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Stalled Progress

May 19, 2005

The hiring of female faculty members is stalled needlessly at the University of California, charges a report analyzing new hires.

For the last two years, 36 percent of new faculty hires in the university have been women, which is one percentage point less than the figure for the 1993-94 academic year. Shortly after the hiring of women reached that level, the University of California Board of Regents -- and then the state's voters -- barred the use of race- or gender-based affirmative action in hiring and admissions, and the percentage of new hires who were women dropped to 25 percent.

The report -- by four faculty members at the University of California at Davis -- comes at a time that the 10-campus university system is in the midst of a hiring boom brought on both by growth and the need to replace retiring professors. And the authors also note that significant increases in the number of Ph.D.'s earned by women should make it easier for the university system to be hiring women.

"When over 45 percent of all Ph.D.'s in 2003 were awarded to women, it is appalling that one of the nation's premier universities continues to fall short in the hiring of women faculty," said Martha West, a professor of law at Davis and one of the authors of the report. She said she feared that "the Larry Summers view of the world may still be standard operating procedure at UC."

Much analysis of equity in the faculty ranks -- in California and elsewhere -- focuses on new hires. The generations of academics who make up the senior professoriate were hired and promoted in an age when there were far fewer female and minority academics vying for positions -- and those who did apply faced significant discrimination. So a good way to measure institutional progress on diversifying the faculty is to focus on new hires, not the total faculty.

Applying that standard, West said that there was much for California to be proud of -- at its Berkeley campus. That campus hired women for 48 percent of the open faculty positions last year and was the only campus where that percentage exceeded the percentage of new Ph.D.'s going to women. The campus that hired the lowest proportion of women -- 22 percent -- was Riverside.

A spokesman for Riverside said that the figures were accurate, and were a cause for concern. Riverside recently hired Yolanda Moses, a former college and association president, as a special assistant to the chancellor and she is developing specific plans to promote more diversity in hiring.

The report on the hiring in the system also noted differences among those hired at the assistant professor and more senior levels. The pools and hires for assistant professor positions are more diverse, the report said. It urged the university system as a result to set a goal of having 80 percent of hiring be at the assistant professor level. Currently, about 66 percent of new faculty hires are assistant professors.

Sheila O'Rourke, executive director for academic advancement for the California system, said that she shared the concerns of the authors of the report, but not their pessimism about progress. O'Rourke said that although the percentage remained flat this year, the long-term trends are positive. She also noted that 4 of the 10 chancellors in the system are women.

O'Rourke questioned whether the comparisons in the report between new Ph.D.'s and the university's hires were fair. Many doctorates are awarded to women in fields, like education, in which the university does relatively little hiring. Pools need to be evaluated discipline by discipline, O'Rourke said.

And although assistant professor searches are more likely to produce diverse pools, O'Rourke said that the central administration couldn't tell campuses what kinds of searches to do. "Fundamentally that's a campus position and there are all kinds of factors in academic planning that come into play," she said. "That's just the decentralized nature of planning."

 

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