For all the ivy armor on its walls, this nation’s cohort of elite universites still has a visible Achilles’ heel when it comes to faculty diversity.
Last month, a graduate student group at Yale University released a report criticizing America’s top institutions, particularly those in the Ivy League, as “remain[ing] significantly closed to all but a few, based not only on ability but also on race, sex, and class.”
The report, “The (Un)Changing Face of the Ivy League,” used data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems at the U.S. Department of Education to highlight the scarcity of minority professors in academia and the inequality minorities and women faced at top institutions.
According to the document, from 1993 to 2003 the percentage of tenured black and Hispanic faculty at Ivy Leagues hardly budged, from three percent to four percent.
Minority professors also barely inched into tenure-track positions, the entry-level jobs that open the door for tenure later on, stated the report. In the same ten year span, the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in these positions increased one percent, from five to six. Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, labor economics, attributed the small changes to a small pool of available candidates.
“The pool of Ph.D’s that are underrepresented minorities is very small,” said Enhrenberg, who is also Director of Cornell Higher Education Research Institute “Part of it is that on average, underrepresented minorities are coming from familes which have lower socioeconomics than their white counterparts.”
“Money becomes a measure of success,” he said, pointing to the fact that a larger proportion of minorities become lawyers and doctors rather than Ph.D students.
Cornell’s numbers for black and Hispanic faculty were comparable to those in the report. According to the University’s May 2004 report, “Summary Update: Progress Towards Diversity and Inclusion,” in 1993 the percentage of tenure-track minority faculty was 3.8 percent; in 2003, that number increased to 5.5 percent.
In the same ten years, the number of women receiving tenure appointments relative to the total numer of tenure appointments also showed a slight increase. In 1993 women faculty at Cornell received 12 out of the total 61 tenure appointments; in 2003 they received 11 out of 47 appointments. For tenure track, the numbers were higher: women received 14 out of 40 appointments in 1993 and 23 out of 63 appointments in 2003.
Ehrenberg explained that for women, the difficulty in balancing a professional career with family life can deter them from research universities.
“We would like to do better, but we’re doing better than the Ivy League as a whole,” Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development, said about Cornell’s numbers.
Cornell created Harris’s position in 2000 to address faculty diversity issues and in particular to focus on the recruitment and retention of minority and faculty professors.
Harris said part of his job is to review departments’ search plans for faculty positions and ensure that they are advertising broadly. He also brings resources for recruiting diverse faculty members to the attention of these departments.
Departments must submit a search plan to Harris for tenure and tenure-track positions unless they are seeking to appoint a woman or minority member. Harris said that in those situations, they can request a waiver on the search plan.
Many of the University’s colleges emphasize diversity recruitment. Michael Spencer, associate dean of the engineering college, said, “I think that the school of engineering is taking very positive steps to aggresively research out and recruit qualified faculty members.” “If there is an outstanding minority faculty member who is identified by other faculty members or by a reputation to the department,” Spencer continued, “the college will make every effort to make a match with that faculty member if he or she is interested in coming to Cornell.”
Cornell faces a unique problem in hiring minorities, said Enhrenberg, because it is geographically isolated from major cities, where more minorities are concentrated.
“Everyone likes to be around people like them,” he explained. Potential minority faculty “have to decide whether this would be an attractive place to bring up their families,” he continued. “I think some of them will say no.”
Harris likewise highlighted the composition of the applicant pool as one reason for the scarcity of minorities and women in academia. “In part, it’s the availablity of women and minority for faculty positions, especially in science and engineering,” he said.
Dean of faculty Charles Walcott ’59 said that because of this shortage, the applicants Cornell seeks to hire are often also entertaining offers from Harvard, Yale and other elite institutions.
“If you decide you want to make a big difference right away, you have to hire away from other universities,” he said.
However, others believe those at the hiring end may also contribute to the scarcity of minority faculty.
Prof. Michael Jones-Correa, government, agreed that the applicant pool is limited — African-americans and Hispanics combined earn about four percent of the Ph.D’s in Political Science.
“Having said that,” he continued, “many universities have a very narrow conception of where to look for their candidates. They look for candidates who are graduating from peer institutions.”
“One of the comments one often hears, although not from Cornell, is that the pool is very small and they can’t hire anybody,” said Jones-Correa. “Elite universities tend to artifically restrict the pool they’re looking at,” he said. He also said that Cornell was not one of the schools that did this.
The process of tenure appointments may leave room for subtle discrimination, according to Prof. Ileen DeVault, collective bargaining. “Academia is very tricky in some ways because on the one hand, there are very clear rules about what you have to do to get tenure, what you have to do to get promoted,” she said. “On the other hand, all of the actual decisions about that are suppose to be made in total secrecy and confidentality. It means that you don’t know what was actually said by different people.”
DeVault said,”It makes it possible for people to make decisions on the basis of their own prejudices and they don’t even necessarily have to voice those prejudices, they just vote no.”
One widely held view is that the scarcity of minority and female faculty must be addressed at the graduate and even the undergraduate level. “One can’t start working on this from the top-down; one has to work on this from the bottom-up,” said Prof. Eva Tardos, computer science. “We have to work on the pipeline,” Tardos continued, reiterating the beliefs of many other professors.
On his part, Enhrenberg encouraged faculty to hire minority and female undergraduates as research assistants and nurture them for graduate and postdoctoral study.
Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Staff Writer