In Focus: Administrators run into barriers amid attempts to diversify faculty

May 26, 2017

When physics and astronomy Prof. Michael Schmitt became chair of his department more than two years ago, only three of the 37 professors were women.

The department launched searches for new faculty members that year, Schmitt said. At the end of the hiring process, the physics and astronomy department hired two women. A third person the department wanted to hire, a woman of color, opted instead for an offer at a different institution, Schmitt said.

The new faculty members signaled a priority in the hiring process for the department to diversify, but representation remains a challenge in recruiting new faculty across the University.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines generally have few female faculty and faculty of color, but the lack of representation is not unique to STEM.

In fall 2016, less than 5 percent of all full-time and tenure-line faculty in four of the six undergraduate schools were black, according to the Northwestern Data Book. The same quarter, neither the School of Education and Social Policy nor the Bienen School of Music had any tenure-line or full-time faculty who identified as Hispanic.

In the McCormick School of Engineering, women comprised less than 10 percent of tenured faculty in at least six departments during fall 2016.

Over the last year, University administrators have taken new steps to increase representation among professors, offering trainings on implicit bias in the hiring process, implementing equity representatives on search committees and forming groups to promote community building among professors.

But changes in the composition of the faculty occur slowly. Provost Dan Linzer said while thousands of new students enroll at NU each year, the faculty may turn over only every 40 years. Each new position counts toward diversifying the faculty, he said, adding it is important to ensure that each person being considered for a position is given a “full shot.”

Linzer said having faculty members bring in an array of personal experiences enriches the University.

“When you have people who all think the same way or have similar backgrounds, that approach a problem the same way, the research shows that you don’t get as robust a set of answers,” Linzer said.

Efforts for equal opportunity

After Schmitt reached out to administrators, associate provost for faculty Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and her team presented to the physics and astronomy faculty on implicit bias in the hiring process. Soon after, they met with the Weinberg Dean’s Office and the school’s department chairs to discuss improving equity in recruitment.

Jabbar Bennett, associate provost and chief diversity officer, said the University has since created an equity representative, a senior faculty member in the school whose responsibility it is to ensure equity in the search process.

The concept of an equity representative is not new to universities, Bennett said, but the role has not been widely implemented at Northwestern before. Prior to coming to the University, Bennett worked at Brown University, which includes diversity representatives on its search committees.

McCormick Prof. Linda Broadbelt, chair of the chemical and biological engineering department, said her school has embraced equity representatives on search committees. This past year, her department held a search with an equity representative, and Broadbelt said it was “quite useful.” The search resulted in the department hiring a new female faculty member, she said.

Chase-Lansdale said equity representatives do not always have to be women or people of color. A senior faculty member who is a white man, she said, can also work to make sure the search process is equitable.

Weinberg was a good place to start due to its large size and variety of departments, Chase-Lansdale added.

“People are very open,” she said. “They want to do the right thing, but sometimes it’s just not clear what exactly you should do.”

Implicit bias often prevents women and people of color from landing jobs, Schmitt said.

Though Schmitt said he believes implicit bias among faculty is “no big problem” in his department, he said he recognizes the challenges bias can play. He added that discussions with administrators help search committees keep bias in mind.

“Imagine that (search committees have) implicit bias against a particular group of people, then a good candidate from that particular group of people might never have a chance to be interviewed, to come and meet the faculty and have his or her shot at getting a job,” Schmitt said.

Source: Northwestern Data Book

Graphic by Max Schuman/Daily Senior Staffer

Different schools, different experiences

Individual schools have also made efforts to diversify their faculty beyond University administrators’ programs.

About seven years ago, SESP Dean Penelope Peterson said she became concerned about diversity in the faculty of her school, which admitted an increasing number of students of color each year.

After conversations with members of Promote 360, a group that aims to empower underrepresented students, Peterson said she decided the school needed to hire a person who specialized in research related to diversity and inclusion.

A search committee narrowed the pool of candidates to two people — a psychologist and an economist — and SESP was able to recruit both because the psychology department agreed to hire the former part-time, Peterson said.

SESP Prof. David Figlio, who will succeed Peterson as SESP dean when she retires this summer, said he was pleased with the way the search turned out. Search committees in SESP need to pay close attention to diversity, he said, as the school is small and there are few hires at any given point.

“We want to be casting wide nets, making sure that for every position, including positions that are unlikely to net an underrepresented minority faculty member or whatever other aspect of diversity we’re looking at, that we’re likely to get fantastic people to apply,” Figlio said.

In her two decades as dean, Peterson said SESP search committees have consistently included at least one person of color.

