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Slow Going on Faculty Diversity

Study finds colleges have made little progress on faculty diversity, particularly at research-intensive universities, despite more conversations about race and inclusion.

July 2, 2019
 
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Despite more universities placing an emphasis on attempting to diversify their faculty ranks, a new study shows very little progress, particularly at research universities. And much of the success in faculty diversity has been in untenured positions.

According to the study, which was published by the Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy from the South Texas College of Law, Houston, colleges in recent years have not seen substantial growth in racial diversity among faculty members.

The study is based on federal data from 2013 to 2017. One of its authors, Julian Vasquez Heilig, the incoming dean of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky, said the motivation for the research came from his wondering if increased discussions of diversity and faculty recruiting programs had been successful in creating a more diverse professoriate.

“We wanted to test this hypothesis -- whether we in higher ed were improving diversity in those particular areas,” Vasquez Heilig said. “A lot of times faculty, when we have these discussions, talk like we’re reinventing the wheel. We have these ideas and these gut feelings of what might work. But I think we need to be more empirical and data driven on diversity.”

Diversity issues were shown to be particularly prevalent at doctoral-status institutions, a category representing universities with the heaviest research focus, where the number of black tenured faculty members grew by only one-tenth of a percent from 2013 to 2017, to comprise 4 percent of the total tenured faculty. The number of Hispanic and Latino tenured faculty members also grew by less than 1 percent (0.65 percent) in that time, and in 2017 was 4.6 percent of tenured faculty. Faculty positions filled by Asian Americans saw the largest amount of growth at doctoral-status institutions, with a 1.2 percent increase to make up 12.8 percent of all tenured faculty.

At master’s-level institutions, black faculty members made up a larger percentage at 5.6 percent of tenured faculty. But the group saw smaller growth during the years studied, with an increase of less than a tenth of a percent (0.07 percent). Hispanics and Latinos, who were 5 percent of tenured faculty at these institutions, in 2017 saw a 0.64 percent increase.

The study revealed moderate progress for gender diversity during the 2013 to 2017 period, with a 1.7 percent increase in the amount of women serving in faculty positions at doctoral-status institutions. The share of women serving in any faculty position is roughly on par with men, the study found, but women still only make up 32 percent of tenured positions.

“Despite concerted efforts, we really haven’t moved the needle that much in terms of ethno-racial and gender diversity,” Vasquez Heilig said. “Especially when you consider the growing population of communities of color in the United States, you haven’t resultantly seen the growth in faculty especially at the doctoral levels. Many institutions that are making the most noise -- the brand-name institutions -- have had some of the worst progress.”

The study also examined previous research regarding the positive effects of a diverse faculty on students, and how colleges and universities should continue to work to break down barriers that prevent more diversity among faculty members.

“It’s good for students to have role models who are people of color; it’s good for students to have faculty members with different backgrounds,” Vasquez Heilig said. “The majority of professors are still male. We need to continue to make the case, not only to our own institutions but to our broader communities at large, that diversity is good for students and that it’s an important part of the educational mission.”

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