Juanita Johnson–Bailey, professor of adult education and women’s studies, and Bettye P. Smith, associate professor in the department of workforce education, leadership and social foundations, led planning for UGA’s inaugural conference on black issues in higher education (see story, page 1). They sat down with Columns to offer some perspective on the event.
Columns: How did the conference originate?
Johnson-Bailey: The conference idea originated during a meeting between Dean (Louis A.) Castenell and black faculty in the College of Education. As you know, there are more black faculty in the COE than in any other college at UGA. One of the benefits of this critical mass of black faculty is that it spawns conversations about our uniqueness and our circumstances on this campus and in academia overall.
Given what we see in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Diverse—Issues in Higher Education, we felt that it was timely and pertinent to expand our conversation to the entire campus. Let us emphasize that this is not a one-sided conversation; we want to engage all interested faculty and administrators in this conversation.
As children of the civil rights movement, we of course understand the importance of coalitions as well as the importance of a group discussing and seizing control of their own fate.
Columns: What’s the importance of this conference for UGA?
Smith: In addition to what was said previously, this is an historic inaugural event; it is the first such event for this region.
Columns: How will it help black faculty and graduate students on campus?
Smith: It is our hope that this conference will foster community building for faculty with similar concerns and similar research agendas. One byproduct of this conference will be a report that lists the research agendas for participants.
Additionally, we hope to strengthen our pipeline for junior faculty and to build a pipeline for graduate students who want to enter into the professoriate.
We recognize that the pipeline for black faculty and graduate students into the academy is leaking. We lose too many valuable potential scholars to benign neglect. We want to be deliberate in our intention to build a community of mentors for our junior faculty and graduate students. Our panels and guest speakers will address such issues as how do you build a research agenda, how do you get published and how do you find mentors?
Columns: Has this been done elsewhere?
Johnson-Bailey: This is the first such conference being conceived as an annual event that will center on black issues in higher education. There are, however, conferences on diversity issues. Given the demographics of our state and our campus, it is important that we have this focus and this conversation.
Columns: Can you speak to the significance of having Vanessa Siddle Walker and Norvella Carter as keynote speakers?
Smith: We have connections with both scholars. Dr. Carter was a visiting scholar with the department of lifelong learning, educational administration and policy last semester, and Dr. Walker has been a major adviser to and continues to work with black faculty in the COE. We felt that both scholars, given their career length and their area of research, had valuable insights to offer our faculty and graduate students.
Columns: Do you see this conference as becoming an important event for UGA for years to come?
Johnson-Bailey: We envision that this conference will become an annual event and that it will grow to be a campus-wide, state-wide, and region-wide conference.
We feel that there are issues in higher education that are unique to Southern public and private institutions. These issues include, but are not limited to, low enrollment of black students at land-grant institutions, under-representation of black faculty and retention of black faculty.