UC Berkeley administration must continue to diversify faculty

People standing in front of the board and podium in a lecture hall
Alex Hong/Senior Staff

According to the UC Berkeley Student Experience Working Group Final Report from December 2018, “Berkeley should have a faculty, staff, and student body that more fully reflects the diversity of our state and nation, and every student should feel welcome, respected, and safe”.

Yet the current demographic of our faculty is still not reflective of the diversity of our state or even our student body. As of 201, approximately 30 percent of UC Berkeley faculty members are women — a 6 percentage-point jump from 2002, when only 24 percent of faculty members were women and 76 percent were men. As of 2018, approximately 74 percent of faculty members at UC Berkeley are white. White men make up 53 percent of the faculty on campus. Only 9 percent of UC Berkeley faculty identify as underrepresented minorities, or URMs, and 15 percent identify as Asian. URM women make up the smallest portion of the faculty, at 3.7 percent. If the campus is serious about its commitment to bettering the student experience by increasing diversity, it must dramatically increase the number of non-male faculty members and faculty members of color they hire.

Current data sets observing faculty diversity do not include any mention of diversity of socioeconomic background. Considering that these are important factors when it comes to diversity on campus, administration should do more to track these statistics as well. Until these statistics are collected, it will be hard to assess what the campus needs to be doing in order to ensure diversity in these areas.

On Feb. 25, Chancellor Christ announced a new initiative to increase faculty diversity and address these disparities. The initiative proposes an expanded set of hiring criteria that would consider candidates’ commitments to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. This provision will work to ensure that all new faculty are excited and prepared to make positive contributions to the campus climate. These contributions can look like working on initiatives or research that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion.

The campus is also moving towards using cluster hires, the first of which will be for scholars working on social, historical and other topics related to Native American and indigenous peoples of the United States. The hope is that using a system of cluster hires will create a sense of community among the new hires and allow for better retention of a more diverse faculty. Moving forward, the campus wishes to see an expansion of scholarship around populations that have been historically underrepresented in academia at U.S. universities, particularly focusing on the environment and justice, democracy, and health and well-being. Increasing diversity in faculty will inevitably lead to a diversification of scholarship and research via the abundance of varying experiences.

But a pitfall of the proposal is that it does not explicitly state a numeric commitment to increasing diversity within faculty — it only promises to hire new faculty members who are excited about the concept of diversity and are working on diverse research. It should be noted, however, that because of Proposition 209 — which prohibits public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity — it is uncertain whether the campus can legally make any commitments in the form of numeric values.

Faculty on campus share a large part in shaping the experiences of students on campus. When students cannot find faculty who look like them or who have shared their lived experiences, it detracts from the ability to establish connections and find mentorship. If the faculty members on campus truly seek to establish relationships and act as role models for undergraduate and graduate students, there needs to be a demographic and cultural shift. As the student body becomes increasingly diverse, it is vital that the demographics of our faculty diversify as well.

This past year, the Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President has been working with the office of Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos, as well as Amy Scharf from the Division of Equity & Inclusion and Director of Faculty Equity & Welfare Karie Frasch, in order to find ways for undergraduate students to be more involved in the faculty hiring process in a fashion similar to the way graduate students meet with prospective hires. The hope is that undergraduates will be able to voice their concerns to hiring committees while simultaneously allowing prospective faculty to get a feel for undergraduate student needs and desires when it comes to teaching and learning.

Between the wavering financial state of UC Berkeley and the slow turnover rate of faculty on campus, it becomes difficult to rapidly increase the diversity. If the campus is truly committed to its goals of increasing diversity among faculty, the next 15 years need to see a significantly larger increase in the number of women and people of color hired at UC Berkeley.

Aastha Jha is a senior at UC Berkeley. She will be serving as the 2019-20 ASUC academic affairs vice president.