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A look at race & employment at CUNY

Slow and halting change 

by Sara Abbas and Peter Hogness

Reprinted from the September 2009 Clarion

Click here for a PDF of the article

You can find statistics on race and employment (that provided much of the statistical basis for this article) for most instructional staff job titles at your college for 1997, 2002 and 2007 by clicking here to download an Excel document.

Source for all tables:
CUNY Office of Institutional Research & Assessment, Affirmative Action Data Summary Books for 1997, 2002, 2007

More than six years ago, CUNY college presidents called for a “revitalization” of the University’s affirmative action programs. Specific efforts were needed in both recruitment and retention, the Council of Presidents stated in May 2003, because “there are still pockets within the University” where “traditional minority group members are conspicuous by their absence.” 

“This is a particularly timely initiative,” the policy statement continued, “since we are currently experiencing turnover due to early retirements and have committed to replacing faculty who directly impact on the delivery of instruction to our students.” 

Several years after the adoption of that policy, there are still many parts of CUNY where faculty and staff of color “are conspicuous by their absence.” Affirmative action data from Fall 2007 highlights the halting pace of change – and shows that in some areas, the University has taken a step backwards. 

For example, from 1997 to 2007, the proportion of assistant professors who are black fell from 16.5% to 13.8%. The absolute number of black assistant professors went up by about a third, to 260 – but the total number of assistant professors increased even more, growing by about two-thirds to 1,881, so that black faculty ended up as a smaller share of the total. In many ways, the hiring wave noted by CUNY’s Council of Presidents stands as a missed opportunity for increasing racial diversity. 

At some individual campuses, the decline was much steeper. For example, in 1997, 14% of assistant professors at Queens College were black. Ten years later, the figure was 4%. In this case the absolute number also fell, from 12 to 7, even as the total number of assistant professors at Queens rose from 86 to 166. 

CUNY-wide, combined figures for all faculty and professional staff show a mix of stagnation and modest gains in racial diversity over these 10 years. Black employees made up 16.5% of all CUNY “instructional staff” – full-time and part-time, faculty plus professional staff such as Higher Education Officers (HEOs) and College Lab Technicians (CLTs) – in 2007. That represented an increase of just half a percentage point since 1997. 

In 2007, 10.0% of all instructional staff were Latino, a figure 1.6% greater than a decade earlier. Asian/Pacific Islander employees were 9.3% of all instructional staff in 2007, 2.7% more than in 1997. The figures for Native Americans were unchanged: 0.3% in 2007, the same figure as 10 years before. (Figures in this article are based on CUNY’s affirmative action reports and the categories they employ.) 

Data for Fall 2008, released earlier this year, do not generally show any sudden changes from 2007. For example, CUNY-wide, 16.4% of all instructional staff were black in 2008, while 10.2% were Latino – 0.1% below and 0.2% above the numbers for 2008, respectively. Asian/Pacific Islander instructional staff were 9.8% of the total, half a percentage point more than in 2007. 

CUNY employed 25,153 instructional staff in Fall 2008, nearly half again as many as in 1997. Of these, 4,126 were black, 2,564 were Latino and 2,464 were from Asian or Pacific Islander backgrounds. 

Slow and uneven progress in most groups and job titles, combined with no change or a decline in many others, has not altered the basic picture of racial stratification in employment at CUNY. The higher up one goes in the hierarchy of job titles – in terms of pay, prestige, authority and job security – the whiter the composition of the workforce. 

In 2007, 87.4% of those in the highest-paid professorial title, distinguished professor, were white. That proportion drops to 80.0% for full professors, 72.3% for associate professors, 61.6% for assistant professors, and 53.3% for full-time lecturers. (In each case the proportion of white employees is three or four percentage points lower than in 1997 – but the racial gap between each title remains essentially unchanged.) 

A similar stratification is found within part-time faculty titles: for example, in 2007, 85.5% of adjunct full professors were white. Among adjunct lecturers, who make up three-quarters of all adjunct faculty, 65.4% were white. 

There are also patterns of racial hierarchy among professional staff titles, though overall these include a higher proportion of people of color than do faculty positions. In 2007, for example, 60.2% of those at the top of the HEO series, employed in the full Higher Education Officer title, were white. But figures for the lowestpaid title in the HEO series show a heavy majority of people of color: among those employed as assistant to HEO, just 32.7% were white. 

