After 196 years, college grants tenure to black professor
Louisiana’s oldest college celebrates its first lifetime nomination to a black faculty member and explains why this racial milestone took nearly two centuries to accomplish.
“I think that’s the million dollar question. I know this is something that will be highlighted and discussed ”at the Centenary College of Louisiana event on Thursday in honor of now tenured Associate Professor Andia Augustin-Billy, said the spokesperson for university, Kate Pedrotty.
Racism is the reason it took 196 years, school archivist Scott Brown said. “Structural, institutional and systemic racism has been present since the founding of the college, largely by slavers,” he said.
That story is undeniable, but it is also a thing of the past, said Christopher Holoman, president of the Methodist Affiliate Quorum at Shreveport.
“Any institution as old as Centenary, especially the one in the South, must take into account the role that racism has played in its history,” Holoman said. “As we move forward, Centenary is committed to fully including all members of our community and to working for a just society.”
She also teaches African and Caribbean literature and postcolonial studies, women, gender and sexuality to a student body described as 18% Black or Black and one other race. That’s slightly ahead of the national percentage of college-aged blacks: 16.7% of U.S. residents aged 18 to 24 in 2018, according to U.S. Census figures.
Zuri Jenkins, a black senior majoring in international, French and English business who sits with Brown on the diversity committee, said she was both surprised and not surprised when she got her tenure in February.
Surprised because she saw the school grow for diversity – but there is also the story of Centenary: it was not only built on slavery but only admitted white males for years thereafter, Jenkins said.
Centenary was also among the last in Louisiana to integrate, admitting its first black students in 1966. Louisiana State University admitted its first black law student in 1950 and its undergraduate African American in 1953. Louisiana Tech has integrated in 1965 and Louisiana College, a small Baptist school, in 1967.
Fred Bonner II, identified by Brown as Centenary’s first black teacher, agreed the school is plagued by racism from the past, but said it was “really trying to move the needle in a positive direction.”
Bonner has fond memories of Centenary in 1997-98, when he was an instructor during the last semester of his doctoral work at the University of Arkansas, then visiting associate professor. At the time, he only knew one black student who was not on the basketball team. But he enjoyed the weekly faculty dinners, and the white students applauded him when he got his doctorate and told them “I’m Dr. Bonner now.”
The day after her tenure, Augustin-Billy asked the archivist if there had been any other tenured black professors, so that she could thank them for leading the way.
“There was no one there,” she said.
There does not appear to be any national data on which graduate schools have never granted full tenure to blacks.
The first two African Americans to become tenured in predominantly white schools did so in 1947 and 1952, according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. But according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, dozens of universities and colleges reported having no full black faculty members from 2012 to 2020.
All but three of these schools had fewer than 3,000 students. Centenary is among the smallest, with a current staff of 523 and 54 full-time faculty members. Two full-time faculty members and one of 27 part-time faculty members identify as black or African American, Pedrotty said.
“We don’t employ a large number of teachers. In addition, African-American teachers are in great demand. We do our best to be competitive with all of our faculty hires, ”said Holoman.
African Americans made up 13.3% of students nationwide in 2019, but only about 6% of faculty members, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. A study of 2003 data showed that 47% of full-time white teachers were tenured, compared to 38.3% of full-time black teachers, reported the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
Disputes over the tenure of black professors this year focused on the University of North Carolina, which offered an endowed chair in journalism to Pulitzer-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, but discussions over tenure were stalled. after a board member questioned his non-academic background and a powerful donor opposed it. . She was eventually offered tenure, but took a position at Howard University.
Professors typically have to teach for five or six years in tenure-track positions before such decisions are made. Centenary offered Bonner a tenure-track position, but he chose a similar offer at Bowling Green State University that better matched his research interests. Today he is Regent Professor at Prairie View A&M and editor of a series of books called “Diverse Faculty in the Academy”.
Bonner said Centenary should point out that Shreveport’s population is 50% black when recruiting minority faculty.
“From my own experience and the writings I have read and edited, for the color school one of the most important things is support” both on and off a predominantly white campus. , “because you feel so isolated,” he said.
Augustin-Billy said he recently met a 71-year-old woman who said she and other family members had all attended Grambling State University, a historically black institution nearly two hours away. “The centenary was not for us.… We never felt like it was our space, our place,” the woman told him.
“I hope this story will spark a much needed dialogue about the presence of black academics in academia,” Augustin-Billy said. “There must be. There must be.”
PA reporter Collin Binkley in Boston and data intern Jasen Lo in Chicago contributed to this report.