Three years after the Yale administration proposed ambitious plans to boost the number of women and minorities on the University’s faculty, last week’s Yale College Council forum on faculty hiring revealed that some students and professors remain upset that Yale’s faculty has yet to adequately diversify.
The rewards of a diverse faculty are far-reaching, and Yale should strive to hire and tenure all qualified women and minorities. But critics of the University’s current faculty composition must remember that a lack of diversity is a long-term problem that can be resolved only with long-term solutions. It would be a grave mistake to succumb to shortsightedness in areas as important as tenure and hiring decisions, and it would do a disservice to the mission of the University to reach for an apparent quick fix like drastically ramping up the hiring of women and minorities in the next few years.
Those arguing for greater faculty diversity immediately misunderstand the basic nature of the problem. The low numbers of tenured women and minority professors today are the result of the dearth of female and minority doctoral candidates several decades ago. Few have built academic careers of the quality required of tenured Yale professors. This is especially true in the physical sciences, a field in which very few women specialized 20 or 30 years ago.
Hiring a disproportionate amount of female or minority scholars from this rather small group of potential professors would prove a bad choice for Yale. Ultimately, the two most important duties of faculty members are to conduct exemplary research and provide first-rate classroom instruction, and satisfying these criteria must outweigh the importance of increasing Yale’s faculty diversity if Yale is to maintain its reputation.
The good news is that the pool of qualified women and minorities is growing every year, and, thus, the number of tenured women and minorities should gradually rise. Indeed, from 1996 to 2001, women rose from 23.7 to 25.8 percent of the faculty, blacks from 2.5 to 2.8 percent, Asians from 6.7 to 8.2 percent, and Hispanics from 1.7 to 1.9 percent. As decades go by and the current crop of college graduates enters the academy, the composition of the faculty will naturally change to reflect the pool of professorial contenders, which will be far more balanced than it is today.
Still, the University should continue to make an extraordinary commitment to seek out all qualified women and minorities, since having diverse, qualified faculty members is the ultimate goal to which the University should aspire. The 1999 plan sets a good example by offering rewards to departments that hire minority and female faculty and by enhancing the role of Yale’s central administration in the hiring process, but maintaining the extremely high standards applied to all other applicants.
Few would dispute that Yale would benefit from a greater number of qualified women and minorities in its faculty. What’s not so obvious is that overemphasizing minority criteria in faculty selection can be just as dangerous.