L. Rafael Reif, Provost

Report of the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity

Part II:
Research Report

  1. Introduction
  2. Research Design
  3. Hiring and Career Trajectories
  4. MIT: A Meritocratic Institution of Excellence and Inclusion?
  5. Summary and Conclusions

A. Introduction

In April 2007, MIT Provost Rafael Reif charged a committee of faculty, each representing one of the schools at MIT, "to help develop the Institute's new initiative to study how race affects the recruitment, retention, professional opportunities and collegial experiences of underrepresented minority [URM] faculty members at MIT." In July of that year, this team submitted its preliminary report and provided "detailed recommendations on how MIT can undertake a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic study of these issues."1 This part of the report presents the findings of that study.

We conducted a multi-method study that explored the experiences of racial/ethnic minority faculty members at MIT. The overarching research question that guided the study was how does race/ethnicity affect recruitment, promotion and retention at MIT and how is the MIT environment experienced by this group? The collection of the data for this report started in summer 2007 and was completed in summer 2009. A complete description of the research design and the methods used in this study are given in Section B. The data were used to:

  • Capture a comparative snapshot of faculty attitudes and perceptions regarding key
    issues affecting recruitment and retention;
  • Explore the experiences of current and former URM faculty members and their
    perceptions on key indicators;
  • Compare the experiences of White and Asian faculty members to current URM faculty members and locate any differences;
  • Compare hiring, promotion and salary trends across all racial/ethnic groups.

The report is organized around three sections, starting with an introduction and a review of the literature. The study is informed by higher education literature on faculty diversity, as well as literature on ethnic minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Section B presents the research design and methods of the study. This is followed by a discussion of the research findings, presented in two parts. Section C provides findings on hiring and career trajectories, as well as the salary equity study. Section D asks the question whether faculty, particularly the URM faculty, see MIT as an institution of excellence and inclusion. In both sections we use multiple data sources, both quantitative and qualitative. The report ends with summary and conclusions.

Research Literature

The United States population has increasingly become more diverse in the last 20 years as has the number of students attending colleges and universities (Ryu, 2008). Despite these trends the diversity of the faculty has not kept pace. Some have observed that little has changed in the diversity of the faculty in the last 30 years (Perna, 2001; Trower & Chait, 2002). And, although the numbers of underrepresented minority college age students and doctoral recipients has increased, MIT's URM faculty population remains at 6% (NSFb, 2006; MIT Facts, 2008).

Higher education research traces the slow progress of affirmative action hiring practices designed to diversify the professoriate and the institutional elements that contribute to low numbers of ethnic faculty representation. This scholarship has examined the education pipeline and decreasing pool of candidates (Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, & Bonous-Hammarth 2000; Jackson, 1991; Mickelson & Oliver, 1991; Solmon & Wingard, 1991; Turner, Myers, Jr., & Creswell, 1999; Washington & Harvey, 1989;), unwelcoming climates at predominantly White institutions (Turner & Myers, Jr., 2000; Turner, Myers, Jr., & Creswell, 1999; Washington & Harvey, 1989), inequity in hiring and promotion practices (Menges & Exum, 1983; Perna, Fries-Britt, Gerald, Rowan-Kenyon, & Milem, 2008), and the presumption that minorities who do not earn their doctoral degrees in the most prestigious and elite universities are less qualified (Mickelson & Oliver, 1991). Many of the early studies in higher education chronicled the barriers in the academy (Antonio, 2002) and the pervasive effects of institutional and societal racism. Recent scholarship is beginning to examine the unique contributions of minority faculty to the academy (Antonio, 2002; Umbach, 2006). This new line of inquiry holds promise for expanding the discourse on the importance of diversity in the academy.2

Overall, though there has been growth, the progress is slow. The number of faculty of color increased by 40% between 1993 and 2001, however, they comprised less than 15% of all faculty in 2001 (Harvey and Anderson, 2005). Efforts to increase their numbers in higher education have been uneven with greater progress in the numbers of Asian/Pacific Islanders than for Blacks and Hispanics (Cataldi, Fahimi, Bradburn, & Zimbler, 2005). Moreover,
Hispanics and Blacks tend to be less represented at four-year institutions as compared to their numbers at two-year colleges. In 2003, Blacks represented only 4.3% of the full-time faculty at public doctoral universities but they were nearly 7% at two-year institutions. Similarly, Hispanics represented only 2.2% of faculty at not-for profit baccalaureate institutions but were nearly 6% at public two year schools (Cataldi et al., 2005).

