Academic
Credit: Mona Lee

While faculty diversity has been improving at most of Penn's twelve schools, the School of Dental Medicine, School of Design, Wharton School, and School of Social Policy and Practice have experienced a trend in the opposite direction. 

Since the University announced in 2011 the “Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence,” which aimed to build a “more diverse faculty” and “more inclusive campus community," these four schools have decreased in their number of diverse faculty members, according to a Faculty Inclusion Report published in 2017.

Meanwhile, schools including the Annenberg School for Communication, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science all reported a notable increase in their faculty diversity numbers.

The percentage of overall minority faculty decreased in the Design School, as well as the School of Social Policy and Practice, while that of underrepresented minority faculty decreased in Wharton, the Dental School, and the School of Social Policy, the report showed.

The report defined “minority faculty” as those who identify as Latino, black, Asian, or Native American. “Underrepresented minority faculty” are those who identify as Latino, black, or Native American.

Additionally, the percentage of female faculty decreased in the Dental, Design, and Wharton Schools, as well as in the School of Nursing, between the years of 2011 and 2016.

The Dental school faced the largest declines, with the percentage of female faculty falling from 28.9 to 19.5 percent and that of underrepresented minority faculty decreasing from 11.1 to 4.9 percent.

Dental Medicine professor and Director of Faculty Diversity Hydar Ali said that the school is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in these metrics because it only has 42 standing faculty members. Penn Dental also has a high faculty turnover rate — the school replaced almost 30 percent of its faculty between 2011 and 2016. 

“Obviously we want to move up. We want to rectify the issue,” Ali said. 

He added that since the Faculty Inclusion Report was published in 2017, a new female professor has been hired. Two more women, one of whom is Asian and one of whom is African American, have also been hired as instructors, which Ali said is a “stepping stone to becoming faculty.” 

All three are graduates of the school's Doctorate of Science in Dentistry program, which Ali said is a promising pipeline for improving faculty diversity. 

“[The DScD program] is going to be our best way of making sure that we have a diverse faculty,” he added.  

Ali also said that Penn Dental has been trying to increase diversity by involving diversity search advisors in all aspects of the hiring process, including in the selection of a search committee. He also discussed ways to “improve climate” for faculty members already on campus, including a diversity retreat for Penn Dental faculty and staff that was held this past fall, and expansions to faculty mentoring programs. 

“Even though our numbers don’t look good on paper, I feel that we’re doing everything we can to improve ourselves,” Ali said. 

Dental professor and Director of Diversity Affairs Beverley Crawford said that when she started teaching at Penn in 1989, she was interested in administration rather than research. However, while there were female senior faculty members in the basic sciences department, there were none in the areas that she was interested in.   

“There wasn’t anyone who could mentor me in that direction,” she said. “That’s one of the things that I think maybe could have made my trajectory a little easier.”

However, Crawford said that her experience has “overall been positive.” 

She added that Penn Dental’s junior faculty is much more diverse than the senior faculty and that almost all departments in the school have at least one female or minority junior faculty member.

“What’s being done now to recruit our junior faculty is being done in such a way that it enhances our diversity, and I think our numbers as well as our profile will look a lot more inclusive and diverse as our junior faculty move up the ranks,” she said. 

School of Social Policy and Practice Dean John L. Jackson, Jr. also said that having a small faculty makes the school vulnerable to decreasing percentages. 

In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, Jackson wrote, “Since we are such a small School, one of Penn’s smallest in terms of standing faculty, every single faculty member we add or lose has a marked and noticeable impact on our overall percentages.”

Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of underrepresented minority faculty in the School of Social Policy and Practice decreased from 17.6 to 15.4 percent. Jackson said that since he began his tenure as dean in 2014, no minority faculty members were lost. Rather, the percentage change was due to the hiring of five new female faculty members, none of whom identify as underrepresented minorities. 

However, Jackson cautioned that the school “must stay vigilant,” adding that he remains committed to Penn’s Faculty Diversity Action Plan. 

“I think of [the plan] as a living document that helps guide some of our highest-level strategic decision-making, including as it pertains to attracting and retaining under-represented academics, female scholars, and LGBTQ faculty,” he said. Specifically, Jackson cited efforts to work with other schools at Penn to promote diversity. 

Wharton also faced decreasing diversity. While the percentage decline was smaller than the other schools, it also boasts a total of 224 standing faculty members — a significantly higher number than that of other schools. 

Based on the report, Wharton’s percentage of female faculty fell from 21.1 to 20.5 percent, and its percentage of underrepresented minority faculty fell from 5.3 to 5.0 percent. 

Wharton Media Relations Director Peter Winicov said that currently, 58 out of Wharton’s 224 standing faculty members are female, comprising 24 percent of its body. Wharton declined to comment on the number of minority faculty members.  

Students acknowledged that faculty diversity is important to their academic experience. 

“I definitely think because the student body is getting very diverse, having a diverse faculty with different backgrounds can provide different perspectives and understandings of students' different needs and cultures,” Wharton senior Laura Luo said. 

Luo said that in her four years at Wharton, she has had only two or three female professors. She added that in departments such as finance and statistics, there are “very few” female faculty members. 

However, Wharton sophomore Puti Cen said that she has found Wharton’s faculty to be diverse.

“For me personally, it’s a diverse experience,” she said, citing her female and international professors. 

Cen added that her professors’ different perspectives added to her experience. 

“I do feel like having a female professor or a professor of color does help with us conceptualizing what we’re learning, but also just in general as people I think it’s important,” she said.

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