Though percentages of minority faculty have increased by 3.6 percent across the University over the past 10 years, percentages of black and Latinx faculty have remained largely stagnant in that same time frame, newly-released data from the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion shows.
Columbia has led elite institutions in the mission to increase faculty diversity since the formation of the Office of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion in 2002; the University has designated a total of 185 million dollars to the effort since 2005.
Moving forward, the office will focus on an expansion of pipeline programs that encourage undergraduates of color to apply to Ph.D. programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The new release from the office also includes a draft of better practices for faculty retention—specifically in regard to minority faculty members.
However, the data, which shows an explicit breakdown of faculty by race for the first time, reveals that recent progress has been incremental at best, partly due to a lack of racial diversity in higher education as a whole and sparse funding for pipeline programs that would help place minority graduate students into academia.
Since 2009, the total number of faculty members in Arts and Sciences has increased by 166, but the number of black faculty has increased only by eight and the number of Latinx faculty by 11. There are currently no black tenured engineering professors at Columbia.
Dennis Mitchell, vice provost of faculty diversity and inclusion, noted particular improvements in the increasing number of female faculty; the percentage of female faculty has increased by 4.7 percent over the past 10 years.
“Without ultimate transparency, we can’t find the areas that we are legitimately doing better in and what our challenges are, and that’s all critical for us to move this effort forward,” Mitchell said. “This is work that we are committed to; this is not the work of a moment.”
This disparity is due in part to the small pool of minority Ph.D. candidates who apply to Columbia. The University’s strategy to increase faculty diversity focuses primarily on taking existing candidates from elite institutions, rather than funding pipeline programs that funnel more minority students into graduate programs.
Starting next year, however, Columbia will be expanding its only Arts and Sciences pipeline program, the Bridge to the Ph.D. in natural sciences, to include all STEM fields. According to Mitchell, the program, which is being funded by Columbia in addition to the National Science Foundation, will now take a cohort of 10 to 12 students rather than four to five at full capacity. Engineering faculty in particular lacks diversity, as only 10 out of 220 total faculty are underrepresented minorities, two of whom are black, and 34 are women.
Some of the most dramatic improvements in diversity have been seen by smaller schools within the University, such as the School of Nursing and the School of the Arts, which have had a specific pipeline program for the past 10 years.
According to Mitchell, initiatives such as these pipeline programs are key to improving the University’s long-term retention of faculty of color and female faculty.
“We are not just trying to recruit excellent faculty; we are not just trying to retain excellent faculty. We are trying to do the hard work of pipeline building as well, increasing opportunities for women and people of color in the science and STEM fields,” he said. “Those are long-term payoffs … If we can’t make that kind of investment, I can’t imagine who else should.”
The Office of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion has also released guidelines outlining departmental strategies to retain diverse faculty, including tips for how to survey faculty satisfaction and monitor workloads. Departments, however, must independently decide to follow the guidelines and create the cultural shifts necessary for faculty retention, according to Mitchell, as there is no administrative mechanism for mandating the guidelines.
“We have to be able to make the scholarly case [for diversity] to our departments. But there is no stick. We are an office of carrots. We do need our leading scholars in the nation to have the ability to assess or reassess themselves and we hope reports and having transparency in data can help us do those things.”