George J. Sanchez: Says the history profession is in crisis owing to dearth of minorities

Historians in the News

[George J. Sanchez is professor of history at the University of Southern California.]

In 2005, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation issued a major report on diversity in doctoral education that concluded that despite decades-long national efforts, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans are still significantly underrepresented among recipients of PhDs in the United States. Despite comprising 32 percent of all U.S. citizens in the typical age range of PhD candidates (25–40), they make up only 7 percent of all doctoral recipients. The foundation called the situation 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."1

The American Historical Association has long recognized this growing crisis. In 1996, it adopted a statement on affirmative action that acknowledged that it was "committed to diversity in the historical profession" and called on "institutions to recruit aggressively and hire members from groups that have been historically discriminated against." The rationale for this position was that "this diversification has added to the richness of historical inquiry, and the profession as a whole would be diminished without it." Yet at the same time, it also recognized that commitment to diversity in the historical profession had leveled off considerably, if not decreased. While the percentage of minorities had increased in the 1970s, since 1980 the number of minorities has remained flat.2

Given the growing and continued diversity of the U.S. population, the disparity between the racial/ethnic backgrounds of scholars and teachers of history in the United States and the general public, especially the school-age population, has widened to the point where it must be considered a major crisis for the historical profession. According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Census and the AHA, the percentage of the current U.S. population that is African American is slightly more than 13 percent, yet African Americans make up only 5 percent of the history faculty in the nation. Latinos, who constitute almost 14.4 percent of the current U.S. population, make up less than 3 percent of the history faculty. Their numbers among history faculty would have to nearly triple to be close to representative of the current overall U.S. population, but all the data from doctoral programs indicate that their numbers remain low, if not dropping.3...
Read entire article at Perspectives, the newsmagazine of the AHA

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