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Underrepresented Minority Tenure Track Faculty in Harvard Sciences Increases to 13 Percent

Harvard's Science Center.
Harvard's Science Center. By Michael Gritzbach
By Juliet E. Isselbacher, Crimson Staff Writer

The percentage of underrepresented minority tenure track faculty in Harvard's Sciences division has increased 10 percentage points to 13 percent in the past year, according to Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs.

A report from last year found that only 3 percent of tenure track Sciences faculty were underrepresented minorities. In a March 9 interview, Stubbs reaffirmed his commitment to bolstering diversity in his division, which faces “particular challenges with regard to gender and minority representation nationwide.”

The division has broadened faculty searches, improved postdoctoral mentorship, and adjusted graduate student admissions criteria in an effort to address a “national pipeline issue” that Stubbs said contributes to a lack of diversity among Sciences division faculty.

The division’s current percentage of underrepresented minority faculty has not yet caught up with the share of underrepresented minorities in the national population — roughly 30 percent.

“My personal view is that [underrepresentation is] a reflection of national values. It’s not a reflection on our University. Now, I’m not trying to absolve us of responsibility of trying to address that,” he said. “I think a fair question to ask is, what the heck are we doing about the national pipeline issue?”

Stubbs outlined a number of the division’s current initiatives, one at each stage of the pipeline into the tenure track — undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty.

At the end of the pipeline, the Sciences departments — most recently including Math — have broadened their faculty searches in intellectual scope in order to identify candidates who are both “outstanding” and “representational,” according to Stubbs.

“If I did a faculty search in a very narrow sub-sliver, the likelihood of an underrepresented strong candidate landing in that narrow field is small,” he said.

To better prepare postdoctoral scholars from underrepresented backgrounds to assume faculty positions both at Harvard and other institutions, the division started the “Future Faculty Fellows Program,” which provides them with more robust advising and support.

Stubbs also addressed measures taken to diversify the graduate student population in the division. He said that since “grit and perseverance” are just as robust indicators of success as test scores, the Astronomy department is piloting a new approach to admissions that emphasizes applicants’ demonstrated tenacity rather than their testing history.

In fact, the department has eliminated standardized GRE scores as a selection criteria. GRE scores correlate more with socioeconomic status than with “raw intellect,” according to Stubbs.

“[This] broader template of trying to identify people who are going to be successful has led to a much stronger minority and women cohort to our incoming graduate class,” he said.

Stubbs finally moved to address future initiatives that target undergraduates. He said some incoming College students are unaware of the skill level and knowledge they are expected to enter with if they hope to pursue advanced coursework in the sciences.

“I put myself in the position of a high school senior, somewhere in the country and receiving a notification that they’re admitted to Harvard, and having some combination of elation and dread,” he said.

One divisional goal is to elucidate skill-set expectations for admitted students, as well as to give them the tools to self-assess and fill in knowledge gaps during the summer, according to Stubbs.

Stubbs said he is in part motivated to pursue diversity initiatives by his experience feeling culturally alienated when he immigrated from Iran at the age of 17.

“It may not be apparent looking at me, as I am in my current job, that I have a tremendous amount of experience that I can draw upon to address the deficiencies that we have as an organization,” Stubbs said.

“What we would strive to accomplish is a day in the future when regardless of who you are, where you come from, what you look like, or what your accent say: 'yes, I feel like I belong here, and, yes, I feel like I’m being successful,'” he added.

— Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

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