With the national spotlight focused on diversity in higher education, many institutions are still figuring out how to respond to calls to hire more underrepresented minority professors. Bernard J. Milano, president of the Ph.D. Project — a nonprofit organization committed to diversifying the faculty ranks at the nation’s business schools — talks about how the Ph.D. Project works, its track record, and why faculty diversity matters.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: Hello, I'm Audrey June, a senior reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education. I'm here today with Bernie Milano, the president of the Ph.D. Project, a nonprofit organization that works to diversify the faculty in the nation's business schools.
Thank you so much, Bernie, for being with us here today.
BERNARD J. MILANO: My pleasure.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: I want to go back to 1994, if I could, when the Ph.D. Project started — want to hear a little bit about what you were seeing in the nation's business schools that needed fixing, and how did you come to be involved in the work to actually do that.
BERNARD J. MILANO: Well, in 1994 — in fact, for maybe 20 years before — I was responsible for talent acquisition for KPMG, and being very frustrated about not being able to find students of color studying business.
And we spent about a year, from '93 to '94, trying to find out what could we do that hadn't been done before. It was 30 years since civil-rights legislation. There were lots of scholarship programs available. Other programs to try to drive, especially students of color, into college. But nothing was changing in the business schools.
So after about a year of running these various meetings and conferences, we thought, Well, what if we had a diverse faculty? Would diverse faculty attract diverse students? And with a diverse faculty and diverse students, would the diverse students then perform up to their potential?
In which case they would be terrific applicants, and we would end up being able to have more diversity in our firm. So it was really a systemic effort to try to diversify the work force by recognizing the need to have a diverse faculty.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: And one of the key components of the Ph.D. Project is to recruit midcareer business professionals. And kind of entice them, if you will, to make a huge transition and become a part of the professoriate.
That's a little like a sales job. I'm interested in — what's the pitch for that? How do you kind of make that pitch for people to make that major transition?
BERNARD J. MILANO: Well, it's kind of a marketing effort. We have people who, they finish their degrees, they're working in — they could be working in nonprofits, they could be engineers, they could be working in the financial world. Doesn't really matter. But they're not feeling as if they're professionally or personally fulfilled with their lives.
And then some of them have maybe been an adjunct professor, maybe teaching in their churches, or teaching in their corporate training programs. There's something about it that's bubbling up inside of them that this is something they might want to try to do.
So all we do is to provide the information through our website as to what a doctoral program is like. They can connect to every university that has a doctoral program in business. They can connect with every minority professor, and every minority doctoral student in business.
Do an awful lot of research on their own, and if they remain interested, then they come to our annual conference, which is invitational. Where they can even learn more, and then we connect them with the universities.
And what we hear, over and over again, it's a couple of things. One is they want to have a more stable life. They've been in the corporate world, and sometimes they pick up the paper and find out that their company was just bought out, or their company was just merged. Or they're offered a promotion, and the promotion means you're going to transfer from Cincinnati to Chicago, or Chicago to New York.
Nothing wrong with that. But it isn't the stability that they perhaps would like to have in their lives. And higher education provides that. Doesn't provide security, but it provides the stability.
We talk about work/life balance. There's tremendous work/life balance as a professor because there's so few hours in the week where you have to be at a particular place at a particular time. You might work 80 hours a week, but you can do it where you want to, when you want to, and how you want to.
So it's — and the one thing I'll never forget is a person who said they took the 80-year test. And he said, when I'm 80 years old and I look back on my life, what do I want to say I've actually done. What difference — and it can't be the size of my portfolio, or the size of my house. It has to be, Have I made a difference with my life? And he said, I can do that over a career as a professor for thousands and thousands and thousands of students. I can't do that any place else.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: Now, what kind of support does the project provide to doctoral students as they're making this transition, because that seems pretty important when you're — kind of a brand-new landscape like that?
BERNARD J. MILANO: Right, the biggest support we make — we make available — is a network. So when a person enters a doctoral program, they could be the only Hispanic American in that doctoral program, including the faculty in that business school.
