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Diversifying the Faculty

The diversity of college and university faculties has been a subject of discussion, debate, and priority for several decades—particularly since the 1960s, when equity in higher education became a national priority as a result of the civil rights movement. Despite these discussions and the subsequent launching of several local and national programs to advance faculty diversity, the national report card on accomplishments remains unacceptably poor.

Why care about faculty diversity? Some would answer this often- asked question with a pragmatic justification. Since women constitute almost 60 percent of U.S. college students, and because minorities will exceed 50 percent of the U.S. population before 2050, we must do a better job of preparing and hiring more persons from these groups for faculty positions in order to provide diverse role models for the nation’s changing demographics. More compelling, however, is the argument that all students are better educated and better prepared for leadership, citizenship, and professional competitiveness in multicultural America and the global community when they are exposed to diverse perspectives in their classrooms—a view that comprised a good portion of the social science foundation that undergirded the University of Michigan’s argument in support of affirmative action before the U.S. Supreme Court (Bollinger 2007).

Faculty diversity has been negatively influenced by the economic downturn (Gose 2009). In earlier days, many institutions addressed the issue of faculty diversity by throwing money at the problem (e.g., salary incentives for minority appointees, additional slots for minority hires, etc.). While these financial interventions had some degree of success, they probably have had mixed results over the long haul inasmuch as they are not always sustainable and they do not guarantee retention, promotion, or tenure.

National Data on Faculty Diversity

As mentioned in the previous article, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2008) reports that just under 20 percent of the nation’s professoriate consists of persons of color—blacks/African Americans (5.6 percent), Hispanic/Latinos (3.5 percent), Asian Americans (9.1 percent), and American Indians (1.4 percent). However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that minority groups constitute roughly one-third of the U.S. population (Census Bureau 2009). Even more disturbing, the presence of underrepresented minorities (URMs) is less than 10 percent in certain disciplines. Donna Nelson (2007) at the University of Oklahoma has surveyed the number of URMs (both men and women) in science and engineering faculties at the top research universities. These schools produce the lion’s share of the nation’s PhD graduates, many of whom join the nation’s professoriate. In many cases, an extremely low percentage of URMs populate the departmental faculties of the top fifty institutions. In some fields—mathematics, computer science, astronomy, and physics—URMs constitute a little above 2 percent of the professoriate in 2007. For certain disciplines (e.g., mathematics and electrical engineering), there has been a decline in URM representation on departmental faculties. Nelson’s data suggest that faculty diversity is not solely a “pipeline” problem. Instead, faculty hiring of URMs has not kept pace with their PhD attainment.

Similar data are reported for women in the professoriate. While women have made significant advances on college and university faculties in recent years, their faculty presence in many disciplines lags far behind that of men, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (with the exception of the biological sciences). In some disciplines (e.g., electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics) they constitute fewer than 10 percent of the professoriate in the top fifty research universities. Women of color fare even worse on college and university faculties. In the science and engineering fields that Nelson studied, only three hundred URM women populated the faculties of the top fifty research universities. When the biological, social, behavioral, and economic sciences were removed from the mix, fewer than one hundred women remained.

Examining Faculty Diversity at Five Institutions

For this paper, we performed an informal assessment at five different institutions (represented by the authors) to determine the current state of faculty diversity, strategies in place to enhance faculty diversity, and the challenges in accomplishing this goal. The campuses used in our survey are listed below and information on faculty diversity has been obtained from the Chronicle of Higher Education (2009). For the purpose of this survey, minority faculty include blacks/African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians.

Howard University is a private, HBCU research university (high research activity) located in Washington, DC, with an approximate 90 percent enrollment of African American and black students from other parts of the African Diaspora. The Howard faculty is approximately 25 percent nonminority, with a large number of black/African American faculty members.

Saint Joseph’s College is a private undergraduate and master’s college rooted in the liberal arts. St. Joseph’s has campuses in Brooklyn, NY, and suburban Suffolk County, New York, the third most racially segregated county in the country. Historically a women’s college, it is now coed with about 5,000 students. The faculty at St. Joseph’s is 8 percent minority.

