Faculties So White

A new report underscores how faculty diversity and student success go “hand-in-hand” and asks, “Why are university faculties so white?”

December 2, 2022
An emblem representing diversity.
Faculty diversity isn’t meeting student need, according to the Education Trust.
(Cienpies/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Faculty diversity is positively associated with student success across a variety of metrics. Black and Latino students are more likely to graduate when they see themselves represented in their instructors, for instance. But the benefits of faculty diversity aren’t just evident among historically underrepresented students: research suggests that engaging with diverse instructors, perspectives and ideas benefits all students—including in the development of empathy and problem-solving skills.

So how are institutions doing with respect to faculty diversity? Not great, says a new report from the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that promotes high academic achievement for all students.

As part of the analysis, researchers examined faculty diversity relative to student diversity, as well as hiring equity, tenure equity and changes in faculty representation over time for Black and Latino faculty members at 543 public, four-year institutions. The colleges and universities were given a score of zero to 100 based on faculty diversity, hiring equity and tenure equity. Numerical ratings were then translated to letter grades, with 60 being the threshold for failing (F).

When researchers compared Black and Latino faculty representation against student enrollment in 2020, some 57 percent of institutions got F’s for Black faculty diversity. Nearly 80 percent failed on Latino faculty diversity. This part of the analysis worked as follows: if an institution had, say, a student population that was 10 percent Black and a faculty body that was 10 percent Black, the institution would be scored 100. The lower the score, the bigger the discrepancy between student and faculty representation.

The colleges and universities examined didn’t fare much better on the other metrics. On hiring equity—or the degree to which Black and Latino faculty members are disproportionately hired for contingent rather than tenure-track positions—researchers found these scholars were underrepresented among tenured and tenure-track professors. This is consistent with existing data on who gets the more secure, most fairly compensated faculty jobs.

For Black faculty hires, nearly a quarter of institutions received an F grade. At 35 institutions, all new Black faculty members were hired off the tenure track, and 50 institutions didn’t hire any new Black faculty at all. (For each racial group, Ed Trust divided the percentage of new tenure-track or tenured hires by the percentage of new faculty members not on the tenure track from 2016 to 2020.)

Similarly, a quarter of institutions earned an F for having too few new Latino faculty hires. Forty-eight institutions (9 percent of the sample) hired no new Latino faculty onto the tenure track in the period studied, and 76 institutions (15 percent) had zero new Latino faculty hires whatsoever.

Regarding tenure equity, or how many Black and Latino professors have tenure relative to the share of professors over all who have tenure within an institution, researchers gave 45 percent of the sample A grades and 16 percent F grades. Twenty-three institutions (4 percent) had no Black faculty at all and earned no grade.

Some 55 percent of institutions received an A grade for Latino faculty tenure equity; 14 percent got F’s. Four percent of the sample had no Latino faculty members and couldn’t be graded this way as a result.

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When the researchers looked at faculty demographic changes over time, they found that little progress had been made on faculty diversity at public colleges and universities in the 15 years leading up to 2020. The greatest improvement in Black and Latino faculty diversity was at institutions that had zero Black or Latino faculty members in 2005, “so any increase amounted to a large percentage point increase,” the report says. Along these lines, another study from 2019 found faculty diversity increased very little nationwide from 2013 to 2017, with large research institutions showing the least progress of all.

Minority-serving institutions represented many of the institutions with the largest increases in Black and Latino faculty over the last 15 years. Five of the top 10 institutions with the highest change in the percentage of Black faculty were historically or predominantly Black. In a parallel finding, eight of the top 10 institutions with the highest change in the percentage of Latino faculty over time are designated Hispanic-serving institutions.

Recommendations

“If institutions are going to increase faculty diversity, they will need to examine their hiring and retention practices, improve campus racial climates, and make resources available to faculty members of color, so they can build and hone their skills and find community,” says Ed Trust’s report, called “Faculty Diversity and Student Success Go Hand-in-Hand, So Why Are University Faculties So White?”

Leaders, the report says, “should ensure that their actions align with their stated missions and strategic goals for faculty diversity. But that’s just for starters.”

Among other recommendations, the report suggests that campus decision-makers and advocates adopt clear goals to increase access, persistence and retention among students—and develop specific targets for increasing Black and Latino faculty members. Campus racial climate is another key issue, the report says.

State policy makers are advised to include faculty diversity in the strategic planning process by “prioritizing funding for faculty diversity initiatives, setting goals and benchmarks, collaborating with institutional leaders, and creating incentive programs.” Ed Trust also urges the rescission of nine states’ bans on affirmative action and more funding for minority-serving institutions.

At the federal level, Ed Trust recommends executive action to encourage diversity and inclusion efforts and targeted funding for institutions and efforts that support underrepresented students.

Asked why faculty diversity remains elusive despite its connection to student success, Gabriel Montague, an Ed Trust analyst and one of the report’s authors, said Thursday, “We believe the issue is less about the availability of qualified candidates and more about ensuring campus priorities are aligned with faculty diversity initiatives. If existing hiring and retention policies are not both aligned with the larger campus mission and consider ways to erase bias and racism in the hiring process, departmental leaders will continue to find increasing faculty diversity difficult.”

University leaders, Montague added, “need to consider quantity and quality when taking action to improve faculty diversity by increasing funding for research opportunities for graduate students and early-career faculty, focus on improving campus racial climates by creating a psychologically and culturally safe climate with a well-balanced workload.”

Carol A. Carman, an associate professor of health professions at the University of Texas Medical Branch, whose own work has identified a strong positive relationship between student success and faculty diversity at the community college level, said she liked Montague and his team’s methodology—especially how they measured faculty diversity relative to student diversity. Carman also said she was disappointed but not surprised by the overall findings.

“I would have preferred to have seen some overall improvement in faculty diversity in the measured areas since my last article in this field, but I’m not surprised that higher ed in general is slow to make measurable change in faculty representation,” Carman said. “I think in higher ed in general that the leaders have learned to talk the talk, but I’m not surprised to see evidence they are not yet all walking the walk. Change in higher ed also tends to move slowly, with new policies having to make their way through several committees, and probably also legal.”

Regardless, she said, “we should be doing so more swiftly than we currently are.”

John B. King Jr., president of the Ed Trust, said the new report "makes clear that the faculty diversity gap is an urgent national challenge and that there are concrete actions policymakers and higher education institutions can and should take. To advance faculty diversity, we can begin by investing in a diverse talent pipeline—including dedicating resources to research opportunities, mentorship and graduate school aid for students of color, making hiring, tenure and promotion practices more equitable, and ensuring inclusive campus climates.”

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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