Many factors helped create these racial inequalities, and not all of them are within CUNY’s control. But the number of PhDs awarded to black or Latino students has not shrunk or stagnated in recent years – between 1995-1996 and 2005-2006, it nearly doubled for both groups, and their combined proportion of the total number of new PhDs grew from 5.9% to 9.0%. (See US Department of Education figures at tinyurl. com/racePhD.) 

Felipe Pimentel, an assistant professor of sociology at Hostos, acknowledges that CUNY’s instructional staff is relatively diverse in comparison to many private universities. But he argues that CUNY needs its own yardstick: “Why? Because our students are more diverse than the students in private universities.” Pimentel points to the changing racial makeup of CUNY’s student body since the introduction of open admissions and argues that the pace of diversification of the University’s faculty has not kept up with the reality that “CUNY is no longer the largely white university it was in the ’60s.” 

A look at the racial composition of CUNY’s student body puts the University’s employment figures in context. In Fall 2007, CUNY undergraduates were 28.8% black, 27.4% Latino, 27.2% white, 16.4% Asian/Pacific Islander and 0.2% Native American. 

As noted above, the proportion of black employees among all CUNY instructional staff increased by half a percentage point between 1997 and 2007. At this rate, it would take 240 years for the percentage of black employees in CUNY’s professional workforce to catch up with their presence in today’s student body. Similarly, Latinos would have to wait 100 years to close the gap, while for those from Asian/Pacific Islander backgrounds, it would take 27 years. 

A closer look at the numbers follows below. While there was not room in this article for every relevant detail, the complete figures on which it is based are available online (see below). Also online are statistics on CUNY’s hiring of Puerto Rican and Italian American faculty and staff. The University has tracked its hiring of these groups for many years, in response to State legislative initiatives or court action, as well as faculty and staff concerns. (See and A detailed discussion of employment patterns for these and other ethnic groups was beyond the scope of this broad overview of race and employment at CUNY. 

The proportion of CUNY’s assistant professors who are black fell in the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, from 16.5% to 13.8%. The figure for black associate professors also fell in this period, from 11.6% to 10.1%. (The absolute number for black associate professors was exactly the same in both years – 152 – even as the total number of associate professors rose from 1,305 to 1,506.) 

The percentage of black full professors increased a bit in this decade, rising from 7.2% to 7.8%. This slight relative growth happened even though their absolute numbers fell, from 160 to 143, while the total number of full professors at CUNY fell even more steeply, from 2,210 to 1,845. This small rise in the proportion of black full professors may have been shaped more by who retired than by who was promoted; more information would be required to determine whether this is the case. 

At the other end of the full-time faculty scale, the proportion of black lecturers has been on the decline, falling from 30.4% in 1997 to 26.9% a decade later. (Their absolute number rose from 123 to 144.) 

Among Latino faculty, representation in the assistant professor title changed little in these 10 years, rising by half a percentage point to 8.9% in 2007. In the associate professor title there was slow progress, with the proportion of Latinos rising from 5.1% to 7.6% over the decade. The percentage of full professors who are Latino increased by about half a percentage point to 5.4% in 2007. In all three titles their absolute numbers increased: the number of Latino associate professors, for example, rose from 190 to 260, slightly outpacing the total growth in this title. 

The percentage of faculty from Asian or Pacific Islander backgrounds grew in all full-time faculty positions – but the rise in their representation gets smaller the higher one goes up the ladder of professorial titles. Among assistant professors, the proportion of Asian/Pacific Islander faculty grew to 15.3% in 2007, which was 5.6% higher than the figure for 1997. Among associate professors, the figure reached 9.9% in 2007, an increase of a bit more than four percentage points in 10 years. In the full professor title, it rose to 6.6% of the total, compared to 4.0% in 1997. 


Compared with CUNY’s part-time faculty, the full-time faculty is somewhat more heavily white. But the disparity is not large: in 2007, it was only a 2.5% gap – a smaller difference than the racial stratification by title within either group. 

Interestingly, about 65% of parttime lecturers are white, compared to just 53% of full-time lecturers, the opposite of the full-time/parttime pattern among faculty as a whole. But it may be misleading to compare the two titles directly, since they have different histories and make up different proportions of the workforce. (Adjunct lecturers make up three-fourths of part-time faculty at CUNY, while full-time lecturers are less than a tenth of the full-time faculty total.) 

