an uncomfortable truth about faculty diversity

Over the weekend, an NBER working paper about faculty diversity was making the rounds. It’s called “The Impact of Chief Diversity Officers on Diverse Faculty Hiring” Bradley et al. Here is the abstract:

As the American college student population has become more diverse, the goal of hiring a more diverse faculty has received increased attention in higher education. A signal of institutional commitment to faculty diversity often includes the hiring of an executive level chief diversity officer (CDO). To examine the effects of a CDO in a broad panel data context, we combine unique data on the initial hiring of a CDO with publicly available faculty and administrator hiring data by race and ethnicity from 2001 to 2016 for four-year or higher U.S. universities categorized as Carnegie R1, R2, or M1 institutions with student populations of 4,000 or more. We are unable to find significant statistical evidence that preexisting growth in diversity for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups is affected by the hiring of an executive level diversity officer for new tenure and non-tenure track hires, faculty hired with tenure, or for university administrator hires.

Not surprising to me. After 20 years doing higher ed in one way or another, there is little reason to believe CDO’s have much of an effect. Faculty diversity relies on four things:

  1. Professors need to admit under represented students into high prestige programs.
  2. Professors need to graduate under represented students from their programs.
  3. Professors need to train under represented students so that they have “the right” publications.
  4. Professors need to hire under represented stuents who have done #1-#3.

CDO’s, and most other initiatives for diversity, really fail to understand this process beyond Step #1. While admission to graduate school is a logical precondition for faculty diversity, it is not enough. The faculty really have to prep students and make sure they have the right portfolio – and this is where a lot of the failure happens.

Ironically, what CDO’s can influence, hiring, is relatively easy. Extra funds can be provided by an administration for interviews or to help with salaries. But that can only happen when there is a pool of students with the right publications. Sadly, few of us are willing to sit down with students and do the messy work of mentoring them, or co-authoring. Until that happens, faculty diversification will be slow.


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Written by fabiorojas

September 5, 2018 at 4:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Doesn’t this suggest that the tough, messy work of mentoring would go mainly to benefit diversity candidates, if diversity is the goal?


    Don Frazier

    September 5, 2018 at 5:02 am

  2. @Don Frazier – why would “diversity candidates” be the only ones to be mentored? A good program should mentor *all* its students. You could call me a “diversity candidate” if you like (although I do find it offensive that some would like to reduce everything I bring to the table in academia down to my skin color and last name). And while I am not at a “prestige” university, I feel fortunate to be in a well-respected program where nearly all the faculty are *both* highly productive *and* good mentors who help us understand what it takes to achieve strong placements and successful tenure-track journeys. It may be that mentoring is tough and messy, as you say. But a good program will bake into its systems and culture multiple means of transferring a great deal of the “hidden curriculum” students need to succeed, thus easing some of the burden on individual faculty. Any program worth being a part of will care about and invest in the success of all its students… are you not training your future colleagues? I know my faculty are.

    Liked by 1 person


    September 6, 2018 at 12:10 am

  3. “Professors need to admit under represented students into high prestige programs”

    Yes, but also we shouldn’t immediately write off anyone who didn’t go to a “high prestige program” from entering academia. Judging candidates by the quality of their work and not by their letterhead would go at least some of the way towards remedying a portion of the lack of faculty diversity as well.

    Liked by 1 person


    September 6, 2018 at 7:03 pm

  4. I haven’t read the paper (no access for us low-prestige folks). But I would argue that this finding does not reflect the weak position of CDOs or even the pipeline problem (which I agree is a major source of limited faculty diversity). Chief diversity officers do not exist to open new faculty lines so that targets of opportunity can be hired. They do not exist to address lopsided service obligations and mentorship demands. They do not even exist to help departments craft ads that will showcase their great campus and regional diversity so they are attractive to candidates of color. In tight budgetary climates, their salaries are money that cannot go to salaries or additional interview costs. Rather, CDOs exist to check boxes on forms, standardize hiring procedures (we were once told that taking candidates out to dinner at different restaurants reflecting their dietary needs might violate policies designed to ensure equal treatment of candidates), and pat the institution on the back. They provide a way to let the rest of the administration off the hook–not by marginalizing the power of the diversity officer, but rather by making sure that the concern is bureaucratic adequacy rather than justice.



    September 9, 2018 at 1:30 am

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