UT needs more Hispanic faculty

Alexa Leon, Columnist

Once the undergraduate Hispanic student population grew to 25%, UT earned its Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation in 2020. UT is also one of 24 institutions in the nation to earn the Seal of Excelencia, which demonstrates the University is “modeling the behavior we need to see to accelerate Latino student success.” 

However, Hispanic students are not being represented by the professors they see daily. UT must better serve its Hispanic students by hiring, promoting and providing resources Hispanic professors need to meet their students’ needs. 

The Office of Institutional Reporting, Research and Information Systems reported in 2021 that only 9%, or 175, of the 1,938 tenure and tenure-track faculty identified as Hispanic. This contrasts with the 11,000 Hispanic undergraduates enrolled in UT. There are simply not enough professors that appropriately reflect the student body UT is trying to serve. 

English Second Language (ESL) general education senior, Aryssa Cruz, changed her major three times before having her first Latino professor in the College of Education. 

“Throughout my journey, I’ve definitely noticed a big difference in the professors I got and the professors I saw that were people of color, depending on what major I was. So being in the College of (Education) I definitely (have) been exposed to a more diverse staff,” Cruz said. 

Hispanic professors are crucial to creating an environment where students feel welcomed, but the promotion and retention rates for Hispanic professors are significantly lagging. The same reasons why Hispanic students leave UT are similar to why professors leave — they’re socially isolated, have no professional network, lack mentors and face burn out.

Karma Chavez, department chair of Mexican America and Latina/o studies, described the added challenges of being a Latina professor at UT.

“Faculty of color pay what I like to think of as a diversity tax, which means they are asked to do a lot of extra service on campus,” Chavez said. “If you have 25% of the student body that’s Hispanic, and you only have less than 10% of the faculty, that puts an extra burden on faculty to have to do more student mentoring.”

According to The Hispanic Equity Report, released in 2019, only 10 of the 130 positions for Deans, Vice Deans, Associate Deans and Assistant Deans were filled by Hispanic applicants. The report also found that only 62.5% of Hispanic applicants became tenured with a retention rate of 40% for already tenure-track professors. 

Lydia Contreras, Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity, said that UT is aware of the disparities and is actively searching for potential applicants.

“We are doing a huge effort on reaching out to populations that normally or regularly haven’t been proactively applying to our positions,” Contreras said. “The Provost office has allocated a number of resources so that we do a lot of proactive outreach. What we want to capture (are) the best professors to (get them to) come to our university.” 

Without a large Hispanic faculty at UT, Hispanic student voices won’t be heard. While it might sound unusual to look for candidates of a specific race or ethnicity, this initiative would help empower the Hispanic community on campus. If UT placed more Latinos in positions of influence, it would challenge the unspoken social rules burdened on them. 

“It’s hard to be Black or Latina faculty in spaces that are predominantly white,” Chavez said. “I think that they’re learning. I think that UT is trying, but it needs to continue to recognize that this has to be a priority in order to serve the students.” 

Leon is a journalism sophomore from Houston, Texas.