Despite efforts, Penn still lacks minority faculty
While numbers have seen slight improvement, progress continues to be 'inadequate'
February 7, 2011, 12:15 am·
Although Penn professes a “commitment to diversity” on its website, its statistics on standing minority faculty may reflect a different reality.
Minority groups — Asian American, black, Latino and American Indian — composed 17.5 percent of the current standing faculty as of 2009. While this is a 1.5-percent improvement from 2006, it does not display the growth in diversity the University had hoped for.
Currently, it is “clear that progress is inadequate,” Robert Hornik, chairman of the Faculty Senate, wrote in an e-mail.
“Penn has not made improvements over the last three reports on Minority Equity” in regard to black, Latino and American-Indian faculty, Hornik added.
The Progress Report on Minority Equity — most recently published on Dec. 7 — chronicles the status of minority faculty at Penn.
The report also details plans, such as improving faculty recruitment and retention tactics, to “foster an academic culture in which minority faculty do not perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage.”
Strategies for improving retention currently include counseling, mentoring, support for research and strengthening family-friendly policies, according to Lynn Lees, the vice provost for Faculty.
However, diversity numbers have remained largely static. Any improvements have been slight, and black and Latino recruitments “were roughly equal to departures,” negating any progress, according to the report.
In response, Penn is currently planning new strategies to increase recruitment and retention of minority faculty, Penn President Amy Gutmann said.
Next year, the University will release a faculty climate survey which will “give schools more information on faculty attitudes that influence retention,” Lees said.
However, these strategies may not be explicit enough, said Nursing professor Lois Evans, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Faculty Development, Diversity and Equity.
“While the University leadership says we value diversity, we don’t see good strong strategies for how we want that to happen,” she said, pointing to Brown University’s Diversity Action Plan as an effective method for improving the climate for minority faculty on college campuses.
Like Brown University, she added, Penn needs “specific plans for holding deans and administrators accountable for increasing diversity.”
As statistics regarding faculty who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are not collected for the report, trends in LGBT staff remain unclear. However, “the LGBT faculty cohort at Penn is smaller that it should be, and smaller that those of other institutions,” said Bob Schoenberg, director of the LGBT Center.
These numbers represented by the report need to change, Evans said, to foster a more welcoming atmosphere for both faculty and students.
“If we further diversified the faculty, that would itself attract a more diverse pool of undergraduate and graduate program applicants,” Engineering professor Robert Carpick wrote in an e-mail.
Furthermore, it would “demonstrate to our students that it is possible to be a minority and have a successful career in academia,” Evans added.
While increasing recruitment and retention of minority faculty will not be easy, it is a necessary step for Penn, Evans said.
“We’re always too quick to say that it’s too difficult to recruit people from a certain group,” she said. “We need to learn what it takes.”