Professors voice discontent with lack of diversity

A DP analysis showed only two of 30 top administrators are minorities

· January 31, 2013, 8:25 pm

Michele Ozer | DP

Penn President Amy Gutmann is still under fire over claims that she has not done enough to promote diversity across the University administration.

Africana Studies Department Chair Camille Charles — one of the six Africana Studies professors who signed a guest column to the president in The Daily Pennsylvanian on Wednesday — called a response by Gutmann in Thursday’s DP “disappointing.”

“I would say that historically we have tried to be patient with administrative diversity because we have thought that President Gutmann’s heart is in the right place,” said Charles, a former chair of the Faculty Senate. “But over time, as the inconsistency and incongruence between what she does and what she says persists, it just hasn’t been enough. It’s very frustrating.”

The column on Wednesday was spurred by the recent appointment of Senior Vice Provost for Research Steven Fluharty as the next School of Arts and Sciences dean.

Last year, Charles said that she and a few colleagues had recommended a number of minority candidates for the position. Although she declined to specify who she recommended, she is “fairly certain” that one of the candidates made his or her way to the final round of decisions by Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price.

The column — which has prompted heated reactions from many at Penn — also centered around a series of comments Gutmann reportedly made at an annual diversity dinner last spring.

The professors were troubled by a response that Gutmann gave at the dinner to a question about why she has never appointed a “person of color” to a deanship of one of Penn’s 12 schools.

“Her response was that she would not just bring in someone who is not qualified, a comment implying that none of the people in the room were qualified to serve in these positions, even though many of them serve in administrative capacities in departments and centers,” the professors wrote. “In her closing remarks [at the dinner], President Gutmann reiterated her dedication to diversity within Penn’s administration, admitting that ‘a show beats a tell.’”

The faculty members said they would not be attending this year’s dinner.

Diversity at Penn

Although Gutmann’s response to the column on Thursday reaffirmed her commitment to diversity, she did acknowledge that Penn has lagged behind in employing diverse candidates in the top ranks of University leadership.

“There are areas, such as academic administration, where progress has been slow and where we need to work even harder,” Gutmann wrote. “We are unequivocally committed to doing just that.”

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According to data provided by Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy, 87 of the top 100 administrators on campus today are white. Seven of those administrators are black, while three are Asian and one is Latino.

A closer look at Penn’s senior administration, however, reveals a notable contrast with these numbers.

The DP examined 30 of the highest-ranking officials on campus and found that just two — Vice President for Institutional Affairs Joann Mitchell and School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Eduardo Glandt — were black, Asian or Latino.

In its analysis, the DP included the provost, all school deans and all individuals named on the University’s online listing of “senior administrators.”

Gender diversity was somewhat more balanced than racial and ethnic diversity. Eighteen of the 30 administrators were male, while 12 were female.

Although not all 30 administrative appointments were made during Gutmann’s tenure, she has either appointed or reappointed each individual school dean.

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In contrast to the lower numbers of minority administrators across campus, 17.5 percent of Penn’s faculty were minorities in 2009, according to the last version of the University’s Progress Report on Minority Equity.

Diversity across the undergraduate student body has also risen dramatically in recent years. In 2004, 12 percent of the incoming class was made up of underrepresented minorities. This number increased to 20 percent in 2011, according to MacCarthy.

In an interview on Thursday, Gutmann said the University needs to do more to ensure that both she and the provost are presented with a more diverse pool of recommendations from consultative committees — which conduct international searches for vacant positions — when making dean appointments.

“We need to be more aggressive in making sure that the pools of candidates we’re being presented with are more diverse,” she said.

In her letter on Thursday, Gutmann brought up a number of programs, including the University’s $100 million investment in its Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence, that she said spoke to her commitment to diversity.

Charles, though, said in response to initiatives like the Action Plan that “there isn’t a general agreement about how we define diversity, and I think it behooves us to think about multiple definitions because otherwise it’s like we’re having separate conversations. It’s difficult to make progress if you’re talking across purposes.”

Continued frustration

In addition to their frustration over Gutmann’s public response to Wednesday’s column, some professors remain upset with the continued shortfalls in administrative diversity at Penn.

“I fear President Gutmann and the people she hires are tone-deaf when it comes to employment diversity,” Mary Frances Berry, one of the six faculty members who signed the column, said in an email.

Berry, who has served as chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights and has been a provost and chancellor at other schools, added that “inclusion means not just offering responsibility to the individual selected. It strengthens the institution overall.”

Religious studies professor Anthea Butler said she is hopeful to hear directly from Gutmann on the issue.

“The letter she put in the DP was not an appropriate response to the seriousness of the situation,” Butler said. “I don’t think it was befitting for the president of Penn.”

Although Butler did not have an opportunity to endorse the column, she said she would have “absolutely” signed it if given the chance.

In addition to responses from faculty, some in the student body have also weighed in on the issue of administrative diversity.

On Wednesday, Butler said she spent time during her undergraduate course, called “Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X – Religion and Civil Rights,” discussing the professors’ column with her students. She said that many of the minority students in class were deeply impacted by the professors’ stance.

Penn’s lack of administrative diversity “certainly isn’t a new issue — we’ve been pushing this for years,” said sociology professor Grace Kao, who also did not sign the column but agreed with the professors’ sentiment. “I think the real frustration comes from the disconnect between saying you care about diversity and seeing what you do to show it.”

Unlike the professors who signed Wednesday’s column, however, Kao said she still plans to attend this year’s diversity dinner.

“Even if you disagree with someone, if they make a good-faith effort to engage you, I think it’s important to have a conversation with them,” she said.

Gutmann said she was planning on reaching out directly to Charles and her colleagues to discuss some of the issues raised in the column. As of Thursday morning, Charles said she had not heard from the President’s Office.

“I feel passionately about this subject, and I think we’ll move forward and make progress because … we all want the same thing here,” Gutmann said.

Charles, who said she has already been contacted by numerous media outlets in response to the column, said she is looking forward to a continued dialogue on diversity.

“While I’m not satisfied with [Gutmann’s] statement, I’m pleased that she at least made a statement, because there are probably a lot of university presidents out there who would have ignored it,” she said. “It’s a start.”

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