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Across Harvard’s Schools, Percentage of Female and Underrepresented Minority Faculty Remains Stagnant

Massachusetts Hall, the home of Harvard's Central Administration.
Massachusetts Hall, the home of Harvard's Central Administration. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

The percentage of female and underrepresented minority faculty at Harvard has remained largely stagnant over the past year, according to the University’s annual Faculty Diversity and Development report released Wednesday.

The report, produced by Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Judith D. Singer's office, outlines trends in the number of female and minority ladder faculty within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and across Harvard’s eight professional schools. Those figures have steadily increased since 2004.

The University’s ladder faculty comprises both tenured professors and those on the tenure track, including assistant and associate professors.

Singer said in an interview Thursday that the goal of the report is to ensure Harvard affiliates are aware of the most current data on faculty demographics.

“If you can measure something, you can hold people accountable,” Singer said. “So part of what we're doing with these annual reports is we're hoping this goes up on bulletin boards all over campus.”

The percentage of tenure-track faculty who identify as underrepresented minorities increased this year to 13 percent from 11 percent in 2018, continuing a 15-year trend of gradual growth, starting at 8 percent in 2004, the earliest year included in the report.

The percentages of tenured women and underrepresented minorities at the University remained constant from last year at 27 percent and 8 percent, respectively, though both of those figures have risen since 2004.

The University has not set out to grow the ranks of its ladder faculty since the 2008 economic crash decimated Harvard’s endowment, freezing faculty salary raises and halting ongoing faculty searches.

That lack of overall growth poses difficulties for the University as it attempts to diversify its faculty, according to Singer.

“When you're increasing in size, it's a lot easier to diversify, because you're not only just hiring to replace, you're hiring because you're increasing in size,” she said. “When we were growing, there was real opportunity, but we weren't necessarily as deeply committed to it. Now, we're deeply committed to it, but we're not growing.”

The report uses 2004 as a baseline to examine longer-term trends in faculty diversity, which Singer said could appear slow on a year-to-year basis.

“We will change this University one hire at a time, one promotion at a time,” Singer said. “That's how we make change.”

Ultimately, Singer said her primary concern with the report was that faculty could be “too satisfied” with the increases in women and underrepresented minorities over time.

“If I have any concern, it's that people will look at these numbers and say, ‘Gee, we're doing so well. We don't need to worry about this anymore,’” Singer said. “In fact, I had somebody say that to me, and I had to explain why that was not the case.”

The report also contains information about initiatives each school has undertaken during the current academic year to diversify its faculty. The Harvard Kennedy School, for instance, implemented training to help faculty “identify” unconscious bias in order to understand how it can lead to “biased decision making.” The School of Public Health held a series of professional development events to support tenure-track underrepresented minority faculty.

Despite the new initiatives, Singer argued that the University still has "more work to do.” She said administrators, including University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay, remained “deeply committed” to diversity efforts.

In a March interview, Gay said that finding prospective faculty members from underrepresented minority groups can sometimes require “more work,” but that those efforts are necessary to stem the commonly cited “leaky pipeline,” in which minority and female professors leave the profession due to a lack of mentorship and support.

“There are probably some fields where progress will be slower, but I think progress is still possible if we’re willing to put our shoulder to the wheel and actually get this work done,” Gay said.

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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