SACRAMENTO, Calif. - For the past 10 years an ambitious project has sought
to recruit minorities, including American Indians, to give up their careers
to earn their business doctoral degrees in an effort to increase minority
faculty at the nation's institutions of higher learning.
Most such projects seek to recruit American Indians already in school and
persuade them to go on to get higher degrees. The PhD Project, as it is
commonly known, seeks to recruit people already in the professional world.
The PhD Project is actually an alliance of several business groups,
including, but not limited to the Ford Motor Company, the Fannie Mae
Foundation and Merrill Lynch.
The main player is the accounting corporation, KPMG, perhaps best known as
a figure in the corporate scandals of the past few years. In January of
last year KPMG was found guilty in court of fraud in a suit brought about
by the Securities and Exchange Commission for their relationship with the
troubled Xerox Corporation.
Though no scholarship money is available through the PhD Project, funds are
available through a charitable foundation set up by KPMG for candidates.
"Obviously, the PhD Project helps attract minority students to business
school but it also benefits whites as well," said KPMG president Bernie
Milano. "Whites are helped when their first authority figure from a
minority community doesn't occur when they go out into the business world."
Billed as an "information clearinghouse for underrepresented minorities"
the emphasis of the PhD Project is on business and their aim is to steer
qualified minority candidates toward a business degree.
The PhD Project began in 1994 and organizers of the project claim that they
have more than doubled the number of minority faculty in business and
accounting schools and has tripled the number of American Indians, though
their numbers still lag fare behind their percentage of the overall
For example, there are currently 33,000 business school professors and
doctoral students. Out of these only 45 are American Indian. However, Ph.D.
Project organizers claim that 10 years ago there were only 15 such people.
The way the Ph.D. Project works is that it holds and annual convention each
November in Chicago in which potential Ph.D. candidates from the various
minority communities are invited to attend an intensive weekend-long
conference complete with workshops that help to steer potential candidates
through the Ph.D. process.
After they are successfully admitted into Ph.D. programs, the candidates
are then organized into four different groups according to their field of
study, including Accounting, Finance, Marketing and Management. These
groups are support networks that link candidates and mentors through an
e-mail list where candidates can ask questions and receive help.
Milano likes to refer to the project as an "aggressive marketing campaign"
and maintains that advertisements are put out at African American colleges
as well as through Hispanic MBA associations.
American Indians, said Milano, are a little harder to recruit because of
the relatively few professional organizations of American Indians as
compared to other minority groups. Though the Ph.D. Project is advertised
in several American Indian oriented publications, the project concentrates
much of its effort in the American Indian community through the American
Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), where Milano said that the
group conducts recruiting efforts at its annual meeting.
Matthew Rodgers, Oneida, attends Cornell University and is about a year
away from his PhD in Management in Organizational Behavior. He was one of
the candidates recruited through AISCES. He said that he was "enthralled"
and wanted to make a contribution. "It's been a fantastic experience for
me," said Rodgers, who said that he was so taken with the program that he
now is involved in recruiting efforts for American Indian students.
Perhaps the most difficult facts of economics for those that decide to get
involved in the project is that many have to take pay cuts after being in
the professional world.
One such person is Gavin Clarkson, who is currently an assistant professor
at the University of Michigan and found out the day after he was
interviewed that he would be receiving his Ph.D. next month.
Clarkson, an enrolled Chocktaw who also claims Cherokee ancestry, formerly
ran a fairly lucrative software company with his mother in Austin, Texas.
He formerly held a DBA, the equivalent of a master's degree from Harvard
and was a perfect fit for the PhD Project.
Despite the pay cut, Clarkson said that returning to academic life has
allowed him to explore issues and ideas that the business world would never
For example, Clarkson is currently studying tribal economies and said that
it was easy for him to find a niche in the academic world. One of the
problems that he has uncovered in his Ph.D. studies is that lack of access
tribes have to borrowing money and that unlike municipalities tribes have
to pay higher interest rates.
"This is the kind of thing that I could never have done in the business
world. It's amazing how many aspects of tribal economies that have been
untouched by academic study," said Clarkson.
Clarkson estimates that African Americans make up the largest ethic group
among PhD Project members. He muses that the reason that the PhD Project
has had more success in recruiting African Americans is because of the deep
roots in academics many in that group have because of the historically
African American colleges.
Clarkson, whose grandmother graduated from the University of Alabama in the
1920s, maintains that many American Indians do not have the same ties to
academia. Currently many tribal colleges do not offer four-year degrees and
the lack of deep historical roots in education is one of the barriers to
creating an academic culture.
A self-described, "nerdy Native" Clarkson said the organization is making a
concerted effort to reach American Indians. "We're going to look everywhere
to find other nerdy Natives," he said.
For more information, visit www.phdproject.com.