Panel addresses lack of faculty diversity

Faculty and administrators, including President-elect Peter Salovey, participated in Monday’s panel on faculty diversity.
Faculty and administrators, including President-elect Peter Salovey, participated in Monday’s panel on faculty diversity. Photo by Sari Levy.

Administrators and faculty, including members of the Women Faculty Forum, convened for a panel in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Monday night to discuss the reasons why a university with such a diverse undergraduate body has a faculty overwhelmingly composed of white males.

The panel, which was co-sponsored by the Yale College Council and the News, consisted of President-elect Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Deputy Provost Frances Rosenbluth, Anthropology Chair Richard Bribiescas, EE&B Chair Paul Turner, WFF Chair Priya Natarajan and WFF report author Allison Tait. Panelists covered topics such as unequal mentorship for ladder faculty members within departments and cultural burdens placed on women as possible reasons for this imbalance.

Tait presented statistics and information the WFF included in its report, “The View from 2012,” which showed that while the number of women faculty has increased from 17 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2011–’12, white males still make up 66 percent of the faculty body.

“The progress I think reveals it is possible to make change, to make an impact, to actually do things that address this challenge,” Salovey said. “The fact that this progress is slow but steady reveals as well that we need to do a lot more.”

Salovey said the school is approaching the end of a five-year initiative to increase faculty diversity and will start a new cycle immediately afterward. He did not mention specific policies the University will enact, but he said he hopes to promote diversity no matter the cost to the University and to set numerical goals for diversity hires.

Search committees charged with filling a faculty position on campus are all taught the idea of “unconscious bias” before they start evaluating candidates to try to eliminate a cultural bias against women or minorities, Rosenbluth said. She added that administrators are looking to implement peer-on-peer training and workshops about avoiding unconscious bias to “even the scale” for minority applicants.

Salovey and Rosenbluth said the process of attaining more diverse faculty members involves throwing out a larger net during the hiring process, since chasing minority faculty members already employed at peer schools does not improve the overall composition of higher education.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is to make the labor market for faculty positions more competitive, more excellent, have more integrity,” Rosenbluth said. “It’s not about affirmative action. It’s about increasing the pool so we are choosing from the best.”

Panelists also considered the issue of adequate mentorship for women and minority faculty members. As all faculty members seek tenure, Rosenbluth said, they are paired with mentors within their departments and receive mentorship from their chairs to ensure they feel supported through the tenure process and help them understand which benefits to request during salary negotiations with the Provost’s Office. Moving forward, the faculty can additionally use a University-wide mentoring program, recently piloted by the WFF.

Participants in the panel also discussed the tendency for women to leave academia for reasons such as raising a family. Miller said the lack of affordable day care in New Haven remains a serious problem. She remembered having her first child while on the faculty. She said women faculty members were expected to have their children over the winter or summer vacations, adding that the “provost was essentially in bed with you” during the planning stages.

While panelists and audience members cracked the occasional joke, tension grew during several audience questions, including a question from Alexander Hamilton DIV ’15 about African-American faculty feeling unwelcome on campus.

“What does it communicate to our students when they see African-Americans dominating the grounds crews on campus, in the cafeteria, but not in front of the blackboard?” Hamilton asked.

Turner responded by saying he agreed and “it’s a shame that everybody in the services here at Yale is a person of color.”

Six audience members interviewed said they were glad the forum addressed an issue as important as diversity, but they still had additional questions about the University’s specific plans to ensure more diverse hires.

School Of Management professor Connie Bagley, a WFF member who wrote the report, said she thinks the forum started slowly but ultimately guaranteed accountability on the part of administrators, who committed to continue addressing the problem in front of students and faculty members.

The Women Faculty Forum was started in 2001 and promotes equality and scholarship about gender equality on Yale’s campus.

Correction: Feb. 6

A previous version of this article misidentified School Of Management Professor Connie Bagley as an author of the Women’s Faculty Forum report “The View from 2012.” In fact, Bagley co-chaired the WFF Working Group on Sexual Misconduct. 

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