UW grad students ask political science department to hire more Black faculty members

A report released on Twitter found the department has only had one Black staff member at any given time since 1970

MADISON, Wis. — A group of political science grad students at UW-Madison are asking the department to hire more Black people within the next few years.

The students released a report on Twitter that found the department has not had more than one Black person on staff at any given time since 1970.

Anna Meier spoke with News 3 Now about the report and the work she and her colleagues have spent the last few weeks discussing. Meier said given the national conversations happening around race, diversity and inclusion, she and her peers decided to access a public database that had a history of all faculty members hired in the department.

“We haven’t seen a lot of change in composition of the faculty or the graduate students, nor have we seen a lot of demonstrable efforts to create a more inclusive, welcoming, equitable environment,” Meier said.

Meier said that after a week and a half of investigating the department’s hiring history, “As we kept going we found more and more depressing results.”

Meier said since she published the report on Twitter, other grad students in other departments have reached out and said, “that in their time, there has never been a Black faculty member.”

The department chair John Zumbrunnen responded to the report, stating:

“I very much appreciate the effort, thoroughness and concern for our department reflected in the report. The report is right:  a more diverse faculty should be–and is–a goal for our department, and we must be sure that we provide an inclusive and professional workplace where colleagues can come and spend their careers. We will continue to make diversity a priority concern when we are again able to hire.  But we also have immediate work to do:  making sure we offer a curriculum that engages with issues of race, diversity and inclusion; providing training and support in inclusive instructional design and inclusive teaching generally; and engaging faculty, staff and students in meaningful conversations about power and privilege on campus and in the broader world and in real actions that follow from those conversations.”

Meier said she appreciates Zumbrunnen’s response and said, “At this point we would like to see what the department is actually going to be able to commit to doing. Without discussion of ‘institutional constraints,’ without discussion of, ‘well, this would be hard to do.’ What can we actually expect to see in the next semester, the next academic year, the next five years?”

Meier said although she is white and doesn’t feel the impacts that not having a diverse staff can bring, “It’s important to see oneself represented. I’m obviously very white, so the issue of race and ethnicity does not affect me personally, but I have friends for whom it does.”

Meier is hoping that the department will take the steps needed to move forward.

“It really does a disservice, I think, to students when they don’t see themselves among the faculty and when they don’t have the opportunity to engage with people who understand what they’re going through,” Meier said. “When we don’t bring in faculty who come from different life experiences than the predominantly white male cisgender perspective, we don’t get the opportunity to see the full picture of the environment we are studying. When we are talking about questions of power and institutions, that is a real problem. It makes our field less useful. When you don’t see yourself there, you think, ‘Well, this is not a space for me. I better go do something else.”

The report concludes by asking the department to hire at least two Black tenure-track faculty members by 2025, hold regular mandatory meetings on anti-racism starting this fall and commit, in writing, to offering a graduate level seminar on race and politics at least once every other year starting in 2022.