Diversity seen as limited by few options

Some say they are hampered by lack of qualified candidates.
Friday, May 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:31 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reinforcing claims made in a recently released campus diversity report, leaders of several MU academic departments said they’ve seen problems with recruiting and retaining African-American and female faculty.

A lack of commitment to diversity and discrimination in departments was cited in the independent report and by Robert Weems, MU’s vice chancellor for equity, as reasons the numbers of minority faculty, especially African Americans, and female faculty in leadership positions are still low.

However, College of Arts and Science department leaders in disciplines historically lacking in minority and female faculty say they are doing everything they can to attract quality candidates who are female, black or from other minority groups. But especially in the case of African Americans, the hiring pools are just too limited, said leaders of MU’s statistics, economics and chemistry departments.

“My impression is not much progress has been made, certainly not much progress that has trickled up to the hiring of blacks in statistics departments,” said Nancy Flournoy, chairwoman of the statistics department. “I could not name enough to count on one hand.”

The chairman of the economics department, Michael Podgursky, echoed Flournoy’s statement when describing the number of black doctorate holders in economics.

“That’s a well-known problem in math and in the sciences,” Podgursky said.

The same goes for chemistry, said Jerry Atwood, department chairman. There are no African-American faculty in the chemistry department at MU or at most other major institutions, he said.

Adding to the challenge of diversifying faculties at MU is the competition among institutions for the handful of qualified minority candidates, department leaders said.

Qualified African-American faculty in those disciplines have their pick of any institution in the country, they say.

Atwood said the chemistry department has been working for the past few years to recruit a black chemist from the University of Georgia, who Atwood described as one of the top chemists in the nation.

“He’s a person that we would love to recruit because of his talent, and he’s an African American,” Atwood said.

There has been more success with recruiting women for those disciplines, said Flournoy, Podgursky and Atwood — although in some cases it may be difficult for them to get tenure and promotions.

The College of Education has experienced more success in recruiting African Americans and other minorities, although there’s still a lag in math and science, said Dean Richard Andrews.

By making diversity a “priority, and not a byproduct,” Andrews said, the college has gone from having a virtually all-white male faculty to a fairly diverse one. About 17 percent of the college’s 90 or so faculty members are minorities, which is about four times the campus average, Andrews said.

The jump in the number of minority faculty has also had a dramatic effect on the student population, he said. The college’s graduate counseling psychology program, for instance, has gone from having zero to five minority faculty members in about 10 years — and the student population has gone from having a minority makeup of very few to close to a third.

“Diversity is a value, not an afterthought, “ he said. “My sense is the committee didn’t feel that diversity has been set as a value universally within the university,” he said of the independent consultants who conducted the diversity assessment.

Like in other disciplines, there’s still stiff competition among universities to recruit women and minorities in education, Andrews said.

The School of Journalism has also generally fared better than the rest of the campus in keeping up high ratios of women and minority faculty, said Associate Dean Brian Brooks in an e-mail.

“We have made significant progress in those areas,” he stated, “but I know that those of us in the school administration are far from satisfied.”

Arts and Science department leaders reached for this story also said they agreed with the diversity report’s findings, so far as there is a need for the university to increase the attention it pays to diversity issues. Richard Schwartz, dean of the College of Arts and Science, said in an e-mail that he did not wish to comment on the findings in the diversity report.

“I think that Missouri’s central administration has been proactive in recruiting a diverse faculty,” Atwood said. “We have not been as successful as we would have liked to be.”

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