Faculty diversity measures an uneven success

American universities love to trumpet the diversity of their student body, and the University of Tulsa fits right into this stereotype. A page called “Diversity at TU” on the university’s new website touts the international diversity of TU’s students, who number over 1,000 and hail from over 70 countries.

That page makes no mention of TU’s faculty.

Yet faculty diversity has been a concern of elite American universities since at least the 1990s. Schools like Harvard, Duke and Virginia Tech launched ambitious diversity programs in 1990s and 2000s, and others weren’t far behind.

Those who were here at the time say TU has been working in that direction since President Steadman Upham took the helm in 2004. Professor Vicki Limas of the College of Law was then chair of the Equal Access and Opportunity Committee (EAOC), a faculty and administrative body charged with monitoring the status of underrepresented groups at TU.

This chart shows the proportion of TU’s tenured and tenure-track faculty made up by underrepresented groups. Kyle Walker/Collegian

This chart shows the proportion of TU’s tenured and tenure-track faculty made up by underrepresented groups.
Kyle Walker/Collegian

“When President Upham started,” Limas said, “one of his absolute priorities was to diversify the faculty. That’s been a focus of the administration.”

In the ten years since 2004, TU has seen mixed success.

Diversity efforts

Upham enlisted the help of the EAOC in 2006, when a donation from the Chapman Trusts allowed the university to inaugurate its Wellspring program, which added nine new junior faculty positions starting in 2007.

In his March 2006 Spring Letter to the Campus Community, Upham wrote that he had asked the EAOC to “serve in an advisory capacity” on each of the Wellspring searches “to make sure we take full advantage of this opportunity to diversify the faculty.”

The Wellspring program was not specifically aimed at improving diversity, according to Provost Roger Blais. Though it did present an opportunity. Blais says that TU does what it can to hire diverse faculty for both Wellspring and regular positions.

This includes maintaining annual diversity placement goals, set by the administration. According to Wayne Paulison, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, TU has regularly exceeded these goals
“For the past five years … minorities comprised an average of 21.3 percent of newly hired faculty,” Paulison said. The average placement goal for those years was 18.6 percent.

“During the period of Nov. 1, 2013, through Oct. 31, 2014, TU hired 34 faculty members. Of this number, 15 were female and 10 were minorities,” according to Paulison.

But the hiring process is complicated. Human Resources does not hire faculty—other faculty do, which means that the faculty need to be as committed to diversity as the administration. At least, that’s the view of Dr. JC Diaz, Professor of Computer Science and current chair of the EAOC.

“To change you’ve got to change the culture,” Diaz said. “It’s to the advantage of TU to have a diverse faculty—so we need faculty to understand that.”

Limas says that the College of Law already does. “We try to put a diverse group of people on the hiring committee,” she said. That committee also includes a student representative.

Recruiting and maintaining a diverse faculty is not as simple as making diverse hires. Those new professors need to stick around. Limas, Diaz and Dr. Susan Chase, Chair of Sociology, all identified retention as a major challenge to diversity efforts.

Demographic changes

The high point of racial and ethnic diversity among TU faculty came in 2012, when members of underrepresented groups made up 16.5 percent of TU’s tenured and tenure-track faculty, according to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The next year, that number fell to 13.9 percent, close to TU’s ten-year average for 2004–2014 of 14.4. Last fall, it rose to 15.6 percent. When President Upham took office in 2004, underrepresented groups made up 12.6 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Though they seem revealing, these numbers actually conceal a great deal of important information about what particular groups are represented in TU’s faculty.

For example, during the period 2004–2014, the number of black faculty members was very nearly constant. That number? Three. At present, African-Americans make up 0.9 percent of all faculty at TU.

According to Dr. JC Diaz, Professor of Computer Science and current chair of the Equal Access and Opportunity Committee, the lack of African-American professors is the committee’s current focus.

TU initially made gains in gender diversity, but these vanished quickly. The proportion of women among tenured and tenure-track faculty started at 26.5 percent in 2004, rose to 27.5 percent by 2006, but fell to 23.2 percent in 2014.

Other groups are much better represented or saw gains during this period.

Native Americans, for instance, are much better represented at TU than at other schools like it. By 2014, TU had gained 14 Native American faculty for a total of 28. In 2004, Native Americans made up 3.8 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty. They now make up 4.2 percent.

At many similar institutions, this is not the case. In 2013, Native Americans made up less than 0.5 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty at each of the following universities: Baylor, Duke, Rice, SMU, TCU, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Washington University in St. Louis.

Faculty members of Asian descent are also well represented at TU, consistently making up five to six percent of tenured faculty—8 percent in 2014.

The number of Hispanic professors in tenured or tenure-track positions had doubled by 2012. In 2004 they made up 1.3 percent of those positions. They now make up 2.3 percent.

Evaluating diversity

“Our faculty isn’t representative of our community,” explained Dr. Scott Holmstrom, Professor of Physics.

Holmstrom is a member of this year’s University Seminar, a group of faculty and administrators charged with crafting innovative responses to challenges facing the university. His topic at the seminar is faculty diversity.

“‘Community’ can be as big as you want,” he said, but the student population is a good yardstick. It’s important to have a diverse faculty, he said, not simply for the sake of diversity itself, but for the sake of students and the academic life of the university.
“If you have a faculty and administration that is diverse, you’re validating the presence of diverse students,” he said.

Dr. Susan Chase, Chair of Sociology, agreed. “All students should be able to see people like them—as well as people different from them—reflected at all levels of the university,” she said.

So how well does TU’s faculty reflect its student body? Here, too, results are uneven. TU’s student body is unique in that around one quarter of its members are international. Since the NCES only records the race and ethnicity of U.S. citizens or green card holders, no effective comparison can really be made with respect to international diversity. This analysis must confine itself to the domestic student body. Data are from 2013.

Excluding international students, the student body has a leg up on the faculty when it comes to aggregate diversity: underrepresented groups make up roughly 22 percent of the domestic student body, but only 16 percent of all domestic faculty.

But as before, things get complicated when the populations are broken down by group.

Of all underrepresented groups, the only one where the proportion of faculty from that group equals or exceeds the proportion of students is Asians. Native American, African-American and Hispanic faculty all make up a smaller proportion of total faculty than students from those groups do of the student body.

The most striking example is that of African-Americans. In 2013, TU had 3 African-American faculty (0.9 percent), but 181 African-American students (5.3 percent).

Diversity has other impacts as well. Holmstrom pointed to a decade of psychological research that correlates diversity with positive outcomes (like better group problem solving) and homogeneity with negative outcomes (like decreased innovation).

“There’s real tangible value in diversity,” he said. “It may be harder to work in a diverse environment … but that’s not what makes you smarter. Diversity makes us smarter. Diversity makes us a stronger institution.”

TU is required by law to report to the NCES. The most recent statistics available through NCES go up to 2013. Data for 2014 were provided by TU.

Post Author: tucollegian

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