Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

Meghan Gupta ’21 can count on one hand the number of Native faculty members throughout all of Yale, which is four, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

These four faculty members act as role models and mentors to students of similar backgrounds, Gupta said. They can tell Native stories from a perspective that has been left out of traditional scholarship, and academics from outside the community can impose harmful stereotypes on Native communities. She is not alone in how she feels. Five students and five professors underscored the lingering need for improvement in faculty diversity in interviews with the News.

In recent years, Yale has put resources and efforts toward hiring a more diverse faculty. In 2015, the University started the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, or FEDI, which devotes central resources to recruiting and retaining a more diverse faculty. These resources can include support for faculty spouses, research and salaries. Following a mid-decade decline in the number of diverse hires, the last two years have seen considerable growth, according to a report released to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on March 9. 

Though Yale has made progress toward hiring a more diverse faculty, the faculty’s composition has not kept pace with a cohort of students that has become ever more diverse, according to Matthew Jacobson, professor of African American Studies.

According to the Office of Institutional Resources, Black faculty made up 3.9 percent, Hispanic faculty made up 4.6 percent, American Indian or Alaska native faculty made up 0.001 percent, Asian faculty made up 19.7 percent and white faculty made up 63.3 percent of University faculty in 2020. In that same year, the student body was 7.7 percent Black, 13.3 percent Hispanic, 0.4 percent American Indian or Alaska native, 19.3 percent Asian and 52.7 percent white.

“The undergraduate admissions is light-years ahead of the rest of the University when it comes to diversity questions,” Jacobson told the News. “Here we are with almost a 19th-century faculty that is still just egregiously white, but this really diverse student body that is completely different from the student body of a generation ago. That gap between who the students are and who the faculty are has become more and more problematic.”

In an email to the News, Desir pointed to FEDI’s success in recruiting diverse faculty members in recent years. During the first five years of the program, FEDI helped recruit 101 ladder faculty members and 46 Presidential Visiting Fellows. But he acknowledged that the University has a ways to go in diversifying its faculty through both hiring and retention.

The FAS ladder faculty has grown by 29 people since 2015. In the past six years, Yale has added 12 underrepresented minority faculty members, bringing the total number of underrepresented minority ladder faculty members up to 69 out of 683 total ladder faculty. Underrepresented minority refers specifically to African American or Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or Indigenous people, per federal categorizations. The University also hired 27 other faculty of color who do not fall into the category of an underrepresented minority since 2015.

In the past two years in particular, growth has been strong, according to the March update on ladder faculty diversity in the FAS. From fall 2018 to fall 2019, the FAS saw a net increase of one underrepresented minority faculty member and nine other non-white faculty. From fall 2019 to fall 2020, the FAS saw a net increase of 12 underrepresented minority faculty members and 10 other non-white faculty.

English professor Mark Oppenheimer questioned how the University was measuring diversity and where it was ultimately heading, as he said Yale has not yet clearly defined its diversity goals. Desir did not enumerate specific goals but told the News that Yale that work is still necessary to “support and retain” diverse faculty so that they thrive at Yale.

But Oppenheimer wants Yale to be more specific about its success metrics: Would success be a faculty or student body that looks “like America” — 72 percent white, 2 percent Jewish, 16 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black, 5 percent Asian and about 1 percent Native American? Would it be a faculty that looks like New Haven? Connecticut? Like the pool of doctorate recipients in the United States? Or does success depend on acceptance, retention and other metrics?

“If the university is serious, it will answer all these questions,” Oppenheimer wrote in an email to the News. “We have to know what would count as success.”

Importance and impact of a diverse faculty

According to Dean of Diversity and Faculty Development in the FAS Larry Gladney, the faculty is the constituency that is most difficult to change in the University. Yale only replaces between four and five percent of the faculty each year, compared to replacing a quarter of the undergraduate student body.

Additionally, policies handed down by administrators often stop when administrators leave the institution, Gladney said. But tenured faculty members stick around long enough to drive change — and to keep things the same.

With the nationwide end of mandatory retirement in 1986, faculty stay at universities longer than they used to. Due to the nature of the profession, older professors are more likely to be white men than younger faculty are, Jacobson said.

“Increasing the diversity of faculty should be a priority — and I would say the #1 priority –– of [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] work at the graduate level,” Stephane Andrade GRD ’22 wrote in an email to the News. “But, beyond the rhetoric, what that actually looks like in practice is what matters to me most, and I think, the majority of my colleagues.”

Andrade, who is a doctoral candidate in sociology and African American studies, said that hiring should be focused on the departments at the forefront of racial equity and social justice work.

