Penn to work on increasing faculty diversity

Posted: March 21, 2011

The University of Pennsylvania isn't much different from its peers when it comes to ethnic diversity among faculty, but university officials have decided to make hiring more minority professors a bigger priority.

President Amy Gutmann and university officials announced this month that by the end of the academic year, they would release a plan to expand the minority ranks in the Ivy League school's 2,500-member faculty.

"Our goal is to do better," said Lynn Hollen Lees, professor of history and vice provost for the faculty. "Our undergraduate population is becoming ever more diverse and we would like to make the faculty more diverse."

Increased diversity also applies to female candidates in fields where they are traditionally underrepresented, such as engineering and mathematics, and gay and lesbian faculty, she said.

But she emphasized that search committees at individual schools and departments within Penn would continue to do their own hiring and that quality and excellence would remain the main drivers for selection.

"What we do work very hard on is to make sure those pools are as wide as possible and as deep as possible. We seek out minority and female candidates and advertise broadly," she said.

The issue came up at the University Council, which meets regularly to discuss campus issues and includes students, faculty, and other staff.

Diversity and equity were on the agenda, and several students voiced concerns about both the faculty and the student body.

As reported by the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper, Gutmann told the group that faculty diversity has "not been optimal."

A university report issued in December 2010 showed that 17.5 percent of Penn's faculty were minority in 2009, up from 16.1 percent in 2006.

But there was virtually no growth in the ranks of African Americans and Hispanics - and that's not because none were hired. Roughly the same number exited the university over that period as were hired, the report showed.

The faculty is 3.1 percent are black and 2 percent Hispanic. The bulk of the minority faculty members - 12.4 percent - are Asian. More than a quarter of the total faculty are women.

"I don't think it's adequate. We should be making more concrete commitments," said Mark P. Pan, a senior urban-studies major from San Jose, Calif., and vice president of the undergraduate assembly.

But he acknowledged that the university was trying.

He suggested that the school look at the commitment of Brown University, which in 2004 set as a goal increasing the diversity of its faculty to reflect the school and the nation. From 2002-03 to the current academic year, the university's minority faculty grew from 15.2 percent of total to 19 percent. The proportion of black professors rose from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, and Hispanic professors from 2.5 percent to 2.9 percent.

Lees said Penn has looked at Brown, also an Ivy League school. But she pointed out that Brown is significantly smaller than Penn - it currently has 682 faculty - and that much of its focus is on arts and sciences. Brown also added about 100 new professor positions since it set the goal.

"They grew by 20 percent during the time they were making these commitments, and they succeeded in making a lot of diversity hires," she said.

In contrast, Lees said, Penn stopped hiring in arts and sciences for one year and is downsizing.

The university added 153 people to the faculty in 2009-10 and 128 for 2010-11, Lees said.

Among peer institutions, there isn't that much difference in minority numbers.

Of 18 universities, including Princeton and the other Ivies, Penn placed ninth in percentage of black professors, according to 2007 data included in Penn's report. But there was only a 3.1-percentage-point difference among all the schools. Georgetown University led the group at 4.9 percent, and the University of Rochester was at the bottom at 1.8 percent.

There was even less difference in percentages of Hispanic faculty at the institutions.

The pool of available candidates remains small, Lees noted. Elite schools such as Penn require faculty to have doctorates and often other postdoctoral credentials.

And nationally, only 4.5 percent of doctorates earned at U.S. institutions are awarded to blacks, 3.7 percent to Hispanics, 1.3 percent to those identifying as mixed race, and 0.3 percent to Native Americans.

Penn is looking for the best in that group, Lees said.

"You're taking a pipeline that's already small and constraining it," she said.

Some positions are highly specialized, making the pool even smaller, she said.

The best candidates are in high demand, and the best schools recruit them away from one another, she said.

Penn has taken steps to position the university to capture the best minority hires, including training search committees about issues such as unconscious bias. Penn uses decentralized hiring in which committees in each department or school conduct their own searches and select their staff.

The university also provides forums and networks for minority and female faculty to connect, she said.

Mentor programs are provided, and the university this academic year is piloting a survey to gauge faculty opinions on issues. It will allow the university to compare opinions among faculty of different genders and races.

The school also is getting "affirmative-action officers" involved in faculty searches earlier to ensure a wider pool, according to the report.

Lees said she wasn't sure what additional measures the university would take.

"Exactly how this is going to work out," Lees said, "is something that is being actively discussed right now."

Pan said students understand change will take time.

"We recognize that this is a very long-term effort," he said. "This isn't something that's going to be quickly adjusted."

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or

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