University of Virginia (UVA) is a public research university (very high research activity) located in Charlottesville, VA, with a minority faculty of approximately 12 percent. The current student enrollment is 13,762 undergraduate, 4,904 graduate, and 1,725 post-baccalaureate professional (law and medicine). Thirty-seven percent of the undergraduate student population and 15 percent at the graduate and professional level are ethnic minorities.

Vanderbilt University is a private research university (very high research activity) located in Nashville, TN, with a minority faculty of approximately 15 percent. The university hosts 6,584 undergraduates and 4,735 graduate and professional students within its ten schools and various professional degree programs.

Westchester Community College is one of sixty-four institutions in the State University of New York system. It is a public, multiracial two-year college located in a wealthy suburb of New York City, with close to a 50 percent minority student enrollment and 13 percent minority faculty presence.

What are Campuses Doing Currently? Creating Administrative Structures and Positions to Advance Diversity

Some of the institutions in our analysis have established committees to tackle diversity issues. At Westchester, a campuswide Affirmative Action Committee was established in 1985. The college has a Presidential Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity that focuses its efforts on diversity issues, including diversifying its faculty. UVA created a President’s Commission on Diversity, which then instituted the position of vice president of diversity and chief diversity officer. The deans at UVA are also held accountable for enhancing a diverse faculty. To assist them in this goal, UVA created a vice provost for faculty development and a vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention.

St. Joseph’s has constituted a diversity committee made up of faculty, administrators, students, and community leaders that addresses issues of diversity and campus climate, and also makes personnel and program suggestions. St. Joseph’s diversity committee is led by the coordinator of diversity initiatives and the director of the office of multiculturalism. The president of St. Joseph’s is a member of the Board to Erase Racism, an effective community organization that has addressed education and housing issues in Nassau and Suffolk counties. There is also a Diversity Initiatives budget that supports diversity projects such as speakers, climate studies, and international projects in diverse countries.

At Vanderbilt, several positions have been created from the dean/vice chancellor’s budget, including an assistant dean for diversity, two associate deans for diversity (who are senior faculty), an associate dean for diversity in medical education, and an associate dean for diversity in graduate medical education and faculty affairs. There is also a strong commitment to faculty diversity by key department chairs, including chairs of medicine, surgery, and pediatrics. The climate for faculty diversity is enhanced by the institution’s emphasis on its legacy of diversity in the health sciences.

Focused Recruitment Strategies for Advancing Faculty Diversity

Each of the institutions surveyed uses its own measures to recruit and retain faculty of color, including offering financial incentives to departments and minority hires. Several make it a point to advertise faculty openings in publications targeted to the minority academic community—for example, Diverse Issues in Higher Education (formerly Black Issues) and Hispanic Outlook. Another strategy is to recruit at fairs and conferences where minority faculty candidates might be in attendance—for example, Compact for Faculty Diversity and the Leadership Alliance.

Westchester has a rigorous search and screening process for all full-time hires and a member from the affirmative action committee serves on each faculty search. In order to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants to join its faculty, Westchester also holds an Adjunct Job Fair.

Vanderbilt has taken a two-pronged approach to diversity. Vanderbilt officials assert that having a critical mass of students who feel supported will assist in the recruitment of minority faculty. Vanderbilt has developed an incentive plan with the dean, department chairs, and center directors geared toward increasing minority faculty (and students).

UVA uses extensive measures to recruit faculty of color. It has established associate or assistant deans for diversity within the college, professional schools, and graduate programs, who are charged with identifying and recruiting faculty and graduate students of color. Faculty search committees cannot go forward without diversity training from the office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) and the vice president for faculty recruitment and retention, and these committees are required to focus on recruiting diverse faculty. In addition, a standing diversity committee on the Board of Visitors is charged with sustaining diversity as an institutional priority at the highest organizational level. Vice presidents and the provost report to the board on diversity initiatives and progress in faculty recruitment in addition to benchmarking demographic diversity change in comparison to schools within the Association of American Universities.

