If ever there was a time for a University of Houston provost like Edward Sheridan, the time is now.
This first-generation college graduate and son of Irish immigrants will assume an important position this week.
I say Sheridan's hiring is important and possibly a monumental moment in UH's academic history because Sheridan claims he is a champion for hiring minority faculty. As provost at the University of Missouri, he contributed to the hiring of a plethora of minority faculty members.
UH could benefit from a man with such a drive because, if you hadn't noticed lately, UH's teaching body seems to be getting whiter and whiter each semester.
No other efforts have been made to change this trend, save those of a few professors themselves.
Now Sheridan is in a position to change this.
For a university to be a major player in the academic world, a diverse faculty is needed to contribute a variety of scholarship.
A different experience lends to a different analysis. Here at UH there have been a few departments that have recognized this. Yet there are a few that need to be reminded of this fact and have chairs who need to get rid of their racial stereotypes.
Currently, the university is in a position to lose at least four Latino professors due to tenure disputes and racist colleagues.
Only a few have spoken out against this trend, and nothing but vague statements about reform have come from this administration.
Past administrators have argued that there are few minority candidates who could "fit into" the many departments that are attempting to exhibit "excellence" in research and scholarship. Each department is striving to achieve a certain image.
But this is always a racist argument based on a narrow view of what scholarship is. Ask Afro-Cuban musicologist Marvin Sparks why he was denied tenure from our Moores School of Music.
The other argument has been that the university is running on low funds and cannot afford to hire tenure-track faculty members at a given time.
But this is usually political hogwash.
The real truth is that many administrators do not put the hiring of minority tenure-track faculty members high on their priority list. They'd rather enter such discussions as whether the football team should play at the Astrodome or on campus. As one professor said in private, "If (university administrators) can hire Clyde Drexler at that salary, they can hire more minority tenured faculty. There's money there."
Sheridan claims he can work through all this. During his tenure at MU, he claims to have gotten around the money issues and persuaded department chairs to consider minority candidates. Somehow, this trained psychologist has been able to do the impossible and recruit rising minority faculty members who deserve top-rate jobs. Sheridan's skills are needed because there is a growing anxiety among minority faculty members that the university and the current conservative climate are out to get them.
With the whiting of departments and such new policies as post-tenure review, I do not blame them.
I truly hope that this is not unfounded. This university is in need of some action, not rhetoric, but the only thing many of us can do before we offer any further comment is wait and see what Sheridan's moves are when he starts kicking ass around this place.
Sheridan himself, as an Irish-American, has experienced the climate of discrimination.
He should have no problem changing a UH environment including some departments with signs that read, "Minority faculty members need not hope for tenure."
Hopefully, there is an understanding here.
Contreras is a
graduate history student.