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Intellectual Power, Social Injustice, and Negotiating Tenure for Criminal Justice Faculty


November 16-17, 2007
Johnson C. Smith University
Charlotte, North Carolina

Sherrise Truesdale-Moore, Professor of Sociology and Corrections, Minnesota State University


African American Intellectual Power and the Elimination of Social Injustice

In 1980, Clifton Wharton in “Reflections on Black Intellectual Power” asserted that African American intellectual power is imperative to the developmental needs and the progression of the African Americans economy and education in America (Wharton, 1980).  He also asserted that ideas, inventions, creations, analyses, and wisdom are the instruments for which intellectual power can flourish, but to do so the African American community needs to develop their talent to maximize the potential offered through human capital (Wharton, 1980).  One significant challenge in developing intellectual power among African Americans is the limited number of African American faculty, particularly tenured faculty in higher education and their integration in mainstream scholarship.  In 2007, national research results indicated that African Americans were approximately five percent of the full-time faculty at colleges and universities in the United States, which was a slight increase over the past decade (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2007).  At the same time, the incarceration rate for African Americans is disproportionately higher than Whites, in addition to other social issues that plague the African American community (i.e. education, employment, and family crisis) (Stanford Report, 2005).  During a time when criminal justice issues are exacerbating the social problems realized within the African American community, it is only appropriate that this article gives special attention to criminology or criminal justice faculty in higher education that potentially hold the possibilities of disseminating information vital to the plight of African Americans, as well as the inclusion of their perspectives within a White male dominated discipline.

African American Faculty in Criminology and Criminal Justice

In 1993, Heard and Bing noted that there were approximately forty-eight African American faculty in the field of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Heard & Bing, 1993b).  By 2000, the number of African American criminologists had doubled to approximately eighty-six.  At the same time, approximately twenty-one percent had attained tenure, approximately thirty-eight percent were associate professors, and approximately thirty-nine percent were assistant professors (Heard & Bing, 2000).  The low number of African American faculty in criminology and criminal justice is exacerbated concerning their contribution to scholarly work in criminology and criminal justice.  In 1991, Vernetta Young and Anne Sulton pointed to the exclusion of African American scholastic perspectives in criminology and criminal justice.  Their argument is that while the ideas of White criminologists are virtually praised by lucrative research opportunities and journal publications, and utilized in the policymaking process, the ideas of African American scholars, in the same manner, are excluded (Young & Sulton, 1991).  In hopes that the academic environment for supporting the African American criminologists has improved over the last decade, Gabbidon, Greene, and Wilder (2004) revisited this issue to determine whether significant progress has been made toward the inclusion of African American perspectives in the field of criminology and criminal justice.  Their conclusion noted an improvement, giving attention to the citations of African Americans criminologists (particularly Elijah Anderson, Jeanette Covington, Laura Fishman, Darnell Hawkins, Coramae Richey Mann, Ruth Peterson, Lee Ross, Katheryn Russell, and William Julius Wilson) in a little more than half of the theoretical articles reviewed in their research.  Unfortunately, these scholars only represent a few of African American criminologists, which suggest that the African American perspective in the field of criminology and criminal justice continues to be ignored substantially (Gabbidon, Greene & Wilder, 2004).

Personal Reflections on the Challenges of African American Criminal Justice Faculty in the Tenure Process at Predominantly White Institutions

Other than the problems concerning research, publications, and policymaking, African American faculty struggle with barriers that interfere with the attainment of tenure, such as experiencing discrimination, negotiating family matters, maintaining large teaching loads, over indulging in committees, and having inadequate support systems and/or professional mentoring needed to help navigate the tenure process (Gregory, 2001).  Additionally, White students at predominantly White institutions have indicated some resistance of African American perspectives in criminology and criminal justice because of the opposition it brings to their personal cultural norms, values, and beliefs.  In such cases, disgruntled students may be encouraged to give a poor teaching evaluation, which affects the tenure process for African American faculty negatively.  On the other hand, African American students typically find the African American perspective refreshing, as well as opportunities for mentoring.  Mentoring has been a vehicle for academic success of African American students at Predominantly White Institutions, but this relationship can be exhaustive (Strickland, 1975).  In an effort to help produce more African Americans in the field of criminology and criminal justice, particularly students with doctoral degrees in the subject area, African American faculty may extend the self by assisting in creating supportive academic environments for African American students to help ensure student success (Gabbidon, Greene & Wilder, 2004).  To this aim, African American criminology and criminal justice faculty seek to create a larger pool of African American scholars in the discipline to assist in the dissemination of vital information.

However, reaching beyond the call of duty when working outside teaching and research causes an over-extension self.  Beyond mentoring and academic support, African American criminology and criminal justice faculty may be called upon to advocate on behalf of African American students experiencing social injustice (i.e. unjustified arrests, police brutality, etc.). Unfortunately, ignoring these issues may make African American faculty appear to be deserters of their own race, which may create discriminatory practices among African American colleagues.  Moreover, people within the community may act against you, making it very difficult to consult or gain research projects.

Recommendations for Dealing with the Challenges in Higher Education

First, tenured faculty requesting assistance need to be mindful of the career damage that can occur when extending themselves beyond the daily duties of academia.  Additionally, tenured faculty should protect non-tenured faculty from engaging in practices that may interfere with the tenure process.  Second, non-tenured faculty should learn how to say no-this enables the faculty member to maintain focus on personal teaching and research goals.  Third, utilize support networks by referring people to others that can better serve their needs.  Fourth, non-tenured faculty should learn whom to trust and avoid being used; not everyone is working with the best interest of the faculty in mind.


Gabbidon, Shaun, Helen Taylor Greene, and Kideste Wilder.  (2004)  “Still Excluded:  An Update on the Status of African American Scholars in the Discipline of Criminology and Criminal Justice.”  Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.  41, 4, 384-406.

Gregory, Sheila.  (2001)  “Black Faculty Women in the Academy:  History, Status, and Future.”  The Journal of Negro Education.  70, 3, 124-138.

Heard, Chinita and Robert Bing.  (1993b)  African American Criminology and Criminal Justice Directory.  Arlington:  University of Texas at Arlington.

Heard, Chinita and Robert Bing.  (2000)  Directory of Minority Ph.D. Criminologists.  Prairie View, TX:  Prairie View A & M University.

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.  (2007, November 19)  Black Faculty in Higher Education:  Still Only a Drop in the Bucket”.

Stanford Report.  (2005, May 25)  “Higher Incarceration Rates Harm Social Stability, Scholars Claim”. 

Strickland, Edward.  (1975)  ”Black Faculty Members at Multiracial Campuses:  Some Problems of Modeling Roles.”  Journal of Black Studies.  6, 2, 200-207.

Wharton, Clifton.  (1980)  Reflections on Black Intellectual PowerJournal of Black Studies.  10, 3, 279-294.

Young, Vernetta and Anne Thomas Sulton.  (1991)  Excluded:  The Current Status of African American Scholars in the Field of Criminology and Criminal Justice.”  Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.  28, 101-116.




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