Going to the Head of the Class

How the PhD Project is helping to boost the number of minority professors in B-schools

When Miriam Stamps earned a PhD in marketing from Syracuse University in 1982, there were no black professors at the business school. And she was the only African American in her class. "We were few and far between," says Stamps. "And we were isolated."

A quarter century later, minority doctoral students remain rare on B-school campuses. And only about 3% of all business professors are African American, Hispanic, or Native American, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

But increasing numbers of minorities are forsaking a big corporate paycheck for the intellectual rigors of academia. This year, the percentage of minorities enrolled in business PhD programs is double that of minorities on B-school faculties, a sign that future faculties will include more minority professors.

Cherry-Picking Profs

It's already happening at Syracuse's Whitman School of Management, where minorities account for eight out of 73 faculty members—including the dean, Melvin Stith, who is African American. As for Stamps, she now runs the marketing department at the University of South Florida's business school in Tampa.

At a time when schools have been downplaying affirmative action, many deans have looked to the PhD Project, a nonprofit that encourages minority business professionals to earn PhDs and go on to become professors. The organization was launched in 1994 by Bernard J. Milano, a former KPMG partner who runs the KPMG Foundation, a group dedicated to supporting business education.

Milano was frustrated that schools weren't producing enough minority business grads. Before the PhD Project there was a lot of talk about boosting diversity on campus but little action. Schools essentially went around cherry-picking minority professors from one another. Now, says Stith, "we're increasing the size of the pie."

Demystifying the Process

Milano, who runs the PhD Project, says the basic strategy is to target professionals hungry for intellectual stimulation. Tonya Williams, who completes her doctorate in marketing at Northwestern this spring, is a typical recruit. A former general manager at the Atlanta-based software company S1 Corp., Williams gave up the challenge of managing hundreds of employees, sold her house, and traded her power suits for jeans and a yearly stipend of less than $30,000.

It was a major pay cut, but she's not complaining. "There's nobody looking for me in my office at 7 in the morning, and no one looking for me at 7 p.m.," she says. Williams will join the B-school faculty at the University of Notre Dame this summer.

For recruits like Williams, the PhD Project seeks to demystify the process of becoming a professor. Candidates are educated on tenure, research, and networking strategies. They quickly learn that because business professors are in such high demand these days, they can earn up to $160,000 a year—a decent middle-management salary. It's this "information intervention," says Milano, that has allowed the program to play a role in the near tripling of minority faculty at B-schools over the past dozen years, from 294 to 833.

Room to Grow

Getting students enrolled is half the battle. Having them complete the program is the prize. To help make that happen, the PhD Project has a network of student support groups. Andre J. Holmes, a fourth-year PhD accounting student at Florida State University, says the program was invaluable. When his father died during his first year, colleagues were there for him. Without their support, says Holmes, he's not sure he would have made it. According to the PhD Project, 90% of minority PhD students stick it out, vs. an estimated 77% of all business PhD students. What's more, 99% of minority doctorate holders go on to teach, Milano adds.

More minority profs will arguably lead to a more diverse student population. There's plenty of room for improvement. At BusinessWeek's Top 30 B-schools, minority enrollment, excluding Asian Americans, ranges from 16% to as low as 6%. B-school deans are betting that students who interact with minority business professors, or even teaching assistants like Holmes, will graduate better prepared for a more diverse business world.