“Somebody who is from a diverse cultural background is likely to bring up with the rest of the committee that they really want to look at people who are not just white,” Peterson said. “Otherwise, you have a search committee that is all white … and sometimes it doesn’t dawn on them, quite frankly.”

As Northwestern continues to admit an increasing number of Pell Grant-eligible students and Chicago Public Schools students, Peterson said it is important to have faculty whose experiences are similar to those they teach.

In some ways, SESP’s faculty is more diverse than in other undergraduate schools. In fall 2016, 69 percent of the 42 tenure-line and full-time faculty members identified as white, the lowest proportion of any undergraduate school, according to the Northwestern Data Book.

Still, SESP does not have any tenure-line or full-time Latinx faculty, Peterson said.

Administrators in other undergraduate schools are also working toward increasing the number of underrepresented faculty. The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, for example, is statistically low in Hispanic and Latinx faculty, Medill Dean Brad Hamm said.

According to the Northwestern Data Book, two out of 65 tenure-line and full-time professors in Medill identified as Hispanic in fall 2016.

Hamm said Medill also aims to hire more women as well as tenure and tenure-track faculty. When hiring senior faculty, Hamm said partnerships between different schools can be a “powerful” way to recruit professors who wish to have a large impact on their community or profession.

“This year, our faculty identified two top faculty members with tenure at other universities that we wanted to recruit on the journalism side,” Hamm said. “In both cases, the faculty members are diverse.”

Hamm said Medill aims to hire five new faculty members by the end of the year. In August, the school hired Director of Sports Journalism J.A. Adande, and Poynter Institute president Tim Franklin was recently named the next senior associate dean of Medill. The fifth person may be a joint appointment with the Pritzker School of Law, Hamm said.

He said older faculty at universities are often the least representative, and as they retire, there are opportunities to diversify the faculty.

“As that cohort nears or takes retirement, it rebalances the faculty for many schools, too,” Hamm said. “So you see diversity and gender balance occurring on both fronts really, the transition for new people coming and the transition of faculty moving toward retirement.”

Representing student identities

Associated Student Government President Nehaarika Mulukutla is the only woman in her Political Economics class this quarter.

The Weinberg junior said it can be difficult for students to feel like they fit in at Northwestern when the faculty is not representative of the student body.

“It’s so important then that if you come from a marginalized background or if you have experienced oppression in your identities, that you see yourself or someone like you in those positions of power, in those positions of success,” Mulukutla said.

Mulukutla is majoring in economics, a department that in the fall had two female tenured professors and 25 male tenured professors.

Economics Prof. Mark Witte, the department’s director of undergraduate studies, said his department does its best to reach out to people who would contribute to its diversity. Though he said it would not hire someone “just because they would expand us in some direction,” search committees take underrepresented candidates very seriously.

“People should be who they want to be,” Witte said. “Hopefully we teach people to be resilient and overcome that, but I do wonder that there’s this sort of psychological subtext of ‘maybe you don’t belong here’.”

ASG vice president for accessibility and inclusion Austin Gardner said while this is only his third quarter at Northwestern, he’s been disappointed to have had just two black professors. Both of them were African American studies professors, Gardner said.

“People have told me there’s very much a pigeonholing of certain professors where it’s like, ‘oh, you’re a professor of color but that means you work in an area that has to do with your marginalized identity’,” the SESP freshman said. “I love them and they’re great, but why can’t there be more great black professors in other areas?”

Bennett said administrators encourage search committees to keep diversity in mind during their hiring processes. Faculty of color are often more highly concentrated in ethnic studies departments, Bennett said. He said he hopes all departments, from STEM fields to the humanities, see an increase in diverse faculty.

“That’s … just how it works out when you have faculty … who choose personally to work in those areas of scholarship, but it’s not by intention that we only hire people of color, faculty of color, in those areas,” Bennett said.

In September, the University released the Black Student Experience Report, which made 14 recommendations, including one to increase the number of black students, faculty and staff at Northwestern. The report notes the difficulty of describing “a single, all-encompassing” black student experience and recognizes that “intersecting identities must be considered.” In general, the report discusses the ways many black students feel uncomfortable and unwelcome at Northwestern.

During Winter Quarter, Bennett said about 75 administrators met to discuss the recommendations and determine which to prioritize. One of the recommendations they chose was to recruit more black students and faculty, he said. Bennett will oversee a committee that will examine this recommendation.

Gardner said students of color often feel disconnected when most of their professors do not look like them.

“Especially for people interested in academia it’s like, ‘Wow, I may be interested in academia but it doesn’t look like academia is interested in me’,” Gardner said.

