Panel pushes more faculty diversity

Several dozen faculty members aired their grievances about what they believe to be a lack of gender and racial diversity among the University’s faculty at a panel discussion Wednesday night hosted by the Yale Women Faculty Forum.

Panelists and audience members alike criticized the University for not making a strong enough effort to mentor female junior professors or minority junior faculty members, and also said Yale’s commitment to recruiting diverse faculty varied widely among departments.

The panel — part of an ongoing effort by the WFF to promote faculty diversity — was composed of sociology professor Deborah Davis; history professor Glenda Gilmore; Forrester Lee, the director of multicultural affairs at the School of Medicine; and Curtis Patton, head of epidemiology of microbial diseases. The four panelists used Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ controversial comments about female scientists as a springboard for their discussion.

The panelists proceeded to criticize the University for blaming its comparatively low numbers of female and minority faculty on “pipeline” problems.

“The pipeline is a bad metaphor because it assumes flow in one direction: onwards and upwards,” Gilmore said. “In my experience, this is not always the case.”

But Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department Chair Stephen Stearns, who was in the audience at the forum, said he believes part of the dilemma may indeed be ascribed to the difficulty of finding and attracting minority and female candidates — a “pipeline” problem.

Stearns said his department recently hired four new faculty members, two of whom were women, and although the department’s senior faculty helped search for minority candidates, they were unable to find any candidates of color whom they believed would have reasonable chances of attaining tenure. Also, Stearns said it is difficult to identify minority candidates because candidates often do not indicate their ethnicity in their applications.

Stearns was careful to point out that he believes the University is working hard to provide incentives for departments to hire minorities and women.

“This institution actually has a lot of resources that it invests in this,” Stearns said. “Every department knows there are huge rewards waiting from the administration if we can find [minority and female candidates].”

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the University is expending considerable effort in diversifying its faculty. He cited the doubling in the number of female faculty since the beginning of Yale President Richard Levin’s administration, which he said would in turn increase the number of female mentors.

“The positive trend is that the representation of women on the faculty is growing,” Conroy said. “Not as fast as it is desirable, but it’s important that progress is being made.”

The panelists also said they think University should develop a more comprehensive mentoring program for junior faculty members, especially women and minorities, to help them develop their careers.

“None of us can really succeed without a guardian angel, without someone who cares,” Patton said.

Lee echoed this sentiment, saying he believes the University has work to do to ensure that junior faculty feel at home at Yale.

“We come in as outsiders, we remain outsiders, and we leave as outsiders,” Lee said.

Gilmore pointed to the University’s ultra-competitive tenure system — under which she said many young professors, particularly women and minorities, leave Yale to take tenured or tenure-track positions at other universities — as one reason why junior professors have a diminished sense of community on campus.

“We need to have a frank discussion across the University about the purpose of junior faculty,” Gilmore said.

Although they acknowledged that the University has made efforts to ameliorate the relative shortage of female and minority faculty, the panelists all said Yale’s results have not been satisfactory because the University’s recruiting efforts are not uniform across departments.

Gilmore said the numbers of tenured female faculty have increased far more in some departments than in others, mentioning the History Department as one that has seen significant increases, and various science departments as ones that had not. At the panel, Gilmore recommended that the University adopt a uniform policy for recruitment.

“No one is held accountable for the larger mission of diversity,” Gilmore said.

Faculty diversity issues have been in the spotlight this year as various activist groups, including the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, have called on Yale to adopt new recruiting policies.

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