A Letter on College Diversity, From Dean Corrigan

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: August 22, 2014

Dean Corrigan served as Dean of the College of Education and Human Development between 1980-1989. Amidst the education reform movement in the late 1980s, Corrigan led a complete revision of the college’s degree programs. In this letter to Spirit magazine, he reflects on the challenges that the college faced while advocating for a more diverse faculty and student body.

I enjoyed the stories about diversity at Texas A&M University in the fall 2013 issue of Spirit and would like to add my perspective on the integration of minorities in Texas A&M’s College of Education, which I believe led the way in integrating the faculty at Texas A&M.

The decision that our faculty made to take the lead in seeking minority faculty and students was the action that I will always remember as the most important and most satisfying in my 50 years in the field of education. When I was hired as the second dean of the College of Education in 1980, there was only one minority member of our faculty, Jesus Garcia. There were only two African-American faculty members in the entire university. The college’s special concern regarding diversity began shortly after I arrived and specific action took place at our first faculty retreat. 

The theme for the retreat was: What do we want the college to look like five years from now? One of five concept papers that was prepared for discussion outlined a rationale and plan for changing the ethnic makeup of our college. The paper did not mention quotas or federal mandates. The major thrust of the discussion that followed was that we were all hypocrites unless we took action to ensure that our faculty reflected the kind of ethnic makeup of the people whom our graduates would later teach, counsel and administer.

As faculty in one of the state’s land-grant universities, we agreed that integration of our college was not just a necessity, it was an obligation of professional leadership. Professionally and morally as educators we could not say one thing and do another. 

At the conclusion of our retreat, we identified the cultural diversity mission as one of the most important. Within five years, we had hired African-American and Hispanic faculty in every department of the college. In the first five years we hired 14 minorities. Some are still working at Texas A&M. Others went on to take positions in other institutions. Over the years all of the minority faculty members who left continued their association with their Aggie colleagues and carried the Aggie spirit with them.

The key to our success in recruiting minority faculty was that it was a faculty effort. As you know, deans do not hire faculty. Faculty members are hired on the recommendation of faculty search committees. One of the key elements of our success was that early in the process, instead of hiring minority faculty who had just finished their doctorates, we hired two full professors who had already established themselves with excellent reputations in major universities.

Oversight of the recruitment process by the Multicultural Education Inquiry Group assured that we would identify minority candidates for every opening. Members of the faculty knew that they had to convince minority candidates that the college community needed and wanted them as colleagues. They had to make their commitment clear. One of the ways they did this was to express their willingness to match the competition even if it meant that the salary offered by the competition was higher than they were making at their rank and experience level. The fact that our faculty was willing to go to such lengths to accomplish its mission made a difference. I don’t know of a clearer indication of commitment than that. Needless to say, I was proud to lead such a dedicated group.

Our minority faculty recruitment effort was accompanied by a variety of programs to attract minority students. For example, under Dr. Doug Palmer’s leadership, the college was awarded grants from the U.S. Office of Special Education. On a year-to-year basis, more Hispanic graduate students completed a doctorate in special education in our Department of Educational Psychology than the total number from all of the graduate institutions in the United States. Also important in increasing the number of minority graduate students was the creation of an off-campus center in San Antonio where faculty would travel to teach graduate courses and serve as advisors to provide easier access for minority students to enroll and study at Texas A&M.

With leadership and support from university leaders, the College of Education led the way in seeking minority faculty, staff and students. It was important in our recruitment efforts to inform candidates that other Texas A&M faculty were actively supporting minority recruiting. The central role of John McDermott and Ruth Schaeffer, who chaired the University Minority Recruitment Committee, cannot be overstated. They were the driving force throughout the campus in these early days.

Our college development council played a role in making the integration effort successful. With the leadership of the College of Education’s first council chair, Peggy Coghlan, and council member Sylvia Fernandez and her husband Raul, the group connected the college to the diverse communities it served and gained crucial financial and moral support from former students for our multicultural education mission.

The four new deans of other Texas A&M colleges who were appointed the same year I arrived recognized this fact and were more than willing to work together on multicultural education. For example, in 1983 we enrolled more math and science teaching majors than any university in the country.

It will come as no surprise to you that not all Aggies were pleased with our decision to place the recruitment of minorities at the top of our agenda. I kept a folder that contained letters from people who called us every name in the book. These letters were a vivid reminder of the challenge we faced. Since half of the new minority recruits were women, it is interesting to note that the women’s equity issue was of particular concern in these letters as well as the minority issue. You will recall that in those days, equity for women was part of the debate that was taking place. Making the search for minority faculty a top priority was quite a change, and the fact that half of the new minority faculty members that we hired were women was quite a change as well.  However, once integration happened, Aggies accepted it and were proud to be participants in it. The stories in the fall 2013 issue of Spirit attest to that.

Suffice it to say, we have many people to thank for the courage and commitment it took to make diversity a success at Texas A&M, not the least of which are the minority faculty who were the first to come to Texas A&M. They helped Texas A&M to become the great university it is today. As I read the fall 2013 issue of Spirit, I feel good about the tremendous progress made regarding diversity. It was not easy, but that is what made it so rewarding.

I loved every minute of the 20 years of my professional life that I devoted to Texas A&M and dealing with challenging issues like diversity. As each day goes by, the moments I shared with Aggie colleagues and students become more precious. 

Congratulations to you and your staff for an excellent issue of Spirit.

Dean Corrigan

Former Dean, Texas A&M College of Education and Human Development