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Building a Diverse College

Hiring efforts show progress as more women and minorities join faculty

Building a Diverse College

USC College has successfully increased the hiring of women and minority faculty members in recent years, with the goal of enriching the university’s educational environment.

In a key recruiting initiative shared by the College and the Office of the Provost, more than half of the 35 tenure-track hires in the College last year were minority and women scholars.

During the past decade, diversity growth among new faculty in the College has significantly outpaced the 31 percent rise in the number of tenure-track faculty, which has gone from 376 to the current 494 members.

“Diversity is one of the explicit goals of the university strategic plan and the College is in many ways the epicenter of the university,” said Barry Glassner, USC’s executive vice provost and a professor of sociology in the College. “This is one component in a larger initiative by Provost [C.L. Max] Nikias that focuses on interdisciplinary research and teaching.”

In the past decade, the College has increased the number of Hispanic tenure-track faculty by 100 percent — from nine to 18 — of African-American faculty by 67 percent — from nine to 15 — and of Asian-American faculty by 71 percent — from 31 to 53. These 37 hires represent a 76 percent increase in minority faculty. The number of women faculty has increased by 64 percent, from 84 to 138.

And, of the 26 senior tenure-track faculty members hired last year under the Senior Faculty Hiring Initiative, a dozen were minorities and women. Three women were hired in the sciences — two in physics and one in biology — where there is stiff competition to recruit senior female scholars.

Additionally, six of the nine junior faculty scholars hired last year were minorities and women. Three of those six were hired in the sciences — including two minority women and one Caucasian woman.

“It is good news,” College Dean Peter Starr said, “but not good enough. We have made very significant progress over the past several years in increasing faculty diversity. But we still have a ways to go to realize our goal of a fully diverse College faculty.”

While people differ on what that standard should be or even if there should be a target, one way to assess faculty diversity is to measure it against the makeup of the student body.

Of the College’s 494 tenure-track faculty, Hispanics represent 4 percent; African-Americans make up 3 percent; Asian-Americans 11 percent, and women 28 percent.

Of the College’s 6,409 enrolled undergraduate students, Hispanics represent 16 percent; African-Americans make up 7 percent; Asian-Americans 20 percent, and the balance is Caucasian Americans and international students of various races and ethnicities. Women make up 56 percent.

As with the faculty, the undergraduate population in the College is steadily becoming more diverse.

In the past 15 years, the number of Hispanic undergraduates has increased by 34 percent, Asian-Americans by 32 percent, African-Americans by 13 percent. Women have increased by 19 percent.

Regardless of the gain in diversity, College officials still want to quicken the pace of diversity hiring. They are particularly proud of recruiting two women to physics, said Wayne Raskind, the College’s dean of faculty and professor of mathematics.

“When I became faculty dean in 2005, physics had no women,” Raskind said. “Last year, we hired two terrific women — Jia Grace Lu and Elena Pierpaoli. Grace Lu was a double coup because she works in experimental physics, a field where the number of women is smaller.”

To encourage a more diverse future professoriate, the College has started two new programs that provide financial support to doctoral students of color in fields where they are underrepresented, as well as women in science, said Jennifer Wolch, the College dean of graduate programs and professor of geography.

One — the diversity placement assistance program — provides support for students to attend a summer training institute, for example, or conduct research with a faculty member for publication. The other — the diversity summer fellowship program — provides a stipend so students can continue their research during the summer.

In addition, the College is ramping up its recruiting efforts, reaching out to potential applicants from underrepresented groups and encouraging them to apply.

“What we don’t want is a wait-and-see approach,” Wolch said. “We are building an applicant pool that’s more diverse.”

The incentives used to attract faculty to the College range from offering housing allowances to building state-of-the-art laboratories.

“When I was presented with an excellent candidate, I just pulled out all the stops to get them through the door,” Raskind said. “And that’s where the provost’s diversity initiative and WiSE [USC’s Women in Science and Engineering program] are a big help.”

Michael Preston, special advisor to the provost and professor of political science in the College, said the provost’s initiative carries funding to help cover a range of costs.

“It is very clear there are some departments in the College and university-wide that lack minority representation,” Preston said. “The provost’s hiring initiative is an attempt to address that problem. And the initiative allows the College to get additional funds for housing and other expenses to help them attract and hire outstanding candidates.”

A key goal of the WiSE program, funded by a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor, is to hire more women professors in the sciences and engineering, but it also supports women at all stages of their academic careers.

Since WiSE’s inception in 2000, the number of women faculty in the sciences has nearly doubled, going from 12 to 23.

Jean Morrison, WiSE director and USC’s vice provost for graduate programs, said women are relatively well represented in most law, business and medical schools, but that is not so in the sciences. “It makes science and engineering appear anachronistic. Students in particular wonder, ‘What’s the problem? Why are there so few women on the faculty in the sciences?’ ” said Morrison, professor of earth sciences in the College.

Susan Forsburg, professor of biological sciences, emphasized the importance for students to have women professors.

“Quite a few students tell me that I’m the first woman biology professor they’ve ever had,” Forsburg said. “It’s great for the women students because we’re role models. And we’re educating the young men about what women can do.”

Forsburg said that WiSE, coupled with the College and the provostial initiatives, will have an impact. “It is not so much the money, but what it represents,” said Forsburg, who authors a women-in-biology Web site, “It shows commitment by USC to diversify its faculty. Candidates see that and they feel they’re in the right institution.”

Raskind also noted other senior hires last year among minority scholars, including Robin D.G. Kelley of history and American studies and ethnicity from Columbia University; Manuel Pastor of geography from UC Santa Cruz; and Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy of biological sciences from SUNY Stony Brook.

Kelley, who begins teaching in the fall, said that while diversity in all areas of life is beneficial, it’s important not to equate a particular gender or race with a certain perspective.

“There have been many women and people of color whose perspectives are very much in keeping with the status quo, and white men whose ideas are quite radical,” Kelley said. “The main point for me, however, is that we not only need diversity of ideas and experiences, we must also eliminate the barriers that have kept underrepresented groups out.”