Building momentum

New positions and courses help diversify the faculty, Linzer said, but recruiting scholars and creating partnerships with other organizations takes time.

In November 2014, the University’s Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force recommended that Northwestern establish an indigenous research center. The task force report also recommended that NU hire Native American scholars and establish partnerships with Native American educational institutions.

The task force was established after the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance called for the University to investigate NU founder John Evans’ role in the Sand Creek Massacre, in which at least 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed. The University established the task force while a separate committee examined Evans’ role in the massacre.

In October 2015, the University announced an Indigenous Studies Research Initiative led by Weinberg. In an email to faculty at the time, Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph said NU would launch searches for junior faculty members and postdoctoral fellows in Native American and indigenous studies.

Following the different searches, sociology Prof. Beth Redbird, history Prof. Doug Kiel and postdoctoral fellow Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart joined Northwestern’s faculty in 2016 under the Indigenous Studies Research Initiative. They are the first three scholars hired for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Center, which was announced in December.

The University received a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create the center. The five-year grant, which began last month, will host fellowships and grants for faculty and students as well as host visiting scholars among other initiatives.

Kiel, who is a citizen of the Oneida Nation, said conversations about the center are still in the early stages, but a retreat will be held next week to discuss the center’s future.

“The presence of the center will be something that signals to potential faculty hires, to potential undergrad students and graduate students, that Northwestern is a place that is invested in the work of indigenous studies, and that this is a hospitable home to do that kind of work,” Kiel said. “It’s really exciting to be part of this while it’s getting off the ground.”

Medill freshman Justin Curto, who is of Sioux descent, said he feels the University is “bolstering” Native studies.

Curto, who is NAISA’s treasurer, said he hopes hiring more faculty will lead to a minor or certificate for students to complete in Native studies. Curto said he hopes the University hires a senior faculty member in Native studies, as the first three people recruited are not tenured.

A 2016 study by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association found that while universities have increased faculty diversity over the last 20 years, many of the hires have been for non-tenure track positions. Fewer than one in 10 women faculty members are full-time professors, the study found.

“Having the University actually commit to hiring someone with tenure … shows something on their part that this is something they are interested in, that they want someone who is already a leader in their field,” Curto said.

English Prof. Kelly Wisecup, co-chair of the Indigenous Studies Research Initiative steering committee, said she hopes a senior faculty member will serve as the first director of the center. The Mellon Foundation grant included funding for a senior faculty position, and two senior professors may be hired soon, Wisecup said.

Hiring more Native faculty and allowing students to take more courses in Native studies would also bring NU closer to creating a major, minor or certificate in this area, Wisecup said.

“We have done a lot of growing in the last couple years with the addition of two faculty and (a) postdoc,” Wisecup said. “To have a full range of courses, additional faculty hires would be very helpful.”

Source: Northwestern Data Book

Graphic by Max Schuman/Daily Senior Staffer

Pipeline problems

Many departments have had trouble hiring women and people of color due to a lack of diversity in the “pipeline” of students who go on to teach in certain fields.

Witte, the economics professor, said the problem could be what he calls a “unit root,” where a situation doesn’t change over time because of how it was set up. For example, economics can appear culturally to be something “guys do and women don’t.”

“People read that as a message and follow it,” he said. “But it’s a puzzle. I look at people who do well in the field, and certainly women routinely dominate in terms of grades or honors theses and things like that. So it isn’t that women don’t do well in econ.”

Mulukutla, the economics major, said though she likes her professor in Political Economics, she doesn’t think they share many common identities or experiences.

“You’re not just one person made up of one identity,” she said. “You hold so many different identities and you come into this school with 20 years of your life behind you and those 20 years have been (composed) of different experiences that are based very much in your culture, your religion, your ethnicity, your background.”

McCormick assistant dean for graduate studies Bruce Lindvall said his school also has a long way to go in terms of diversifying its graduate student body. However, he pointed to American Society for Engineering Education data from fall 2016 showing McCormick ranks highly among its competitors in terms of diversity among its graduate students.

According to the study, McCormick ranked fourth among the top 25 engineering schools, with women accounting for 29.4 percent of its student body. Only Carnegie Mellon’s engineering school has more than 40 percent women, according to the data.

But despite having a relatively high proportion of women, McCormick still sees a gender imbalance in many of its departments. Most departments have far more men than women, and the difference is even greater among tenured professors.

In the civil and environmental engineering department, just one of the 16 tenured professors in fall 2016 was a woman. Two of the 39 tenured professors in the electrical engineering and computer science department that quarter were women.

