Affirmative action: UC faculty diversity grows slowly amid state’s race neutral policies

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Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a four-part series on affirmative action at the University of California. The series was prompted by Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case challenging UT Austin’s race-conscious admissions policies, which was heard by the court last week.

In light of a ban prohibiting race-conscious admissions policies, UC administrators have been struggling to enroll an ethnically diverse student body for the past 15 years, raising concerns that in the long run, such a policy will also affect the diversity of the university’s faculty body.

Since 1998, when Proposition 209 – a voter-approved measure that prohibits California’s public institutions from considering race, sex and ethnicity in public contraction, employment and education – was first implemented, the representation of underrepresented minority students in UC Berkeley’s undergraduate student body has drastically declined. During this same period, the percent of underrepresented minority faculty members at the campus increased by about 2 percent.

In August, UC administrators raised concerns about the university’s success in building a diverse university community in the face of Prop. 209 in an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court for Fisher v. UT Austin. The case, which challenges the UT Austin’s race-conscious admissions policies, was debated in front of the court Oct. 10.“At present the compelling government interest in student body diversity cannot be fully realized at selective institutions without taking race into account,” the brief states.

Currently, underrepresented minority faculty members comprise about eight percent of the campus’s total faculty body, according to the campus’s Faculty Personnel Records.

Without the ability to search for specific ethnicities that may be lacking in the faculty body, it is more difficult to resolve gaps in the faculty’s demographic composition, said Angelica Stacy, the campus associate vice provost for the faculty.

“We can’t say, ‘We have no African American males, so we are going to hire someone who is,’” Stacy said. “Instead we look for those who have a track record of working in diverse communities. This could bring in someone from any ethnic background, but, more importantly, it brings in those who really care about equality and diversity.”

In 2007, a universitywide Study Group on University Diversity found that the number of underrepresented faculty on each campus “(is) low and (has) not improved since the late 1980s.”

The same year, the campus appointed Gibor Basri as the campus’s first vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. That same year, the campus Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, which researches policy related to “marginalized” groups, was launched.

Most recently, campus administrators initiated the UC Berkeley Strategic Plan for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in 2009 to change hiring, advancement and reward policies for faculty in order to create a “critical mass” of members in the campus community representative of California’s diversity.

However, even with such structural changes, growth remains slow. And campus administrators and university officials worry that this may deter underrepresented minority students from attending graduate school.

“It’s really the combination of a lot of barriers, educational attainment, opportunity, and, in that sense, these issues about undergraduate and graduate admissions are linked,” said William Kidder, assistant executive vice chancellor at UC Riverside.

UC officials say the lack of underrepresented minority faculty is a multilevel problem and stems from the lower rates of underrepresented minority students.

In 2011, only 8.6 percent of potential tenure-track faculty applicants, or those who received a doctoral degree between 1990 and 2004, were underrepresented minorities, according to data on faculty appointments from the UC Office of the President. That year, 10 percent of newly hired faculty members at UC Berkeley were from that applicant pool.

Professors from diverse backgrounds often reassure underrepresented students that they can succeed in graduate school, said Oscar Dubon, a Latino professor of materials science and engineering and the first associate dean of equity and inclusion for the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley. It was in large part due to the encouragement from a professor during his undergraduate work at UCLA that he pursued graduate work, he said.

“Students often identify with faculty whose background is similar to their own, because they are more likely to be addressing the questions and issues that are important to them,” said David Leonard, a former dean of international and area studies at UC Berkeley who left the campus after seeing what he said was the campus’s lack of initiative toward hiring underrepresented faculty members.

For some underrepresented minority students, taking classes from professors with a similar ethnic background is a source of inspiration.

“Our teachers represent who made it,” said Eniola Abioye, a black sophomore at UC Berkeley. “It was easier to imagine their journey and where they came from.”

contact Alex Berryhill at [email protected].