For the diversity engineers in higher education, life keeps yielding disappointments. A new study shows once again how far colleges and universities lag relative to their vocal pledges of equity and inclusion. The study draws on Federal data to determine how well those institutions have improved the demographic make-up of the faculty—improvement defined by the yardstick of proportionate representation.
It’s a numbers game, plain and simple. In this calculation, percentages are all we need, and they are assumed to possess profound moral meaning. Anything short of proportionate representation in the higher ed faculty ranks is taken to be a social failure. African Americans make up nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population. If they don’t make up 13 percent of the professoriate, something is wrong.
Something is wrong, yes, still, even after all the years of diversification. The study found that disturbing disproportions continue, and the five years covered by the study, 2013-2-17, show meager progress. As of 2017, men are the majority of the tenured faculty, 57.36 percent. Women are catching up, though—in fact, they exceed men in the tenure-track ranks, constituting 52.48 percent of the whole, which might be cause for optimism in the coming years. But the study doesn’t play up that progress very much. The entire tone of the project, which is run by enthusiastic diversiphiles, is one of dismay. After all, shouldn’t we have reached full parity at all ranks by now?
When it comes to African Americans and Hispanics, things look much worse. Despite the pushing and proclaiming of diversity for several decades now, African Americans amount to only 5.21 percent of the tenured professors, 9.7 percent of the tenure-track professors, and 7.05 percent of the “Instructional Faculty” (presumably, lecturers, non-regular faculty, etc.). For Hispanics, who make up a larger portion of the U.S. population as a whole, the rates are even lower. They count as 6.6 percent of the tenured profs, 5.24 percent of the untenured profs, and 6.0 percent of the Instructional Faculty.
White teachers still outdo the general white portion of the population. They make up 78.9 percent of the tenured ones, 69.52 percent of the tenure-track profs, and 75.85 percent of the Instructional Faculty.
These are the last year’s tallies in the study. When we get to the changes over time, the dreams of diversity appear even more frustrated. From 2013 to 2017, as President Obama’s administration pressed ever harder on diversity-consciousness in both higher and lower education, and as Black Lives Matter protests were demanding more black professors and administrators, the African American share of the Instructional Faculty climbed a microscopic 0.12 percentage points. Their share of the tenure-track group climbed only 0.83 points, while the tenured group went up only 0.49 points.
Hispanic gains were 0.25 points for Instructional Faculty, 0.61 points for tenure-track, and 0.05 points for tenured. At this rate, it is going to be a very long time before we reach the desired proportions.
Put another way, those white slices of the piece must be reduced, and they’re not shrinking fast enough. We need fewer white people at the podium, period. We need fewer Asians, too. They constitute only 5.4 percent of the entire U.S. population, but they more than double their representation on the higher ed faculty. At doctoral institutions, they form 12.85 percent of the tenured professors, 14.12 percent of the tenure-track profs, and 12.08 percent of the Instructional Faculty. At those same doctoral institutions, the percentage of black tenured professors moved upward from 2013 to 2017 by only one-tenth of one percent.
The authors draw the obvious conclusion that no matter how much colleges and universities have committed to the project of diversity, the results don’t match the intentions. In recent years, the authors show, the movement of faculty diversity in higher education has pretty much stalled. Indeed, as the lead author of the study stated to insidehighered.com, “Many institutions that are making the most noise—the brand-name institutions—have had some of the worst progress.”
Here is the final sentence of the study:
While diversity, equity, and inclusion are often widely promoted in the higher education discourse, there is much more institutional action necessary to improve the ethnoracial and gender demographics of the faculty in U.S. colleges’ and universities’ intellectual communities to positively impact educational practices and outcomes.
Note that we have here no recommendations, no practical suggestions. We need further “institutional action”—that’s as specific as the study gets. It sticks to statistical tallies; it wasn’t designed to do anything else. But we have been told this before, countless times: “We need more black and brown professors!”—and everyone has agreed. And everyone on search committees has given minority candidates special consideration . . . and the curriculum (and hence job openings) in the softer fields has been adjusted so that it represents minority cultures and histories more accurately . . . and diversity deans have proliferated and created more diversity programs for faculty.
After all that, the teaching personnel has barely budged in recent times. The study here, which bore the title, “Considering the Ethnoracial and Gender Diversity of Faculty in United States College and University Intellectual Communities,” attaches precise figures to the widespread sense that results haven’t followed the many and voluminous declarations of diversity plans issuing from the administrators and professors for decades. When Brown University declares that it will double minority representation on the faculty within ten years, it only sets itself up for a fall. We’ll check in with Brown in 2025 and see how it’s doing.
We are waiting for the magic method that will finally deliver the great leap forward. It’s as if the numbers people—those who keep pointing to lagging rates of black and brown personnel but have no answers themselves—expect institutions to solve the problem by some airy act of will: “Just do it!” And the institutions respond, “We’re trying, we’re trying!” The whole situation sounds more and more like a game. Nobody says or does anything unexpected.
All the participants are diversiphiles. Some of them raise the evidence of failure; others hear it and re-pledge their commitment. Both parties, it should be said, continue to make a living. They are, by now, routine elements in the system. Next year, additional reports of failed diversity will appear, and so will additional programs and promises to continue the effort. At this point, it’s a sideshow, a diversion, a valve that releases pressure within the machine so that the workings may proceed.
Diversity isn’t essential to higher education, no matter how much the leaders talk about it. But they know that if they don’t maintain a diversity program, if they don’t speechify about diversity, tensions may build up, unpleasant episodes might unfold, and bad publicity will follow, jeopardizing all the other things college leaders need to do.
Diversity isn’t a significant mission in higher education. It’s just a cost of doing business.