CUNY-wide, the percentage of black adjunct lecturers remained stuck at around 17.0% between 1997 and 2007, while representation of Latinos in this title rose by about one percentage point to 9.1%. Asian/Pacific Islander representation among adjunct lecturers grew a bit more, from 6.3% to 8.7%. Absolute numbers of all groups rose, as the total number of adjunct lecturers grew from 5,580 to 6,641. 


As described above, HEO-series titles include a higher proportion of people of color than do faculty positions. For example, 60.2% of those in the full Higher Education Officer title in 2007 were white, compared to 80.0% for full professors. 

The HEO series has also changed more in the last 10 years. While the total proportion of people of color in full-time faculty titles rose by three or four percentage points from 1997 to 2007, in HEO series titles it grew by more than 10 percentage points in every title. The size of the racial gap between titles within the HEO series, however, remained relatively constant and about as large as the gaps between full-time faculty titles. 

CUNY-wide, the share of black employees in the full HEO title, the highest ranking in the series, rose from 15.7% in 1997 to 19.8% in 2007. Their absolute number grew from 56 to 123, while the total number in this title climbed from 357 to 620. Black representation in the lowestpaid title in this series, assistant to HEO, grew from 32.1% to 36.0%. 

There was a larger increase in the share of Latinos in the full HEO title at CUNY; it rose from 6.4% in 1997 to 12.1% 10 years later, as their numbers increased from just 23 to 75 CUNY-wide. In contrast, the proportion of Asians/Pacific Islanders employed in this title rose by less than a percentage point in these 10 years, from 7.0% to 7.9%. (Their absolute number grew from 35 to 49, barely outpacing the growth of the title as a whole.) 

Finally, in the College Lab Technician series, the proportion of people of color in all titles increased from 47% to 53% across CUNY over these 10 years. During that time, the share of Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander employees increased by three percentage points (to 19%) and five percentage points (to 13%), respectively. The proportion of black employees in these titles fell somewhat, from 22% to 20%. Given the relatively small numbers in the CLT series CUNY-wide, it is difficult to comment on specific titles or individual campuses without more rigorous statistical analysis. 


Beneath these CUNY-wide numbers lie significant variations within the colleges. While space allows for only a few examples here, full statistics for each campus are online (see below). 

At City College, for instance, the proportion of black faculty fell in every full-time faculty title, with steeper declines than those seen CUNY-wide. Black assistant professors, for example, dropped from 19% of the total in 1997 to 10% a decade later. Their absolute numbers fell from 15 to 13, while the total number in this title jumped from 80 to 129. 

The share of black adjunct lecturers at CCNY dropped from 23% to 13% in the same decade. Their numbers fell from 76 to 32, while the total number of adjunct lecturers at CCNY also declined, from 336 to 247. CCNY is also one of few colleges where the proportion of Latino adjunct lecturers shrank, from 10% in 1997 to 9% in 2007, while Asians increased by less than one percentage point, to 14%. 

At the College of Staten Island, the proportion of black faculty was low and remained so. For example, the percentage of black associate professors fell from 4% in 1997 to 2% in 2007. CSI is also the only college where the proportion of HEOs of color actually decreased since 1997. The proportion of full HEOs at CSI who are black fell from 13% to 4%. Asian/Pacific Islander representation in this title at CSI remained unchanged: zero in 1997, and zero 10 years later. Overall, CSI and Hunter have the lowest proportions of people of color in the full HEO title in all of CUNY. 

The number of Latino full professors at Queensborough Community College was strikingly low: from 1997 to 2002 to 2007 it dropped from two to one to zero. Although the number of full professors at the school also fell in these years, from 123 to 72, this remains a striking figure for a college in such a famously diverse borough. Percentages at Queensborough should be examined cautiously, since with a relatively small faculty, a small change in absolute numbers can create big swings in percentages. But in virtually every instructional staff job title, Queensborough falls below CUNY averages in its employment of people of color. 


The issue of racial diversity in employment at CUNY is closely bound up with the University’s mission. When City College opened its doors in 1849, it was with the stated aim of educating “the children of the whole people” – and while its original student body, entirely white and male, fell short of that goal, the University has changed dramatically. Today the University’s master plan highlights “the statutory charge defined by the New York State Education Law, to create a diverse workforce that reflects the unique population that the University serves.” 