Howard publicizes the advantages of Washington, DC (a highly multicultural community with a large, highly educated African American population) as an attractive place for faculty to live and work. Howard also highlights its rich curriculum and research activity that focuses on African American and other underserved populations in health, education, economics, etc., as a method of encouraging a diverse applicant pool. The university sponsors an annual Preparing Future Faculty Institute for underrepresented minority doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows from across the country who wish to pursue careers in the professoriate.

St. Joseph’s belongs to the Northeast Higher Education Recruitment Consortium and uses its membership as a tool to reach potential minority faculty members. It also reaches out to local African American church groups and the NAACP. At St. Joseph’s, faculty of color tend to recruit each other; as a result, the college is able to retain its minority faculty once they join. St. Joseph’s is now reaching out to the Hispanic community in similar ways.

Mentoring New Faculty to Advance Retention, Promotion, and Tenure of Minority Faculty

Most institutions in our analysis utilize faculty mentoring programs and external alliances in order to retain their faculty of color. Minority faculty members at St. Joseph’s, for example, receive explicit mentoring support from the administration and other colleagues. Faculty members at UVA are mentored during the first three years of their appointments as a part of the university’s larger faculty development program. Vanderbilt has taken measures to support its female faculty by establishing a mentoring network for junior members. In addition, Vanderbilt has established a support system outside of the university through a collaboration with Meharry Medical College that offers joint research, training, and educational opportunities and experiences for faculty at both institutions.

Additionally, two of our institutions provide mentoring to those who have not yet stepped into a tenure-track role. At Westchester, the Dr. Julius Ford Fellowship Program provides mentoring to adjuncts of minority background in hopes that some of them may transition into full-time positions at the college or elsewhere. Academic departments also offer collegial mentoring to part-time instructors and new full-time faculty members of all ethnic backgrounds. As mentioned above, Howard takes an active role in helping minority doctoral students achieve success as faculty members through its Preparing Future Faculty program.

What Challenges Do Campuses Face?

Campuses face different challenges based largely upon such factors as their location, mission, history, legacy, demographics, traditions—and their financial resources.

At Howard, an HBCU with a large multiracial faculty, some individuals feel there is no need to take additional measures to promote diversity, believing that diversity within the global black community suffices for Howard to claim that it supports faculty diversity. On the other hand, some faculty believe that global diversity does not substitute for national diversity and that a predominately minority academic community benefits from diverse voices from other groups—both minority and majority. This internal debate begs for a clearer definition of how to define and measure faculty diversity.

Geographic location is a significant consideration for recruitment and retention of minority faculty. Westchester is situated in one of the wealthiest counties in the country; this fact, compounded by the extremely high cost of living in the New York City area, compromises faculty diversity efforts. Diversity efforts at UVA are hampered by its location in a small college town with little community diversity. Conversely, Vanderbilt benefits from its proximity to a large, highly successful African American community and its proximity to three well-known HBCUs: Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University. Howard, while benefitting from its large African American population and multicultural climate, is challenged by a high cost of living in Washington, DC, combined with relatively low faculty salaries.

Despite committed leadership from the top, only a few at St. Joseph’s have taken up the president’s offer to participate in the Erase Racism workshop. Also, programs that raise issues of diversity are not well attended. St. Joseph’s is located in an area with a very high cost of living, and although salaries are competitive for schools of similar size and classification, its real competitors for faculty hires are the city and state universities and community colleges. In addition, its branch campus is located in a community where faculty members are presently facing a powerful anti-immigrant movement, plus the fallout from a recent murder of a migrant worker and other acts of violence.

UVA’s decentralized system makes structural changes in regard to diversity very difficult to implement. Like other major research institutions, departmental cultures often foster a relative conservatism within disciplines in ways that make diversity projects difficult to facilitate. However, there have been gains in the overall total number of African American tenure hires since the creation of a Commission on Diversity.