The story, however, is not told by numbers alone and higher education literature suggests that African American/Blacks, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and Latina(o)/Hispanics continue to face barriers to their successful participation in academe (Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, Bonous-Hammarth, & Stassen, 2002). Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pedersen & Allen (1999) argue that other important elements of the campus such as the psychological climate, behavioral climate and even the campus' history are important factors to consider when improving the climate for racial/ethnic diversity in higher education. There is also a growing body of research suggesting that academic structures, policies and practices
create significant barriers for faculty of color (Cooper & Stevens, 2002; Fenelon, 2003; Turner, 2003).

In his research of institutional practices and procedures such as promotion and tenure, Fenelon (2003) found that social stratification is often replicated in higher education
institutions and is part of the ideology used to rationalize and justify disparities in academia. These practices maintain the status quo and prevent meaningful discussions that can lead to change. In higher education, mainstream ideologies of meritocracy and academic freedom are most readily tested during promotion reviews (Fenelon, 2003; Padilla, 2003). Institutional micropolitics, academic interests and attitudes become key to the final tenure decisions (Padilla, 1994). In citing Baez (2002), Turner (2003) explained that as part of a practice and norms that produce conflicting situations with differential rewards for faculty of color, recruitment and retention in academia must be reexamined.

Turner and Myers (2000) refer to faculty of color in academe as experiencing "bittersweet success." They document the underrepresentation of faculty of color in American universities and the complicated experiences these faculty have in predominantly White institutions. Acknowledging how difficult it is to change cultures and structures - and universities may be particularly resistant to change - they conclude nonetheless that such change will be necessary. As they put it in their final conclusion: "Business as unusual; not business as usual."

Turning to science and the STEM fields, we see an even greater underrepresentation. STEM research relates these issues more directly to the norms of science and how minority faculty are affected by these norms. First, understanding degree attainment is essential. Doctoral degrees in STEM fields awarded to underrepresented minorities increased by 34% from 2001 to 2008 (AAAS, 2009). Despite a growing number of underrepresented minorities completing their Ph.D.s in STEM fields, they are still underrepresented among tenured faculty (Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, & Bonous-Hammarath, 2000). According to a study of research universities by Beutel and Nelson (2006), underrepresented minorities account for only 3% of faculty in mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, and astronomy (engineering numbers are slightly higher at 4.6%). Moreover, the higher the rank, the lower the proportion of women and minorities. Research to track and better understand the experiences of minority faculty in STEM disciplines, including attrition, is limited. One finding, however, is consistent across all the studies: URM faculty in STEM disciplines are less likely to get tenure than White faculty in the same disciplines, and URM women are the least likely to get tenure of any group (Nelson, 2002; Beutel & Nelson, 2006).

Research has investigated a number of factors that might account for these low numbers and high attrition.

Doctoral Origins. Research on doctoral origins of STEM faculty shows that minorities do differ from Whites in their doctoral origins. In particular, Blacks are more likely to receive their doctorate from lower-ranking departments and take longer to complete their degrees (Pearson 1985; Leggon & Pearson, 1997; NSFa, 2006). Overall, men and women minority faculty have similar doctoral origins, but research suggests they appear to be disadvantaged by the lack of prestige of their institutions. And little is known about the process by which they were admitted to graduate programs and university faculties or their experiences once admitted (Leggon & Pearson, 1997).

Leaky Pipeline. The paucity of URM faculty in STEM disciplines is well documented. There are many reasons offered as to why there are so few URMs in STEM fields, but the "leaky pipeline" issue is one that has been debated for years. The leaky pipeline is the name given to the effect whereby at increasingly higher levels of education and academia, underrepresented minorities drop out. Bias, discouragement, lack of educational opportunity, inadequate educational training, racism, lack of role models and the perception that a career in STEM is not a viable option are all reasons suggested for the underrepresentation. Just where in the pipeline do the leaks occur? The most recent data on URMs receiving STEM Ph.D.s show steady increases, challenging the notion that the problem is only a supply side issue (Myers & Turner, 2004). But increases in the supply of URM doctorates in STEM disciplines do not necessarily translate into increased faculty representation. Survey findings by Turner & Myers (2000) of current URM faculty suggest that concerns about tokenism and a "chilly climate" in academia arise, making faculty careers less attractive than other options.

