Faculty Diversity

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Race, ethnicity, and gender are the most common characteristics that institutions observe in order to measure faculty diversity. Individuals from various minority or racial/ethnic groups (e.g., American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, African American, and Hispanic) comprise nearly 30 percent of the population but account for only 15 percent of the professoriate. While females constitute 51 percent of the population; their representation in academe is 45 percent. An even broader approach to faculty diversity involves age, socioeconomic background, national origin, sexual orientation, and diverse learning styles and opinions.

Higher education institutions are generally concerned with structural diversity, which is the numerical representation of women and people of different racial and ethnic groups. Research confirms that institutions desiring to improve the campus climate for diversity must first increase the structural diversity of the institution. Increasing the structural diversity provides a "critical mass" of individuals from diverse social and cultural backgrounds who interact across racial/ethnic and gender groups. However, improving structural diversity alone will not enhance the environment that faculty encounter. Institutions must take steps to transform the psychological and behavioral climate if faculty diversity and all that it encompasses is to be achieved. For example, the diversity of thought and scholarship includes building a group of faculty with different opinions who work within competing paradigms and whose differences serve to foster intellectual growth.

The Growth of Faculty Diversity as an Ideal

In order to understand why diversity has become a worthy goal, one must first understand that, until the latter part of the twentieth century, the professoriate in the western world was composed almost exclusively of wealthy, heterosexual males of Caucasian descent. Prominent studies in 1969 and 1975 include data on changes in faculty background characteristics, but a 20-year lag in the observation of some of these variables left a critical void in the literature pertaining to the changing professoriate. Additionally, all of the previous studies discussed the social origins of faculty across both age and gender. However, none of these studies reported differences in socioeconomic background relative to race.

Although the face of America began to evolve dramatically in the late 1800s with the introduction of newly-freed slaves into society and, later, with the tremendous infusion of immigrants, the representation of various racial/ethnic groups in the ranks of the professoriate remained at insignificant levels throughout much of the twentieth century. It was not until the 1973 court decision of Adams v. Richardson, which mandated an increase in minority faculty at public institutions, that noticeable numbers of minority faculty were hired at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). However, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), hispanic serving institutions (HSIs) and tribal colleges (TCs) have employed faculty from diverse racial and ethnic groups since their inceptions. Moreover, at least one-third of minority faculty members are employed at HBCUs, HSIs, and TCs, further minimizing their presence at PWIs. For example, 48 percent of full-time African-American faculty work at HBCUs.

The passage of equal employment legislation and the momentum of the civil rights movement in the 1960s stimulated greater participation of women in the workforce. By 1970, 23 percent of all faculty members were females. The next three decades saw female faculty increase to 39 percent in 1993, of which 33 percent were full-time. While encouraging, these gains have been mitigated by the disproportionate representation of women at two-year institutions in non-tenured and part-time positions.

Prompted by affirmative action and encouraged by influential idealists in academe, most colleges and universities continue to espouse the notion that having a diverse faculty can be a positive force in the attempt to increase the breadth of scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge in general. Though some institutions have committed themselves to this ideal in varying degrees and with differing interpretations, the goal of fostering a more diverse faculty seems to have widespread appeal in mainstream post-secondary institutions, though the move from idea to praxis is an arduous one.

Barriers in the Academic Workplace

Some studies reveal that this paucity of diversity may simply be related to a problem of supply and demand. For example, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics are underrepresented in graduate schools, resulting in the fact that there are relatively few people from these groups available for faculty positions. Therefore, it would seem that an obvious solution would be to increase the supply by encouraging persons of color to attain doctoral degrees, especially in those fields where their numbers are the smallest (e.g., engineering). Opponents of the



educational pipeline approach maintain that a greater supply will not remove the other barriers within academia that hinder institutional and individual efforts at promoting growth in faculty diversity across gender and racial/ethnic groups.