Gladney said that the University has made progress toward creating a more diverse faculty, but that the progress is sometimes isolated to select departments and not always visible. Last fall, the University put an additional $85 million toward FEDI.

Making meaningful change: A pipeline problem

In 2008, underrepresented minority faculty made up five percent of faculty in FAS STEM departments. By 2020, that number had risen to seven percent.

A study out of Stanford University found that part of the problem with racially homogenous faculties is that there are “insufficient numbers” of women and minorities in the pipeline to the professoriate. In 2015, only 15 percent of humanities master’s degrees and 10 percent of humanities doctorates went to people from traditionally underrepresented groups.

In 2017, The Atlantic reported that there were more than a dozen STEM subfields in which there was not a single Black doctorate recipient in the country that year. According to data from the National Science Foundation, only 5.4 percent of doctorate recipients in 2017 were Black.

Andrade added that expanding post-doctoral opportunities could possibly lead to permanent employment at the University, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. He mentioned the University’s Bouchet Fellowship, which is affiliated with the national Mellon Mays undergraduate program.

“The [Bouchet/Mellon] program is committed to supporting the development of underrepresented students, including those who may be FGLI, in their pursuit of the PhD in order to address many of the significant disparities we see at the faculty level,” Andrade, who serves as one of the program’s coordinators at Yale, wrote in the email. “By starting early and supporting undergraduate students with mentorship, research and financial support, programs like Mellon Mays, Bouchet, and the like, are important models for addressing many of the disparities we see in higher education.”

Gupta, who is a Bouchet undergraduate fellow, noted that the program addresses faculty diversity in higher education, but that more needs to be done. Because of the fellowship, Gupta has been given funding for her research, which focuses on Indigenous advocacy and storytelling, and she aspires to go into higher education after graduation.

Both Andrade and Gupta stressed that the fellowship is only one solution to a larger diversity problem at the University.

And according to the Stanford study, though the pipeline is a significant issue, it is not an excuse for a lack of action on the part of educational institutions. Rather, universities have to use more aggressive outreach and recruitment tactics.

Hiring and search process

The FAS ladder faculty search process has several requirements that aim to hire more diverse candidates: First, departments develop a diversity search plan; second, Gladney and a Title IX officer approve the search ad; third, a diversity representative serves on the hiring committee; and fourth, Gladney and the FAS dean approve the shortlist of candidates.

But the process has not always included the necessary outreach to bring in a diverse candidate pool, according to Gladney.

Even if candidates see a hiring ad, they sometimes do not apply to positions because they assume they will not get serious consideration or will not find an environment where they can do their best work, Gladney said.

Gladney added that the composition of the search committee has a significant impact on who is defined as the “exemplary candidate.”

Desir seconded the importance of including people who “champion” diversity on search committees. He added that faculty should look broadly in fields and reach out to underrepresented candidates.

People who bring “diversity and excellence” are going to get offers from several top institutions, Gladney said, and Yale has to actively compete with other institutions to recruit them.

Yale Corporation member Carlos Moreno ’70 added that Yale might have to make tandem offers to faculty spouses or help accommodate them in other ways.

But Gladney attributed a large portion of the hiring challenges to implicit bias. He said that even if the search committee members are aware that it exists, they still struggle to discount their biases. The process of faculty hiring involves judgment calls at nearly every stage, he said.

The overall process and structure of hiring is not biased against specific groups, he said. But the decisions that people make can result in biased outcomes.

A common view is that diversity comes at the expense of excellence, Gladney said. However, in his view, schools cannot have one without the other.

Retention starts on day one

Along with recruiting faculty, Yale has to convince them it will value their work. A mentoring system is one way to do so — across the board, department chairs and administrators have to show a vested interest in people’s work and progress to keep them at Yale, according to Gladney.

But there is no universal rule that works for mentoring in each discipline, Gladney said. According to him, junior faculty in humanities departments often resist close oversight by more senior professors because they fear any imperfections could work against them in the tenure process. The opposite is true for STEM disciplines — junior faculty often want close assistance to help handle any setbacks, Gladney added.

Desir said that departments can design and implement formal programs to offer mentoring advice to all early-career faculty. Additionally, Desir said, departments can offer educational programs for mentors to improve their abilities.

Most of the time, the University administration does not hear complaints from Yale faculty until they are already leaving, Gladney said, adding that the most common complaints when leaving include a perceived lack of respect for people’s scholarship and the resulting isolation.

Gladney said he receives around 20 to 30 formal complaints of bias each year. Sometimes, they are clear-cut — for instance, a verbal assault or threat of violence. Other times, it is difficult to assess whether prejudice is at play, Gladney said.

