New Numbers on Underrepresented Faculty Members

Research on women and minorities in the sciences and social sciences examines the entire population of professors at top 100 departments in 15 fields.
November 1, 2007

A new survey of the top 100 departments in 15 science and engineering disciplines (including the social sciences) finds that "few science and engineering departments have more than a single [underrepresented minority] faculty member." Despite the increased representation of members of minority groups among bachelor's and Ph.D. degree recipients, the analysis finds that the proportion of black, Hispanic and Native American instructors generally drops at every point in the academic pipeline, with the majority of minority faculty members concentrated at the assistant professor level.

"A National Analysis of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities," by Donna J. Nelson, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma, differs from previous studies in one key way. By surveying department chairs (and, in a limited number of cases when data were not available through chairs, scanning departmental Web sites and directories), Nelson collected information on the entire population of tenured and tenure-track faculty at every top 100 department in each of the 15 fields (as ranked by the National Science Foundation based on research expenditures), as opposed to just a sample.

"In some cases there are zero people from underrepresented groups" at particular faculty ranks in particular disciplines across all the departments surveyed, Nelson said at a press briefing in Washington Wednesday. Without the entire population represented, Nelson said, it would be impossible to pinpoint some of those prominent zeros. Astronomy, for instance, has no black or Native American assistant professors at any of the top departments (40 departments in astronomy's case because NSF only ranks the top 40 in the discipline). And there's not a single Native American professor at any rank in astronomy or civil engineering.

Among the other results:

  • The proportion of underrepresented minorities -- defined in the report as black, Hispanic and Native American -- together made up 28.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2006. But their representation among the faculty ranks at all levels in top departments in 2007 varied from 2.2 percent (astronomy) to 13.5 percent (sociology). Among the engineering disciplines, civil engineering, with 6.1 percent of the faculty identifying as members of the underrepresented minority groups, had the highest representation, and electrical engineering, with 3.3 percent, the lowest.
  • Only five of nine engineering and physical science disciplines increased their proportion of minority faculty from 2002 to 2007.
  • Nelson found a number of disparities between the number of minority Ph.D. recipients in the hiring pool and the racial distribution of assistant professors (the newly hired). In computer science, for instance, 3.2 percent of Ph.D. recipients between 1996 and 2005 were black, while blacks made up 1.8 percent of assistant professors at top 100 departments in 2007 (and 1.3 percent among the top 50).
  • Further up the ranks, the proportion of minorities tends to fall further. Among the top 50 departments, only three disciplines -- chemistry, math and electrical engineering -- had more minority associate rather than assistant professors. And none had a majority of their minority faculty at the full professor rank (Nelson writes that the opposite can be said for white males).
  • As for women, despite the fact that they make up more than 50 percent of bachelor's degree recipients in fields like chemistry and political science, in those fields they represent, respectively, 13.7 and 26.1 percent of all professors at top 100 departments.

The full report, including institution-level data, is available online.


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