Minorities still underrepresented among University’s tenured faculty

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 7:48pm


Illustration by Olivia Stillman/Daily

Along with efforts to increase student diversity on campus, the 42-page Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan outlines the need to increase diversity among faculty. As of the plan’s launch last October, the percentage of underrepresented-minority tenured faculty at the University of Michigan has not changed from 2011 to 2016, according to records compiled by University Public Affairs.

In a headcount of total tenured and tenure-track faculty between 2011 and 2016, the total percentage of all minorities increased by 2 percent—from 24 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2016, according to the Faculty Headcount report from the Office of Budget and Planning. The percentage of female tenured faculty also increased: from 30 percent in 2011 to 34 percent in 2016. While these numbers appear to show a gradual increase in faculty diversification that the DEI plan can improve upon, Alec Gallimore, the dean of the College of Engineering, said Asian populations account for a large percentage of University faculty and can warp diversity statistics.

“I knew that we could not have 20-something percent underrepresented minorities on the faculty at the University of Michigan,” he said. “That didn’t make sense. Asian-Americans, in any field like engineering … are often overrepresented in terms of percentage of students and faculty versus underrepresented minorities, which are obviously underrepresented.”

The underrepresented minorities included in the data — composing categories of Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and two or more races — show a more flatlined percentage between the years the data covers. From 2011 to 2016, the proportion of such faculty stayed at 10 percent. 

In an interview, Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion, said the data shows more work has to be done to increase diversity among faculty, but also noted figures from individual colleges may look different.

“I think it’s very complex,” Sellers said. “I think we have a ways to go to diversifying our faculty to look broader and look like the larger society and larger community. That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing our DEI work. At the same point in time, those numbers themselves, while important, don’t tell the whole story. They look different in different contexts and different spaces.”

According to an excerpt from the College of Engineering’s annual Office of the Provost report provided by Gallimore, women make up 20 percent of engineering tenure and tenure-track faculty and underrepresented minorities make up 6 percent. Advance gathered data from 2016 on LSA and the Medical School, which reported an LSA tenure and tenure-track underrepresented-minority percentage of 6 percent and a Medical School (Basic Sciences) percentage of 5 percent.

Tabbye Chavous, the director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity and Education and a professor of education and psychology, said the larger data for all minorities and women should not give a false sense of security in the University’s efforts to improve diversity. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2013 the national underrepresented minority percentage of all faculty as roughly 11.8 percent. When calculated, Stanford University’s 2015 underrepresented-minority faculty statistic was roughly 11 percent. 

“It think it reflects progress and, unfortunately, data that are often stronger than other higher education institutions,” she said. “That said, I don’t think we should be satisfied. … We have a lot of work to do to increase those numbers.”

Through the DEI rollout and public statements this year, President Mark Schlissel has stressed the importance of diversity in academia multiple times. In October, he said he wants everyone to be able to work and improve the quality of education at the University.

“We cannot live up to our full potential as a university unless everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and to benefit,” he said.

Sellers said this current lack of diversity for tenured faculty limits the ability of the University to expand its pedagogical horizons to truly innovate.

“It’s not just diversity in terms of the demographics, it’s diversity with respect to the nature and the content of the scholarship and pedagogy that’s being delivered then is really important,” Sellers said. “We know that having diverse perspectives leads to more creative problem solving, leads to more problem-solving solutions and ultimately to more effective problem solving.”

Sections of the DEI underline the consequences a lack of diversity has on the University. The overarching plan also created a working group under the Office of the Provost to investigate how best to incorporate faculty DEI contributions in tenure reviews.

“Women and underrepresented minority faculty are more likely to report experiences of bias and exclusion and are more likely to report not having influence and voice within their departments,” the plan reads.

While the DEI mentions plans in place at the University and new initiatives to increase faculty diversity, Chavous said concrete action and visible results are different than simply listing resources.

“The elements are in the plan,” she said. “There’s real attention and resources to support units in recruiting faculty and developing better practices for recruitment … and attention to issues of retention, but I think the magic will come in the implementation. The plan, the elements are there, the resources are there, accountability is there but I think it will be critically important to pay attention to implementation.”

After working on and researching the tenure track for a number of years at the University, the actual process for being promoted to tenure is another hurdle limiting a diverse faculty body. The number of panels formed and decisions made to award tenure ultimately involve dozens of University faculty: department professors, department chairs, deans, the president and the regents are all consulted in the decision. Because of the large number of people involved in promotional decisions, Gallimore argued implicit bias can stifle diversity of tenured faculty, according to University sources.

Bias in the hiring process, he said, is a large cause of the University’s lack of diversity and colleges’ administrators should try and work to acknowledge bias and improve hiring practices.

“We all suffer from unconscious bias,” Gallimore said. “That’s what part of being human is about, and the question is how do we recognize that we all suffer from unconscious bias, how do we recognize that people who, for example, write letters also suffer from unconscious bias and how do we compensate for that when we’re evaluating potential faculty members, having discussions about faculty members, frankly about promotion and tenure, etc.”

The University’s Advance program is dedicated to combat racial and gender bias in the hiring process and retain recruited faculty. The center offers STRIDE workshops — which are mentioned in the DEI as a method of increasing diversity — to work with faculty search committee members throughout the school year promote the usage of diverse hiring pools and the unbiased hiring of the most qualified candidates.

Advance director Jennifer Linderman said the STRIDE workshops aim to help search committees recognize their bias, improve their hiring techniques and therefore increase the number of diverse tenure-track faculty members. She said implicit bias forms when search committees unconsciously rely on stereotypes.

“There’s a number of studies that show that when people evaluate, whether it’s for any kind of hiring, that it’s easy to make quick judgments and really not do a good job of taking a look at the qualifications of the candidates and it’s easy to fall back on stereotypes,” she said. “So what we need are practices that help us not fall back on those stereotypes when we’re looking to see who we want to interview.”

Before the interview process even begins, hiring officials run into the roadblock of finding a diverse pool of candidates. According to Sellers, schools and colleges must submit their candidate pools to the Office of the Dean to check for diversity before they allow individual candidates to be requested for interviews.

With talk of increasing the denominator on diverse faculty and getting them on the tenure-track, Chavous said tokenization can often occur and drive away candidates. Advance reported 18 percent of men of color within STEM faculty experienced some form of racial discrimination in 2012. If candidates feel as though they are only being considered for their gender or the color of their skin, she said, the University’s tenured faculty will never mirror the global academic community.

“In the recruitment process, as candidates are brought to campus, making sure they feel welcome, that they don’t feel tokenized like you’re only here for your diversity, that they have the opportunity to meet people from a range of backgrounds during their visit (is important),” she said. “One of the best ways of recruiting someone is showing them a positive climate and culture. If departments and units are struggling with non-inclusive cultures, then that’s going to be really hard for them to recruit people from diverse backgrounds.”

This article is the second part of "Hurdles," an ongoing series of articles on institutional barriers faced by all members of the campus community.