Nation experiences lack of minority science professors

Robin Huiras

The number of minority professors at the University is increasing, yet some departments lag far behind — specifically, the Institute of Technology.
Only 15 percent of the college’s 388 professors are minorities, according to the 1996-1997 academic staff profile. One professor is black.
“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” said Allen Goldman, head of the physics and astronomy department in IT. “If we had more minority scientists, we’d have more aspiring minority scientists.”
The University is not alone in this problem. Colleges nationwide are experiencing below-normal levels of black faculty members in the sciences.
A survey published in the spring issue of Journal of Blacks in Higher Education showed that out of the nation’s top 25 physics departments, only seven of the 1,224 faculty members listed — a mere 0.6 percent — are black.
For the past several years, the University’s faculty budget has been below the national average.
“Given the faculty structure, it would be quite hard to recruit quality faculty, especially quality faculty of color,” said V. Rama Murthy, a professor at the University and member of the American Association of University Professors.
Out of the entire University system’s tenured and probationary professors, 2,636 are white, 200 are Asian-American, 45 are black, 43 are Latino and 14 are Native American.
Although seemingly disproportionate, the 10.5 percent of minority faculty at the University exceeds the goal set by the University 2000 program. The program, initiated in 1993 by former University president Nils Hasselmo, aimed at having 10.1 percent minority faculty at the University by 1997.
The small percentage of minority tenure and tenure-track professors is not exclusive to the University. The highest percentage of minority faculty in other Big Ten Universities is 18.8 percent at the University of Illinois. Minnesota’s 10.5 percent is second to lowest, only above the University of Wisconsin-Madison with 10.1 percent minority faculty.
At the University, the 16.6 percent minority student enrollment coincides with the 10.5 percent minority faculty numbers. The student percentage exceeds the goal set for the year 2000 under the U2000 plan.
Statewide, the percentage of minority faculty at the University is significantly above Minnesota’s 7.6 percent minority population.
“One of the things that is working is people are trying to make diversity work at the University,” said Jane Whiteside, senior analyst in the Office of Planning and Analysis.
Attaining the goal set by the program doesn’t explain the small number of black faculty in IT, specifically the physics department, which has no black tenured or tenure-track faculty.
“If they were out there, we’d get them,” Goldman said. “But the number of black physicists nationally is so small, it is easy to know all of them.”
Within the last year, however, the University has made significant advancements in IT, said Robert Jones, the vice provost for faculty and academic personnel. One black, nontenured professor has been hired, another will start in the fall, and the administration is in the process of negotiating with a third.
“While we may have met our diversity goal, we want to do more,” said Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president of multicultural affairs.
Universities across the nation have recognized there is a problem with the small number of minority faculty. In October 1999, the University is hosting a national conference on faculty diversity. The conference will discuss moving beyond the lack of diversity to discussing reasons for attaining and retaining minority faculty, Barcelo said.
The effort to increase the number of minority faculty members is evident by recent promotions granted to University faculty of color. Twenty-seven of the 151 faculty members up for promotion this year were minorities. Ninety percent of these faculty received the promotion. Last year, 18 of the 74 faculty members up for promotions were minorities with a 61 percent promotion rate.
With the University’s five new academic initiatives made possible by the state’s supplemental funding bill, the institution has the opportunities and the resources to improve on the recruitment and retainment of minority faculty, said Murthy. This will require a lot of effort on the part of administration, he added.
“The University has not planned to identify a clear ethnic group for hire in the five new programs. It is looking for cutting edge researchers, but it will consider people from across the spectrum,” said Jones.
— Staff librarian Chris Trejbal contributed to this report.