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By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

Towson University sophomore Joshua White wants to go into communications, but he's never had an African-American professor, making it difficult for the young black man to envision himself in the field.

"It's disheartening," said White, 20, of Seat Pleasant. "A professor actually told me how I might have a hard time in this field because it's dominated by white women."

While students of color are increasingly represented on college campuses, the proportion of black faculty members has barely budged in the past 20 years. At some institutions, including the University of Maryland's flagship campus at College Park, the percentage of black professors actually declined from 1996 to 2014, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Hispanic professors also are under-represented.

Many minority students say the scarcity of professors who look like them hinders their college experience, as they sometimes have trouble finding mentors and connecting with their white teachers. For their part, some minority professors say they believe their research is undervalued by peers and that they often feel overwhelmed mentoring the many students of color who seek them out.

The issue has come to the national forefront as college students hold sit-ins and demonstrations demanding racial equality and more tenured black professors.

When a group of about two dozen black Towson students held a sit-in at the president's office in November, hiring more black faculty members was one of their chief demands. A group of Johns Hopkins University students urged the same at a campus protest in November.

University administrators say they're trying to address the problem but are stymied by what they characterize as a pipeline problem — a smaller number of minorities seeking doctorates and entering academia.

Administrators are creating programs to interest more minority graduate students and doctoral candidates in faculty jobs, and launching training courses for faculty search committees so they can overcome "unconscious bias" in hiring.

Still, some professors say change isn't happening quickly enough.

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