Stacey Patton

Assistant Professor of Multimedia Journalism at Morgan State University

How Joint Appointments Stall the Careers of Ethnic-Studies Professors

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Image: Joseph Francisco, dean of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln's College of Arts & Sciences, speaks with the faculty of the university's Institute for Ethnic Studies. Professors at the institute all hold dual appointments. (Craig Chandler/U. of Nebraska at Lincoln)

In 2004, Jeannette Jones landed a tenure-track job at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln — a joint appointment in the Institute for Ethnic Studies and the history department. She had her career all planned out: Teach. Write. Publish. Get tenure. Repeat until she became a full professor.

But with tenure comes an increased service burden, and Jones’s dual appointment has left her with two departments to serve. The work has piled up.

Last semester, according to a detailed log she kept, the six hours Jones spent teaching each week were accompanied by over 400 total hours of faculty and committee meetings, student-advising sessions, recommendation writing, and review of tenure-and-promotion files. On top of those duties, Jones (who is now an associate professor) was tapped as an adviser for various diversity initiatives and race-related organizations on campus and in the community.

She managed to set aside a precious five hours each Wednesday for her research and writing, but even most of that time was dedicated to award applications, a conference paper, and a research grant. Her second book project, her journal articles — the things that would help her reach her ultimate goal — languished.

“I always feel like I’m facing 300 deadlines,” Jones says. “It’s frustrating and I’m overwhelmed.”

It’s a feeling many of her colleagues with joint appointments can understand. Many new Ph.D.’s who accept such appointments don’t have a clear idea of what their daily grind will entail, what their service requirements will be, and how the dual commitment can affect a tenure bid. Once they do get tenure, dual-appointed faculty are often shocked to discover that the service work of an associate professor takes even more time away from publishing.

The elephant in the room: Jones is African American. And in her discipline, ethnic studies, dual appointments are disproportionately common. The Institute for Ethnic Studies has 18 faculty members whose tenure homes are spread across seven other departments.

Administrators will tell you that dual appointments were designed to prevent faculty working on race and ethnicity from being marginalized, and to make sure that traditional, majority-white departments engage with those important topics.

Jones sees immense benefits to that arrangement: She feels a sense of camaraderie at the institute and considers it a safe space. But she sees immense costs, too. “We’re overburdened in ways that our colleagues are not,” she says. “People expect us to do so many things and we can’t be our full selves.”

That’s true for ethnic-studies professors across the country, since many of their programs were built, like Lincoln’s, on the backs of dual appointments. Interdisciplinary studies are valued in academe, but they come with little material benefit. There may be too many professors of color stuck at the associate-professor level because they’re too weighed down with work to advance their careers.

A ‘Double Burden’

Administrators at Lincoln worry about that possibility. There are few, if any, comprehensive national statistics on dual appointments, but officials at the university took a look at their own numbers from 1999 through 2014. They found that, in the College of Arts & Sciences, traditionally underrepresented, nonwhite faculty hold 52 percent of joint appointments that carry heavy teaching, research, and service obligations for both academic programs. White professors hold 41 percent of those roles; Asian faculty hold 7 percent. Faculty in the Institute for Ethnic Studies represent nearly two-thirds of that more-intensive type of joint appointment.

Dan Hoyt, the college’s associate dean of faculty, conducted the research. He found no evidence that nonwhite professors holding joint appointments were being denied for tenure more frequently than their white peers. But he did find very high rates of turnover among faculty of color. Most left Lincoln for positions at other universities, often in non-joint roles.

Hoyt says that he suspects the service loads associated with joint appointments were a factor in their decisions to move on.

“Currently, 25 percent of our faculty of color who are associate professors have held that rank for more than seven years — approximately double the proportion of majority faculty,” he said. “It is my assessment, that for some faculty, the joint appointments are slowing promotion opportunities.”

The stories of ethnic-studies professors at the university help explain how that happens. Joy Castro, a Latina professor who is the new director for the ethnic-studies institute, came to Lincoln with tenure in 2007. Castro had taught for 10 years in an English department and had never held a joint appointment. “I said, ‘sure, fine, whatever.’ I felt excited by the opportunity to have two sets of colleagues,” she says. “But then I found out what it meant to be on the ground and serve two masters. I was astounded by the double burden.”

Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, an associate professor of psychology and ethnic studies, teaches the psychology of racism and immigration. She came to the university in 1991, straight out of graduate school, and says she “didn’t know what to expect” of the joint appointment she was offered. But she accepted the position, working 60 percent in psychology and 40 percent in ethnic studies..

Her dual roles have “allowed me to be immersed into scholarly areas simultaneously,” she says. Yet the costs of her joint appointment are apparent: “Two faculty meetings. Two sets of services. Two disciplines. Two membership societies which costs money; two sets of scholarly journals to read.”

It’s not just that ethnic-studies scholars get double the service-and-research pleasure. When ethnic-studies departments don’t have their own tenure lines, they don’t have the same power as other departments, Willis-Esqueda says.

And distinct departments generally have distinct priorities. When you’re working toward a promotion, pleasing two masters can be an added challenge. “When it comes to salary increases and merit evaluations, two units simultaneously are evaluating you, which translates to a lower merit evaluation,” she says.

Lightening the Load

Joseph Francisco, dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, wants to alleviate some of the stress professors like Willis-Esqueda feel. "The demands on joint-appointed faculty's time have been a long-term national problem," Francisco said. "It was clear that we needed to develop a system for directly addressing the impact of demands on faculty in joint appointments."

So the college has adopted a new policy, to take effect in the fall of 2016, that will reduce the teaching duties of dual-appointed professors at the ethnic-studies institute. Every third semester, the professors will be released from teaching one course; if they choose, faculty may stack two course releases to have a full semester without teaching responsibilities every third year.

If the new policy is successful in helping professors protect their time — and in helping the university recruit and retain faculty — officials say they will likely extend it to other interdisciplinary units. “This change is certainly going to make a difference,” says Mr. Hoyt. “It will be an important step in leveling the playing field.”

Still, he admits that he has some “residual concerns” about the relatively narrow scope of the policy. It’s common knowledge, he says, that faculty of color at majority-white institutions “are disproportionately sought-out by students of color” for advice and mentorship. What’s more, he says: “There is also an expectation, sometimes enhanced with appointments in units with an emphasis on scholarship addressing race in contemporary society, that faculty of color will have increased activism and engagement in the community.”

Lincoln’s ethnic-studies faculty say the new plan is a step in the right direction. But they emphasize, like Hoyt, that the course release won’t address the heavy service burden or the other climate issues that can stunt their career development.

For some professors with joint appointments, change did not come quickly enough. Bridget Goosby came to the university as an assistant professor with a joint appointment in 2007. The tension she felt between ethnic studies and her home department “pulled me away from the research I wanted to do,” she says. “Expectations are different when you’ve got two units that expect different things, and there was a pull between working on grants and publishing.”

Now she has left for saner pastures, as an associate professor in the sociology department. The difference, she says, is dramatic. “The focus has been strictly on research, and I got several grants,” she says. Her chair is sensitive to how much is asked of minority faculty, and her new home department is supportive.

It’s a far cry from her time trying to stay on the tenure track in a dual appointment. Then, Goosby recalls, she suffered from psychological stress, headaches, nausea, and high blood pressure.

“It’s taxing to have to deal with this,” she says. “When you think about the pipelines and minefields you have to navigate, along with being in the spotlight — this is the stuff that gets unmeasured.”

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