Vanderbilt is also experiencing challenges, compounded by a lack of retention efforts that focus on new minority hires and an absence of minority department chairpersons. Like many institutions, Vanderbilt is also grappling with how to increase the number of tenured minority faculty and senior minority faculty, both through recruitment and by taking steps to ensure the success of its junior faculty. In a situation that is similar to UVA’s, the prestige of the institution fosters a culture in which change can be difficult to implement. The university asserts it has a commitment to diversity, but some charge that it must display this commitment through implementation and support for initiatives that bring about diversity.

As referenced above, the current economic downturn is affecting strides in achieving faculty diversity at many institutions. When colleges and universities reduce the number of non-tenure-track positions because of economic challenges, many fear this will negatively affect efforts to achieve and maintain faculty diversity. Since many minorities hold non-tenure-track positions on college and university campuses, cutting back on these positions would reduce the number of minority faculty instructors. Some institutions are using the economic downturn as a way to reassess the cost efficiency of their diversity programs. Many administrators question whether the effectiveness of these programs is proportional to the funding they are allotted. This has resulted in downgrading support for diversity efforts at several institutions.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In recent years, several strategies have been employed by colleges and universities to achieve greater faculty diversity. Most of these efforts have focused on increasing the “numbers” of persons from diverse groups on faculties—often by providing attractive financial incentives with mixed results over the long haul. Clearly, the acquisition of a critical mass of individuals from diverse groups is the important first step in achieving faculty diversity.

Of course, full faculty diversity requires far more than numbers. In order to achieve true faculty diversity, a climate for inclusion must permeate the entire institution. The “take aways” from our assessment of the current status of faculty diversity include:

  • One size (strategy) doesn’t fit all institutions
  • Institutions must match their rhetoric on faculty diversity with action
  • Faculty diversity is enhanced by student diversity
  • Faculty diversity is enhanced by having explicit policies, infrastructures and a reward system to support it
  • Faculty diversity is enhanced by a diverse curriculum and support for research on diversity topics and issues
  • While financial support is important, faculty diversity is enhanced by attention to faculty/staff diversity training and campus community preparation for diversity
  • While recruitment of diverse faulty is important, mentoring and support leading to promotion and tenure of diverse faculty hires may be more important
  • Campus, departmental, and community climate to support faculty diversity is essential for success

While considerable work is still needed to achieve the elusive goal of diversifying the American professoriate, this paper has summarized some of the major lessons that have been learned in pursuit of this goal at five different types of institutions. If other higher education institutions can profit from these lessons, there is potential for significantly increasing the results of our collective efforts in the months and years ahead.


The authors acknowledge the assistance of Evelyn Thomas, a doctoral student in mathematics at Howard University, for her assistance in preparing this article.


Orlando Taylor is currently the president of the DC campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.


Bollinger, L. C. 2007. Why diversity matters. Chronicle of Higher Education 35 (39): B20.

Gose, B. 2009. Diversity takes a hit during tough times. Chronicle of Higher Education, Diversity in Academe. October 16.

National Center for Educational Statistics. 2008. Digest of educational statistics, table 253. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Nelson, D. J. 2007. A national analysis of minorities in science and engineering faculties at research universities.

Race and Ethnicity of Faculty Members at 1,400 Colleges and Universities Database. 2009. Chronicle of Higher Education.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. An older and more diverse nation by midcentury. News release, August 14.

Orlando Taylor is the graduate dean and a professor emeritus at Howard University, and a senior fellow at the Association of American Colleges and Universities; Cheryl Burgan Apprey is the director of graduate student diversity programs at the University of Virginia; George Hill is a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, and the Levi Watkins, Jr. Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity in Medical Education at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; Loretta McGrann is the provost of St. Joseph's College; Jianping Wang is the dean of arts and humanities at Westchester Community College.

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