A review of the literature reveals several common barriers that women and minority faculty encounter across all institutional types: (1) Isolation: Faculty members are often excludedintentionally or otherwisefrom the informal social networks that exist in academia; (2) Tokenism: In some departments, senior faculty believe that they have fulfilled their obligation to diversify once they have hired one minority or female faculty member; (3) Lack of Professional Respect: Senior faculty members often assume that women and minority faculty members are less capable of scholarly pursuits; thus women and minority faculty members are often denied opportunities for research and other scholarly pursuits; (4) Occupational Stress: Minority and female faculty members are often expected to serve on various committees related to diversity as well as to serve as "token" representatives on departmental and institutional committees. They are further burdened when students seeking role models seek them out for mentoring and support; and (5) Institutional Racism: Tenured, mainstream faculty often denigrate research relative to female and minority issues by viewing such work as less than scholarly, especially if the research is published in periodicals outside of the mainstream. Often the expression "brown on brown research" is used to describe the work of minority faculty members who research issues related to their own minority group. In a related manner, obstacles encountered by women and minority faculty can be likened to many other underrepresented groups if the concept of diversity is broadened to encompass attributes such as age, national origin, and sexual orientation.

Research reveals that an overwhelming majority of post-secondary institutions emphasize structural diversity by recruiting faculty across gender and racial/ethnic groups. However, the fact remains that many of these same institutions provide littleif anyorganized support to attain the goal of faculty diversity.


In 1998, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that 57 percent of faculty were full-time, of which 64 percent were men and 36 percent were women (see Figure 1). However, males and females were almost evenly divided among part-time faculty with women and men accounting for 48 and 52 percent, respectively (see Figure 2). Also, NCES reported that racial/ethnic faculty members represented


15 percent (Asians, 6%; African Americans, 5%; Hispanics, 3%; Native Americans, 1%) of all faculty across all institutional types (see Figure 3). Nonetheless, minority faculty are still disproportionately underrepresented in higher education since they constitute 29 percent of the general population. In contrast, Caucasians comprise 69 percent of the general population but account for 85 percent of the teaching force.

Even though findings from the Martin Finkelstein, Robert Seal, and Jack Schuster (1998) analysis of the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty database confirm the professoriate is becoming more diverse with representation across gender, race and ethnicity, the findings also reveal that there is still a disproportionate number of faculty who are from moderate to high socioeconomic backgrounds. With regard to educational background, research reveals that new career entrants' fathers are better educated (40%) than the fathers of senior faculty (32%). Likewise, as senior faculty increased in age, the educational level of both parents decreased. For example, only 11 percent of fathers of new faculty in the youngest age category (less than 35 years old) held less than a high school diploma, compared to 24 percent of faculty in the same age range who had already attained the status of senior faculty. This held true for mothers of faculty as well, with 22 percent of senior faculty having mothers with less than a high school diploma versus 12 percent of new career entrants. However, this division across age could be indicative of the increased educational aspirations of society after World War II.

When gender is considered, women of the new academic generation make up 49 percent of all faculty members, while in the senior generation females comprise only 29 percent of the faculty population. Despite the increasing number of women entering the profession, the higher socioeconomic status of the new academic generation continues to be attributed to males. Among new career entrants, both female and male faculty are equal (40% and 41%, respectively) relative to their fathers' possession of bachelor's degrees. Additionally, race is also betterrepresented in the new generation, with minority faculty members comprising 17 percent of the faculty compared to 12 percent in the senior generation.

See also: Academic Labor Markets; Affirmative Action Compliance in Higher Education; American Association of University Professors; Multiculturalism in Higher Education.


Aguirre, Adalberto, Jr. 2000. Women and Minority Faculty in the Academic Workplace: Recruitment, Retention, and Academic Culture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Finkelstein, Martin J. ; Seal, Robert K.; and Schuster, Jack H. 1998. The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gainen, Joanne, and Boice, Robert, eds. 1993. Building a Diverse Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Garcia, Mildred. 1997. Affirmative Action's Testament of Hope: Strategies for a New Era in Higher Education. New York: State University of New York Press.

Glazer-Raymo, Judith. 1999. Shattering the Myths: Women in Academe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schrecker, Ellen. 2000. "Diversity on Campus." Academe 86 (5).

Turner, Caroline; Garcia, Mildred; Nora, Amaury; and Rendon, Laura, I. 1996. ASHE Reader: Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education. Needham Heights, MA: Simon and Schuster.

Turner, Caroline; Sotello, Viernes; and Myers, Samuel L., Jr. 2000. Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2001. Background Characteristics, Work Activities, and Compensation of Faculty and Instructional Staff in Postsecondary Institutions: Fall 1998. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

internet resource

U.S. Census Bureau. 2002. "Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000." <www.census.gov/prod/cen 2000/dp1/2kh00.pdf>.

Barbara J. Johnson

Kyle J. Scafide