Culture of University Science. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have been characterized as the most neutral, standardized and universalistic of fields (Ferreira, 2003; Bergvall, Sorby, & Worthen, 1994). While debate persists about the objective and disinterested nature of science, it is true that science is an area in which inequality exists in career attainments, particularly among college and university faculties (Zuckerman, 1991; Pearson, 1985; Pearson & Fechter, 1994; Long & Fox, 1995). A close look at STEM faculties in educational institutions is important because academia is central to science. Educational researchers have argued that differential participation and success in STEM faculty careers has been perpetuated by the culture of university science (Fox 1991, 1994). That is, STEM culture is dominated and better fitted to White, particularly middle-class men than to women or minorities. Seymour and Hewitt (1997) describe university science learning as an "institutionalized national (possibly international) teaching and learning system which has evolved over a long time period as an approved way to induct young men into the adult fraternities of science, mathematics and engineering" (p. 259). According to this view, particularistic norms - masked as universalistic and meritocratic - influence individual performance, experience and productivity (Cole, 1992).

Science is often presented as though individual and group characteristics - including but not limited to race - are irrelevant. What is important is one's scientific acumen and
talent. But the best intentions of neutrality can backfire. Silence surrounding race can lead to an atmosphere where some question whether issues of race should be brought up at all. If race has nothing to do with science, talking about it in science is taboo. This race neutral discourse, however, obscures points of unequal treatment for faculty of color - for
example, being misidentified as a student or wait staff rather than as a professor, or additional student advising responsibilities. The assumption that race is not permitted to play a role in who succeeds in science coupled with the idea that success in science is based only on merit can conflict with the racial dynamics that shape how faculty experience the workplace and interact with one another. Research in this area suggests that it is critical to establish a safe and inclusive work environment that allows URMs to successfully engage in their research, creating opportunities to network with peers and increasing opportunities to connect to the institution (Turner and Myers, 2000; Bianchini, Whitney, Breton, & Hilton-Brown, 2001; Steele, 1997; Smith, DiTomaso, Farrias, & Cordero, 2001; Astin, Antonio, Cress, & Astin, 1997).

Disciplinary Hierarchy. It is widely held that quantitative methods are weighted more highly than other kinds of work in STEM disciplines. Respect, rewards and pay are often heavily reliant on mathematical training perceived as easily evaluated by universal standards. In contrast, work that emphasizes qualitative methods, as is often the case in the social sciences, is perceived to be subjective, harder to evaluate and subsequently less valued in the university culture of science (Mahoney & Goertz, 2006; Rihoux, 2003). Personal and professional interests often influence URM faculty's decisions to study and conduct research on issues related to race and gender (Kulis & Miller, 1988). Additionally, there is typically a higher concentration of URMs in the social sciences within the academy. Hence, inequities may exist in terms of pay and prestige based on discipline and race. Recent research suggests that an academic culture that treats URM faculty as tokens devalues their work and questions their place in the academy, which also contributes to an often unspoken hierarchy and "chilly climate" for URMs (Aguirre, 2000). Further, university cultures perceived as inhospitable by URM faculty can contribute to faculty attrition by triggering feelings of marginalization and isolation, which can ultimately affect research productivity and denial
of tenure (Turner & Myers, 2000).

Women of Color

A great deal of research has been conducted investigating why women are underrepresented in STEM faculties (see Blickenstaff, 2005; National Academies, 2007, forthcoming). There is a much smaller research base on Black, Hispanic and Native American scientists (Russell & Atwater 2005; Johnson 2006). Still less attention has been paid to the particular experiences of Black, Hispanic and Native American women in science (Jordan 2006; Caroline & Johnson 2007; Chinn 1999). Historically, women of color fit even less easily than White women into university science settings. Difficulties include reports of loneliness and self-doubt resulting from the isolation of being a woman of color in science (Thomas, 1993; Ambrose, Dunkle, Lazarus, Nair, & Harkus, 1997) as well as negotiating differences between home community and the scientific community (Malcolm, Hall, & Brown, 1989). Negotiating a "double consciousness," life in two different realities, is a common theme.
In the occupational world, these women face barriers because of both race and gender, and research about their experiences in STEM disciplines represents a serious gap in the academic literature.

Part I: Executive Report and Recommendations

B. Research Design


1 From a July 16, 2007 Letter to the Community by Provost Rafael Reif

2 The importance of student diversity to the later careers of minorities was extensively studied by W.G. Bowen and Bok (1998). And D. M. Bowen (forthcoming) shows that minority students in science experience more hostility, encounter more stigma and endure more silencing in states that bar affrmative action in admission than in those that permit it.

L. Rafael Reif
Office of the Provost
Room 3-208
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Cambridge, MA 02139-4307

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