So that would be really a very difficult environment to be in. So we have networked. Today every minority business doctoral student in the U.S. is a member of one of our five doctoral-student associations.
So take marketing, for instance. They'll come together every summer, have their own conference. And they have it a couple days before the American Marketing Association, which is the association of marketing professors. So not only do they come to our conference — and we can bring in the top people from the AMA to be our presenters — but our folks then go to the AMA conference, where they're with all of the top people in the field.
That support network is critical. They help each other, they enjoy each other. It's more like a family than it is a business network. Because they — and they trust each other, and they can share their concerns with each other in a way that they would never do with any other cohort.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: Let's talk numbers, because I know that you know those. What do you point to to kind of quantify the success that the project has had in its 20-plus years?
BERNARD J. MILANO: What's interesting, when we first started, we were trying to quantify how many people were actually applying for our conference. That was a big deal. We couldn't believe the first year: 570. We thought, you know, maybe 20. Five hundred and seventy people wanted to learn more about how to become a professor. And each year that number has remained in the 800-to-900 range, which is great in 22 years of doing this.
The next thing we started to measure was, well, how many people are actually entering doctoral programs? Because clearly that's what we were trying to do because you can't be a professor unless you've been a doctoral student.
And then it was, well, how many are finishing? Because again, that's another output that's really important. But now they're measuring more about outcomes.
So we know how many are starting. We know how many are finishing. We know how many are becoming associate professors, and full professors, and deans. So all those metrics are there, and they're all very positive.
I mean, we've now more than quadrupled the number of minority professors in business schools in these 20 years. So clearly, by any measures, it's a success. But now, you know, we're measuring the outcomes. Are you really making a difference in the classroom? Are you making a difference in the education, the preparation?
Not just of minority students — of majority students. Majority students, maybe for the first time in their lives, are learning from someone different from them. And their whole idea and their stereotypes about individuals — whether they be African, Hispanic, Native American — are being torn down because of this association that they otherwise wouldn't have had.
So, so whether it's the metrics on numbers or whether it's the metrics on the more qualitative side of the outcomes and the impact they're having, everything is extremely positive.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: Right now many institutions are talking about ways to diversify the faculty, putting money behind those efforts. I'm wondering what you would say to the person who says, I really don't understand why this makes a difference. Will it make a difference? What do you say to that?
And with the experience that you have, what would you, kind of, point to to say, Yes, this is something that makes a difference, and here's why?
BERNARD J. MILANO: Well, first of all there's tremendous research that indicates that your identity impacts your performance. So if your identity is different from the identity of people around you, chances are you're not going to be able to perform up to your potential because you're so worried about what people are thinking about you, saying about you.
You know, what was your best AP score? I mean, are you part of some special program? Why are you here? Are you sure you belong here? So it makes a huge, huge difference if you have that diversity in the classroom.
Even on the corporate side, and there's been a tremendous amount of corporate research about the value of diverse boards of directors, whether it's gender, race, ethnicity, the value of teams. Lots of anecdotes but also lots of great research. There's been studies about the earnings per share of companies who are more diverse than not.
Diversity Inc. magazine has done a tremendous job of identifying the value that diversity brings to corporations. I think the argument is over. It's over, the diversity is important. Diversity is a business issue.
Diversity is a huge issue in education. That's why what you have now is student unrest. Student unrest saying, My culture is not supported here. I don't feel as if I belong. I don't feel comfortable. I don't see anybody who looks like me who's at the faculty, the administration level. Why? Why would that be? And this is 2015.
Why is it that the percentage of faculty is so far below the percentage of minority students. And when you think about the changing demographics, especially in the Hispanic American population, it's going to get worse and worse and worse.
And it takes a long time to generate faculty. You have to find the people, finish the doctoral program, become a professor. So it's a little bit like real estate. You can't wait until you need the building because it takes a long time to get that building up.
Well, it's the same way here. You have to start building your faculty really by recruiting and marketing the value of being a professor to a cohort of individuals.
AUDREY WILLIAMS JUNE: Well, Bernie, thanks so much for stopping by today. It was really good to have you.
BERNARD J. MILANO: It's been a thrill, and I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.