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The provosts of American colleges and universities aren't sure their institutions will meet their targets for diversifying the faculty.

At a time when many institutions are facing pressure to hire more minority faculty members, provosts are uncertain about whether their institutions and others will be able to meet targets for diversifying their faculties -- and a significant minority of provosts believe those targets are unrealistic.

At the same time, substantial majorities favor requiring at least one course on a diversity-related topic for all undergraduates.

About the Survey

Inside Higher Ed’s 2017 Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers was conducted in conjunction with Gallup. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Inside Higher Ed regularly surveys key higher ed professionals on a range of topics.

On Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. Eastern, Inside Higher Ed Editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman will present a free webinar on the results and take your questions. Sign up here.

The Inside Higher Ed survey of provosts was made possible in part by advertising from Taskstream, Jenzabar, VitalSource, D2L Corporation and iDesign.

These are some of the findings of the 2017 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers, conducted by Gallup and answered by 654 provosts or chief academic officers. The academic leaders received complete anonymity on their responses, but their answers were coded by institution to allow for analysis by sector in some cases. You can download the full report on the survey's questions and responses here.

Diversifying the Faculty and the Curriculum

Many colleges and universities have for years been stating that they are trying to attract more minority faculty members. And for just as long, critics have been saying that colleges aren't doing all they can. This issue has taken on new urgency in the last two years as minority student protests on many campuses have demanded a more diversified faculty -- and many colleges have made specific pledges to hire more minority professors.

Those pledges differ widely but generally involve significant gains in diversity with timetables and targets. Provosts oversee the academic side of the house in higher education -- and are oftentimes being charged with making progress on these pledges, which is complicated by the decentralization of faculty hiring at many institutions. And the survey results suggest that the provosts have very mixed feelings about the realism of these targets, even if they admire the goals.

First, consider the starting point: a study released in November found that members of underrepresented minority groups held approximately 13 percent of faculty jobs in 2013, up from 9 percent in 1993. Yet they still only hold 10 percent of tenured jobs, according to the study. Women now hold 49 percent of total faculty positions but just 38 percent of tenured jobs. To the extent that student demands have focused on faculty rank, they are seeking progress in filling tenure-track lines, not adjunct positions. Further, many fear that the current round of initiatives, some of which involve wealthy, prestigious institutions, are more likely to result in moving around minority talent than growing its numbers.

Of the provosts surveyed, 24 percent (a slightly higher share in private higher education than in public) say their institutions now have specific targets for increasing the number or percentage of minority faculty members. The provosts also generally believe that their departments are trying hard. Asked if their academic departments "place a high value on diversity in the hiring process," 53 percent agree or strongly agree. Only 15 percent disagree or strongly disagree.

So are the provosts confident that we are about to see gains in minority faculty hiring? Not so much.

Some of the key findings:

  • Asked if they are confident that they can meet their goals for minority faculty hiring, 31 percent of provosts agree or strongly agree that they can, while another 31 percent disagree or strongly disagree.
  • Provosts are more likely to think that their targets are unrealistic (35 percent) than that they are realistic (29 percent).
  • A large majority (62 percent) of provosts agreed or strongly agreed that "my college will need to make hiring decisions in new ways in order to achieve meaningful increases in the number of minority faculty members." Only 20 percent of provosts disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.

Provosts are also the lead administrators in working with faculty members on the curriculum -- another area receiving scrutiny from minority students and others concerned about diversity.

On this issue, the survey found wide support for efforts to add courses and programs related to diversity, and for requiring undergraduates to take courses that in some ways focus on diversity. Support was less strong for adding funds to departments that focus on the study of minority groups.

At the same time, the provosts strongly back the idea that curricular changes requested by minority students should be reviewed by the faculty, and not just agreed to by administrators. And across categories, private institution provosts were more supportive of shifts on diversity in the curriculum than were those in public higher education.

Diversity in the Curriculum

Statement % Agree - Private % Disagree - Private % Agree - All Public % Disagree - All Public % Agree - Community Colleges % Disagree - Community Colleges
The curriculum at my college should be revised to add emphasis on diversity. 45% 23% 40% 26% 36% 26%
Undergraduates should be required to take at least one course dealing with diversity. 80% 8% 69% 17% 64% 20%
Diversity requirements improve the campus experience for all students. 77% 6% 71% 12% 65% 14%
Colleges should add support (e.g., money, positions) for departments that focus on the study of minority groups. 32% 27% 25% 38% 19% 42%
My college should add support (e.g., money, positions) for departments that focus on the study of minority groups. 28% 31% 30% 37% 29% 40%
Demands of student groups related to curriculum should be turned over to faculty bodies for review and action, and should not be acted on by administrators. 56% 20% 58% 27% 50% 31%

In terms of diversity requirements, the survey suggests that provosts' attitudes are more supportive at institutions that already have them (52 percent of public institutions in the survey and 75 percent in private higher education).

Eighty-two percent of provosts at colleges with a diversity course requirement agree that undergraduates should be required to take a course on diversity, including 52 percent who strongly agree. That compares with 60 percent of provosts at colleges without a diversity requirement, with just 23 percent of CAOs at those schools expressing strong agreement.

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