In 2005 for example, CUNY’s Task Force on the Black Male Initiative (BMI) examined institutional obstacles to the recruitment, retention and graduation of black male students. Its Higher Education Working Group concluded that the University must “recruit more black male faculty and administrators on campuses throughout CUNY.” 

“The goal should be to have a teaching staff that reflects the composition of the student body, and a college student body that reflects the composition of the New York City high schools and the city itself,” commented Hank Williams, an adjunct lecturer at CCNY and a doctoral candidate in English. 

Douglas Thompkins, an assistant professor of sociology at John Jay, emphasized that a diverse academic workforce is important not only for students of color. “If you don’t have any black folk in the department,” he told Clarion, “it’s going to have an adverse effect on the type of information that students can access regardless of their race. White students also need to be taught by black professors, and men need to be taught by female professors. If you don’t have that diversity, then the problem is going to exist at the level of curriculum development, at the level of departmental meetings when we sit around and talk about what we need to do to better develop our major,” Thompkins said. “If you don’t have a diverse body of scholars around the table, certain things are going to be missed.” 

Joyce Moy, director of CUNY’s Asian American/ Asian Research Institute, told Clarion that the composition of those involved in the hiring process is similarly important – not only on faculty hiring committees, but also in the University’s administrative staff. “People tend to call upon those that they know and use channels with which they are most familiar,” Moy observed. “If the people handling human resources and handling outreach, etc., are not from these communities, not tuned in or connected to these communities, the effectiveness of their outreach will be limited no matter what good faith is exercised.” 

In addition to recruitment, Moy and others urge more attention to mentoring and retention of people of color. “I don’t think we have good statistics on what happens to people who come in and why they leave,” Moy told Clarion. Frank Deale, a professor at the CUNY School of Law, agrees. “I’d like to know how many people we hire that we don’t keep,” said Deale. “There’s much that needs to be learned about the retention rates.” 

The academic staffing crisis that developed over the last generation has created its own obstacles to expanded racial diversity in academic employment. On the heels of the civil rights victories of the 1960s and ’70s, tenure-track positions in US universities began to decline. Today CUNY has almost 5,000 fewer full-time faculty positions than it did in 1975. The result is that just when people of color began to crack open long-closed doors in academic hiring, they were confronted with a narrowing job market. 

The chronic scarcity of resources at CUNY has certainly held back efforts to expand the racial diversity of the University’s instructional staff. “CUNY’s had a rough 20 years,” observed Deale. “It’s lost huge numbers of its full-time faculty, its wages and teaching load are often not competitive and that makes it more difficult to recruit people, such as academics of color, who other schools may be looking for.” Deale said he knew of two African American candidates whom the law school had lost in recent years because its offers were not competitive. 

In addition to allocating more resources to outside recruitment, some say that a smart strategy for CUNY would be more focus on developing home-grown talent. 

“There have been and remain some very genuine efforts to diversify faculty,” commented Hank Williams, and he acknowledges that competition with wealthier institutions is a real problem. “But we need to look at what are the resources here? CUNY really needs to start drawing from our base, drawing deeper from this vast untapped pool of talent that we have. If other institutions are not turning out the people you need to be professors – well, we have both an undergraduate institution and a doctoral institution, and our undergraduate population is primarily black, Latino and Asian. So what do we need to do to develop our resources in-house?” 

CUNY refused the PSC’s contract proposal for a dedicated hiring fund, but the union is not giving up. A new project on “CUNY and Race” is a union priority for the coming year, and an advisory group has already met and begun planning. As a first step, the union is hiring a researcher with expertise in race and institutional research to provide detailed study of a range of data on CUNY and race, and to convene small-group discussions with faculty and staff. 

“Increasing the diversity of the faculty and staff is not simple, but CUNY should not be content with minimal progress,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “Arguably more than any university in the country, CUNY – because of its history and location – is positioned to assemble an instructional staff that mirrors the urban population. Imagine the difference that would make to our students. Imagine how a faculty as diverse as the population of New York City could expand what we teach and what we know.”  

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What’s the picture at your college? 

You can find statistics on race and employment (that provided much of the statistical basis for this article) for most instructional staff job titles at your college for 1997, 2002 and 2007 by clicking here to download an Excel document.

Figures for 2008 and several previous years are online at 

Source for all tables:
CUNY Office of Institutional Research & Assessment, Affirmative Action Data Summary Books for 1997, 2002, 2007

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