators should try to discern and correct any circumstances that keep minority faculty from receiving the guidance of senior faculty. Effective mentoring of minority faculty can improve the departmental climate by nurturing collegiality, demonstrating the department’s concern with promoting and retaining minority faculty, and signaling the importance of scholarly productivity and teaching for promotion. Effective mentoring may include

  • Organizing workshops and panels for newly hired minority faculty to present their research and to offer help with finding publishers, applying for grants and fellowships, and so on.
  • Establishing a culture of mentoring minority faculty, which may require several mentors.
  • Mentoring minority faculty at the associate as well as the assistant professor level.
  • Finding nonminority faculty members in a department to mentor minority students, so that it is not the sole responsibility of the minority faculty.
  • Making sure that all minority faculty understand the processes associated with salary reviews and merit increases.

Community Service

Minority faculty members often have a view of community service that reflects their different academic and cultural backgrounds. Although some minority faculty members may not be inclined to serve a unique community, others, such as Native American scholars, may actually be obligated to serve their communities in sustained and consistent ways. At some level, many minority faculty members feel enormous pressure not only to respond to the needs of local, off-campus community groups, but also to develop relationships outside their departments with colleagues, staff, or students with similar racial or ethnic backgrounds. It is important that deans, department chairs, and senior administrators recognize minority faculty members’ unique contributions to nurturing and sustaining community engagement when they are considered for tenure and promotion. This engagement with a broader community should be affirmed, even though it may often take minority faculty away from the department. Colleges and universities are making more and more institutional commitments to civic and community engagement, and deans, department chairs, and senior administrators should recognize the special role of minority faculty in this regard. They can recognize the special importance of community service for minority faculty by

  • Understanding that minority historians may mentor minority faculty from departments other than history.
  • Affirming the importance of creating and sustaining minority campus communities as part of the department’s and the institution’s efforts to achieve diversity and excellence for all.
  • Acknowledging that minority faculty may want to be involved in a wider community outside the university.
  • Recognizing that communities outside the university may have expectations about sustained engagement and trust that require the regular involvement and unique expertise of minority faculty.
  • Counting public scholarship that deals with such communities toward tenure, promotion, and reward.
  • Considering a minority historian’s service to a particular community outside the university as fulfilling service requirements for tenure and promotion.

Professional Development

Because the number of minority doctoral and graduate degree recipients is so small, department chairs and faculty should watch for talented minority students—in any field of history—and encourage them to pursue a graduate degree in history. As they do this, they should remember that many students now in college do not come from backgrounds in which graduate study has been expected or is customary. In discussions about graduate school, therefore, they should present the full range of career paths available to those with advanced degrees in history and, if possible, continue to advise students as they apply to graduate programs.

Effective mentoring helps minority students succeed and do well. Department chairs and faculty should make sure that they are available to advise, both formally and informally, minority students in their graduate programs. As is the case with all students, minority students should be encouraged to seek advice from several faculty members and should not be made to feel that they are to consult only minority faculty. At the same time, minority faculty should not be solely responsible for shepherding minority students through graduate school. The success of these students is a responsibility that must be shared by a department’s entire faculty.

An important part of the graduate-mentoring process is helping minority students prepare for careers after graduation. History department chairs and faculty have an obligation to acquaint themselves with the various career options available to those with advanced degrees in history and to discuss them with minority graduate students. For example, faculty should discuss careers in public history, public service, academic administration, and nonprofit organizations as well as those in research and teaching. Students interested in teaching careers should know about opportunities at research universities, four-year colleges, HBCUs, tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving colleges, community colleges, and secondary schools. In their conversations, faculty should be sensitive to minority students’ ambitions and obligations and offer straightforward and candid advice. Finally, mentoring these students need not end at graduation, and we hope that departmental faculty will remain close to their former students and maintain their relationships with them even after they become professionals in their own right.

Departmental chairs and faculty can best help their minority graduate students by

  • Remembering that the academic job market offers a variety of opportunities for those interested in a career in postsecondary education, including research universities, four-year colleges, HBCUs, tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving colleges, and community colleges.
  • Informing all of a department’s job candidates about all such job openings. Students should in no way be “tracked” or encouraged to apply for only certain types of jobs.

—Approved by Council, June 2007.