McCormick Prof. David Chopp, chair of the engineering sciences and applied mathematics department, said there are no women in his department, but two will join by January 2018. Both women will be either tenured or in a tenure-track position, he said.

Chopp said to improve the pipeline, it is important to have women in his department.

“I want (graduate students) to have good role models, and I want them to see themselves in that role in the future,” Chopp said. “So, it’s important for us to have that representation.”

The engineering sciences and applied mathematics department has not had a woman on its faculty for about two years, Chopp said, but for most of his time at Northwestern it has had at least one.

“We’re trying to improve the pipeline,” Chopp said. “And whether it leads back to us or it leads to somewhere else, it’s trying to give back to the community to try and improve diversity. “

In the 11 years he’s worked at Northwestern, Lindvall said the number of underrepresented Ph.D. students has more than doubled.

Broadbelt, the chemical and biological engineering department chair, said she was the first female tenure-track professor hired in her department.

She said her department is hiring another female tenure-track professor, who will start in 2018. The department had 12 tenured male professors and two tenured female professors in fall 2016.

Broadbelt said the department recently got feedback showing students appreciated having her as the chair of a department that is dominated by male professors.

“There are studies that have shown that female faculty graduate students and undergrads do look for representation of other females in positions within the department — that they can imagine themselves in that same scenario,” Broadbelt said.

Exclusion from academia

Chase-Lansdale, the associate provost for faculty, said the pipeline issue extends beyond underrepresented people seeking Ph.D.s. Women often feel excluded from academia throughout their careers, she said, leading to fewer of them attaining professorships, a phenomenon she referred to as the “leaky” pipeline.

In November, Northwestern launched the Provost’s Advisory Council on Women Faculty, which Chase-Lansdale said aims to elevate the work of women at NU. The council addresses topics such as pipeline issues, work-life policies and the promotion of leadership and mentoring.

Faculty can also get involved in influencing high school and college students to pursue fields where they are underrepresented, Chase-Lansdale said. To promote this, the University gives out Provost Grants for Innovation in Diversity and Equity, with 12 groups of faculty receiving the awards in 2017.

This year, a group of mathematics professors received the grant and will use it along with funds from the National Science Foundation to work on a pipeline program for female undergraduate students interested in math.

Similar efforts to promote inclusion among underrepresented groups have recently been launched in individual departments. Schmitt, the physics and astronomy chair, said he set up a group during Fall Quarter for women to share meals, attend social events and gather to hear visiting speakers.

The group is an opportunity for students to get to know professors who have excelled in their fields. Schmitt said he hopes to start another support group for international students, who also may feel isolated.

“There is an exchange of information and stories that makes it much easier for women to want to stay in physics and astronomy, and I think this is turning out to be a very positive development,” Schmitt said.

Shifting leadership

After a decade as provost, Linzer will step down at the end of this academic year. His successor, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, made national headlines in 2015 amid student protests that followed alleged racist behavior at a fraternity and an email students said was culturally insensitive.

In November 2015, hundreds of Yale students crowded a quad on the university’s campus during a week of protests that called on administrators to do more to support marginalized students. Holloway, Yale College’s first black dean, stood for three hours and listened to students’ criticisms and demands, which included a call for greater faculty diversity.

This “flash point,” Holloway said this month, was an affirmation of concerns he had heard and experienced before.

“It was different in terms of the way students communicated their ideas about this — that’s true — but what they were talking about, unfortunately, is an old and familiar story,” Holloway said.

In November 2015, Yale announced it would devote $50 million to increasing faculty diversity over a five-year period. The funds go toward recruiting a diverse faculty, developing programs to support best practices in hiring searches, building faculty leadership, sponsoring “pipeline programs” and more.

Linzer said just spending money to diversify faculty “doesn’t mean anything” if it doesn’t create a long-term impact. Increasing diversity takes a lot of time and “real work,” Linzer said, pointing to the Native American and Indigenous Studies Center at Northwestern as an example of a stepwise approach resulting in tangible outcomes.

“If you try and just paste something on, it’s really fragile and it’s hard to make that work,” Linzer said.

When Holloway officially takes over as provost this summer, he will strive to carve out time to meet students and faculty in informal settings, he said. Holloway said he hopes such meetings will help him understand the “culture” on campus.

Holloway described Yale and Northwestern as great institutions, but he believes neither can “feel comfortable” in claiming that without having faculty and student bodies that reflect the complexity of the world. He said it is important for students to learn from people with diverse genders, races and political views, among other things.

“Diversity and inclusion have to both be pursued by a university, or else you’re leaving people hung out to dry, to navigate places on their own, places that might be hostile,” Holloway said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @peterkotecki

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @thejonahdylan