Gladney added that he often receives complaints about salary differences, but he noted that it is challenging to determine whether this is based on factors like race or gender unless there is a consistent pattern. Usually, when people receive a raise, he said, it is because Yale had to counter an outside offer.

Peart said that the FAS Dean’s Office analyzes faculty salaries each year to ensure there are no discrepancies across defined categories. The Committee on the Economic Status of Faculty — a group of faculty appointed by the FAS Dean — concluded that there is no disparity between salaries along gender lines, according to its most recent report.

Jacobson said that people of color have reported to him their experience of “deep racism” at Yale. “Here as elsewhere, white people are going to have to step aside and let people of color be the arbiters of what is racist, and also of what is progress,” he added.

The role of discourse

Gladney explained that questions of diversity and inclusion may provoke strong reactions from people who might be affected by changes.

For example, Gladney said, the committee that drafted the Belonging at Yale initiatives considered whether to require all schools to create a plan on how they would improve mentoring for faculty, staff and students. Gladney advocated against this directive, as he said some departments think they are doing enough, and the committee ultimately decided not to require a plan.

But Gladney explained that controversy is natural due to the topic’s sensitivity. Additionally, he said, there have not been enough of these discussions to develop a common lexicon.

“If there’s anything that you take away from this, it’s that the fact that we haven’t had these discussions over a long period of time is in contrast to the fact that many of the things that we do more or less automatically within the academy were built up literally over centuries of time,” Gladney said. “Tenure and academic freedom and academic responsibility didn’t just evolve from somebody’s original idea. They were things that took decades and decades of discussion to get to the point of having a common understanding of what those terms mean.”

Departments often try to have guided discussions about topics of race and belonging, Gladney said. But Gladney added that sometimes these are easier planned than carried out.

In his own experience, Gladney told the News, some people question why they should talk about race and belonging if it is not related to their area of study. For different audiences, Gladney said, “You’re going to meet people who come into it with different experiences and with varying levels of expertise.”

Students and faculty might hesitate to discuss these issues for fear of going against a prevailing view and facing backlash, said David Bromwich, Sterling professor of English. “People are afraid of being misrepresented on social media,” he added.

Bromwich cited figures from a study on undergraduate self-censorship done at the University of North Carolina, which “suggest that diversity of opinion is not thriving generally on campuses today,” he said.

Oppenheimer echoed that diversity of opinion is also crucial to students’ education. “Yale has gotten far less politically diverse in the past generation,” Oppenheimer said. He added that he does not know any faculty in the humanities who vote for Republican candidates. Less than three percent of publicly disclosed political donations by Yale faculty went to Republican groups in the past seven years, according to a News analysis.

Beyond diversifying faculty

For Bayan Abubakr GRD ’25, a second-year graduate student studying history, faculty diversity is important but would not address the heart of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues at the graduate level.

“I’ve been grateful to have learned from empathetic people who show care for the communities and subjects they research,” Abubakr wrote in an email to the News. “But this isn’t a universal standard. I don’t think we should limit our understanding of ‘increasing the diversity of faculty’ as simply adding X amount of non-white and non-male scholars to the [History] department.”

Abubakr, whose research focuses on Middle Eastern and African history, said that many of the methodologies “fundamental to the discipline” were “wrought in violence.” She said bringing women and scholars of color into the space without changing the content would place the burden of diversifying the space on the non-male and non-white scholars.

Abubakr added that at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, current faculty must implement “serious initiatives” to “decolonize the way history is taught, researched, and imagined.”

“The real issue at hand is not one of diversity and representation but one of the ways knowledge is produced and taught,” she wrote to the News.

Frederick Iseman professor of poetry Claudia Rankine expressed similar sentiments about the broader considerations for faculty diversity.

“I certainly promote diverse faculty, but I do think that among our faculty we want the diversity to be exhibited in the syllabus, in the interests of the faculty [and] in the capability of reading diverse work,” Rankine told the News. “Ideally both things are happening at once, you have a diverse faculty where the burden of representing certain kinds of writers are not always on the Black faculty or faculty of color.”

Rankine, who is leaving Yale to teach at New York University next academic year, said that “in an ideal world,” students would be able to go into any classroom and have faculty who could “comfortably and accurately discuss the work of all kinds of writers, not only white writers.”

Still, she has been seeing progress. She mentioned emerging scholars who are “more diverse” in their education across time periods and genres.

According to Yale’s 2019 faculty demographics, 64.2 percent of ladder faculty are white.

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu 

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu