When the University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1740, its faculty consisted solely of white, Christian males.
Now, out of its standing faculty of 2,549 professors, Penn has 704 women and 411 minority faculty members — a category which includes black, Hispanic and Asian people — according to the most recent survey, taken in the fall of 2007.
The question, however, is not whether Penn has become more diverse over the past 270 years — it has. Rather, is it diverse enough?
Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Africana Studies Camille Charles has a simple answer to this question: the campus is “more diverse than it used to be, but not as diverse as it needs to be.”
This sentiment is echoed by a number of faculty members, including Vice Provost for Faculty Lynn Hollen Lees.
Having first come to Penn in 1974 as a history professor, she has been watching the growth and transformation of Penn’s faculty for more than 35 years.
“One wishes it would go faster, but there are an extraordinary number of difficulties in diversifying the faculty,” she said, although she acknowledged that Penn is more diverse than when she first began teaching.
Lees was the only female faculty member in the entire History Department at the time of her appointment.
“I remember my first committee meeting,” Lees said. “I was the only woman there, and the chair immediately asked me to make the coffee.”
Although the number of female and minority faculty has risen, they still experience insensitivity today, according to Charles.
“It’s unconscious bias,” she said. “That makes it all the more difficult to address.”
The qualitative survey included in the 2005 Minority Equity Report — a comprehensive analysis of the status of minority faculty across the University — contains evidence to support this claim.
The report states that the responses of ethnic minority faculty members, for the most part, described an academic environment where inequity persists.
“There is unquestionably a racial divide among faculty,” said Tukufu Zuberi, professor and chair of the Sociology Department, faculty associate director of the Center for Africana Studies and co-chair of the Minority Equity Committee that oversaw the report.
Aside from periodically updating the Gender and Minority Equity Reports, the Provost’s Office has begun initiatives to combat some of the inequity on campus.
One way in which Vice Provost for Research Steven Fluharty is tackling faculty racial inequity is by instating a new program for post-doctoral minority researchers.
The underlying issue with this initiative, however, is the lack of minority research students currently in graduate and professional schools.
Therefore in the new program, students will be brought into Penn and given the opportunity to do research on campus. They will gain exposure to research fields, which will hopefully increase interest in pursuing academia as a career.
The University is trying to address this issue at its core by bringing students from West Philadelphia onto campus during the summers for mentoring projects, so that they become interested in Penn and in higher education in general, according to Lees.
Minorities, however, are not the only group getting attention from the University. A similarly inequitable climate exists for women faculty, according to Lubna Mian, the associate director for faculty affairs in the Provost’s Office.
“There is still social discrimination,” Mian said, “though it may not be as dramatic or as obvious.”
More attention still needs to be paid to climate, according to Charles and Zuberi, who both noted the lack of intradepartmental camaraderie.
“The big issue that we have is the mindset of the faculty,” Zuberi said.
Despite these complaints, Zuberi acknowledged that Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price have made it clear that diversity is a priority on Penn’s campus.
“It’s one of the Provost’s main initiatives. It’s something that we’re all thinking about,” Lees agreed.
The biggest hardship female faculty members face is balancing work and family, especially because the age at which most women have children coincides with the age at which professors achieve tenure.
In order to retain professors with families, the Provost’s Office has introduced work-life initiatives that include extending the time necessary to gain tenure and temporarily reducing teaching duties after a professor has children.
Although the University’s progress has been tremendous, Zuberi said “the administration could do a lot more to make the minority presence in the faculty more equitable.”
After all, he said, the University’s faculty has to reflect the diverse spirit of the student body.Comments powered by Disqus
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