Diversity plan turns on tenure

In the new faculty diversity initiative unveiled last week, the University is reexamining its faculty hiring policies from the past six years as it seeks to increase its ranks of tenured minorities and women during the next seven years.

Since Yale last announced a comparable commitment to diversity in 1999, the University has made some progress in recruiting non-tenured term faculty with a wide range of backgrounds, but the composition of its tenured faculty remains much the same. The new initiative — which aims to increase the number of female and minority professors at Yale College and the graduate schools by 20 percent and 34 percent, respectively, in seven years — will take advantage of a widening national pool of scholars and includes new retention programs to rectify the discrepancy between junior and senior faculty. But Yale officials and professors said the University continues to face obstacles, including a poor level of internal promotion and the low availability of minority candidates.

Provost Andrew Hamilton said the initiative is the next step in a process that began in 1999, when the University pledged unlimited resources to minority faculty recruitment.

“We’ve had considerable success over the last six or seven years, but it’s also clear that we need to do more,” Hamilton said. “This announcement is an opportunity to reengage and reenergize the process.”

The 1999 commitment to diversity affected junior faculty far more than tenured faculty, according to data from the Yale Office of Institutional Research. The number of tenured minority professors in the arts and sciences has increased by 0.5 percent since 1999, to 9.5 percent of tenured positions, while the number of female professors has increased 5.5 percent to 18.7 percent of tenured positions. Meanwhile, women and minorities in the term faculty make up twice the share of their tenured counterparts.

Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said the homogeneity of senior faculty is largely rooted in a lack of internal promotion at the University. Instead of tapping its more diverse junior faculty for higher positions, he said, Yale has recruited from an outside pool of well-known professors.

“Yale has a reputation of being a place where it’s extremely difficult to move up through the ranks and get tenure,” Smith said. “Retention has not been very high, and the morale of junior faculty has not been very good.”

Deputy Provost for Science, Technology and Faculty Development Kim Bottomly, who is leading the new diversity initiative, said the plan will have particular impact in the sciences. Women make up 6.8 percent of the tenured faculty in the physical sciences, a 3.2 percent increase since 1999. Women are better represented than are racial minorities in the biological sciences; 5 percent of biology professors are minorities.

Bottomly said the nationwide pool of candidates has diversified somewhat since 1999, prompting Yale to establish its ambitious numerical goals for the next seven years. Women received 24 percent of the doctorate degrees in the physical sciences in 1998, Bottomly said. Given a roughly ten year lag between a degree and a Yale professorship, she said, the University will have more women to choose from in the next few years than in the past.

Still, Bottomly said continuing weaknesses in the national pool will pose the greatest challenge to Yale’s efforts.

“At some point in time, we will have enough people in the Ph.D. pool to really increase the diversity of the faculty in a much more active way,” she said. “Right now, it will be hard work.”

But Mary Reynolds GRD ’07, chair of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, said Yale’s success depends only on its level of commitment.

“When the University decides that something is priority, is has the resources to make significant change,” she said. “I don’t think the size of the applicant pool has anything to do with it.”

Bottomly said a separate committee investigating Yale’s tenure system may make changes to offer junior faculty “more hope” for promotion. The diversity initiative will also expand mentoring programs to provide term professors and graduate students with grants and career guidance, Bottomly said. The programs aim to teach students and professors how to balance their academic and personal lives, she said.

While any change to the tenure and mentoring systems will benefit members of all minority groups, Smith said, the improvements could particularly help boost the number of tenured female professors. During the last 20 years, women with families have found it difficult to climb the ranks, he said.

“Many women junior faculty who are also having families in their childbearing ages are at a disadvantage against the men who are not having children,” Smith said. “Quite a few women were not retained who I think should have been.”

Administrators said regardless of outside factors, structural changes to faculty recruitment procedures will better equip the University to find the minority scholars. The plan designates a central committee to supervise and oversee the initiative and requires that a representative in each departmental search committee be responsible for addressing diversity concerns.

Law School professor Drew Days, who chairs Yale’s Minority Advisory Committee, said the initiative adds an important layer of personal responsibility that previous efforts have lacked.

“It creates accountability down through the ranks and creates a sense of ownership with respect to the ultimate success of the effort,” Days said.

Bottomly said the University has several other advantages today that it lacked when the last initiative was launched, including improved research on factors such as unconscious bias.

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