Whitman’s Diverse Academic Pipeline to Top B-Schools

headshots of Willie Reddic, Sharon Simmons, Fabian Diaz and Frank Mullins

Whitman’s Diverse Academic Pipeline to Top B-Schools

When Willie Reddic G’12 (MAX), ’13 Ph.D. decided to join the doctoral program in accounting at the Whitman School, he was attracted not only by the School’s academic qualities but also by seeing people like himself—including Whitman’s first African American dean, Mel Stith, and at least six students of color across the various Ph.D. disciplines.

“That was very interesting and kind of cool at a non-HBCU [historically black colleges and universities] school,” Reddic recalls.

Over a decade later, such diversity remains notable, given that underrepresented minorities (URMs) comprise only 7.5 percent of the faculty at business schools in the United States. This makes Whitman’s contribution to the pipeline all the more impressive: In the past 10 years, the School has graduated 10 URM doctoral students, most of whom have moved into academic positions at top business schools.

This success is based in an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion at Whitman, which was formally reiterated as a cornerstone of the institution’s 2017 strategic plan and includes the hiring of diversity expert Diane Crawford as the executive director of institutional culture.

“To be a great business school, we have to foster a welcoming learning community,” says Dean Gene Anderson. “It means really infusing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion into everything we do—from program design to how we run support services, student admissions, faculty hiring. And what I’m most proud of so far is how broad the engagement and participation have been.”

During Reddic’s time at Whitman, Dean Mel Stith and his wife, Patricia, most visibly promoted—and embodied—the School’s move toward greater diversity.

“He put a lot of energy into providing mentorship and really having difficult conversations around issues that came up,” says Sharon Simmons ’12 Ph.D, who grew up in the Virgin Islands and is an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Jackson State University, an HBCU.

She fondly remembers regular dinners at the Stiths’ house that brought together minority students and faculty from across campus. “It was extremely helpful to be able to talk about what it is like being a doctoral student at a primarily white institution,” Reddic agrees.

To be a great business school, we have to foster a welcoming learning community. It means really infusing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion into everything we do—from program design to how we run support services, student admissions, faculty hiring. And what I’m most proud of so far is how broad the engagement and participation have been.” — Dean Gene Anderson

For minority students, such mentorship is often crucial in navigating their doctoral programs to the end. Simmons, for example, is grateful to several mentors—including Stith; Craig Watters ’82 (A&S), G’93 (iSchool), G’05 (MAX), then an assistant professor at Whitman; as well as Professor of Entrepreneurship Johan Wiklund, whom she credits with the awareness and skill to address tough diversity issues—for shepherding her to a Ph.D. while she was raising a young son.

Fabian Diaz ’21 Ph.D. an assistant professor at the University of Louisville College of Business, similarly considers his advisor, Bantle Chair in Entrepreneurship and Public Policy Maria Minniti, his “lifeline” throughout the past years. While she does not share his Mexican origin—the native of Ejido Copalita came to the United States as a 12-year-old and regards himself as working class, even with his degrees—he related to and was inspired by her asserting herself in a field traditionally dominated by men.

“I owe a lot to Maria,” he says.

Because of the small number of minority business faculty available to provide this level of mentorship, the Ph.D. Project was established in 1994 to formalize support for URM business students through conferences, workshops, networking and scholarships. The nonprofit organization promotes workplace diversity by helping a diverse group of students earn doctorates in business and become professors who can mentor the next generation of leaders.

“That organization has helped the majority of Black, Hispanic and Native American students going through the Ph.D. process, and it was instrumental for me,” says Frank Mullins ’01 MBA, ’11 Ph.D. Here calls that Stith was involved with the Ph.D. Project from the beginning and “carried that commitment and focus with him to his deanship at Syracuse.” Now an associate professor of management at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Mullins is himself active through the Ph.D. Project to help the next generation obtain degrees.

Those new minority Ph.D. graduates are in high demand. For a school eager to diversify its faculty, “the biggest challenge is on the supply side,” Anderson says. “There’s usually a fairly limited number of candidates, and of course all the top schools are after them.”

This mirrors and extends the challenges that exist with the annual recruitment of URM doctoral students, including at the Ph.D. Project, as Michel Benaroch, associate dean for research and Ph.D. programs, points out. Nevertheless, amid strong competition, Whitman attracted three women and two African Americans in this year’s crop of new faculty members.

Among them is Reddic, who returned to Syracuse after last serving as an associate professor and associate dean at DePaul University. He did so only after assuring himself that he would receive the kind of support he needed to advance, emphasizing that hiring URM faculty is only the beginning, particularly regarding younger colleagues.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he says. “It’s one thing to bring in junior faculty. But there also needs to be a continuous action plan for people of color—when they’re here, really, really growing them. It can’t stop just because, wow, we have gone from 2% to 5% minority faculty.”

Whitman’s formal measures include a mentorship program that matches new hires with at least two established faculty members within the School to provide guidance and help create an individualized development plan. After working with outside mentors during previous jobs but wishing for more encouragement within his institution, Reddic also plans to offer his informal mentorship to junior colleagues—support that remains as important to minority faculty as to URM students.

From impressing hiring committees to surviving evaluations and the tenure process, “there are a lot of points where there can be barriers to overcome,” says Mullins. “It helps to have another Black faculty member that is more senior to you to be able to offer some words of wisdom and guidance on how to navigate an environment where you’re just not well represented, because everything I’m going through, they’ve been through.”

As Reddic comes full circle at Whitman and the School’s engagement around diversity continues, the visibility of more minority faculty may help to perpetuate a virtuous cycle, drawing in even greater numbers of minority students.

For, as Simmons says, “when there is no diversity on the faculty, there is no connection for students looking at the individuals teaching them, and that affects the pipeline of people coming into Ph.D. programs.” And someday, perhaps, a future generation of minority students and faculty will have to give little thought to their race or whether they belong, because “the more diversity you have among the faculty and the people you are training, the less the diverse aspects of each person become the subject of the conversation,” she says.