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Few gains for minority chemistry professors

Number of U.S. chemistry faculty from underrepresented groups remains stagnant, OXIDE survey shows

by Andrea Widener
November 6, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 44

Miguel García-Garibay in his lab with several students.
Credit: Penny Jennings
García-Garibay (seated) with graduate and postdoctoral researchers in his UCLA laboratory.

When Miguel García-Garibay came to the University of California, Los Angeles, 25 years ago, he was one of just a handful of Hispanic professors in top U.S. chemistry departments. And that hasn’t changed.

“Over a quarter of a century I haven’t seen a significant increase in the number of Hispanic and Latino scientists in top-ranked institutions,” he says. “I think we know each other by name.”

García-Garibay’s experience is reflected in the most recent survey of chemistry faculty at the 50 U.S. universities with the most federal research funding. The survey, conducted by the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE), shows just 4.9% of chemistry faculty nationwide are from underrepresented minority groups. That number has barely moved since OXIDE began surveying diversity in chemistry departments five years ago.

“I think there has been very, very marginal progress,” says García-Garibay, who is also dean of UCLA’s division of physical sciences.

Rigoberto Hernandez, OXIDE’s director, says the slow progress shows the need for continued work to improve the percentage of minority faculty in chemistry. “What are the barriers that have led to that underrepresentation, and what can we, as a community, do to offset those barriers?” asks Hernandez, who is also the Gompf Family Chemistry Professor at Johns Hopkins University.

OXIDE is designed to identify and better understand those barriers by monitoring diversity among women and underrepresented minorities in top chemistry departments. It also brings department chairs together to explore ways the community can both recruit more chemistry faculty and help them succeed. The effort is cofunded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy.

OXIDE’s most recent survey, of the 2015–16 academic year, looks at how individual institutions and the community as a whole are faring. Among universities, Georgia Tech continues to be at the top in hiring minority chemistry faculty. But almost all the other top players have turned over since C&EN last reported OXIDE’s minority faculty data, in 2015.

That shows how volatile the numbers are, explains Dontarie Stallings, research and program manager for OXIDE. A single professor can take a school from the middle of the pack to the top—or push an institution from the middle to the bottom. “The numbers are so small; that’s the real story,” he says.

Individual minority groups have not seen much growth since the OXIDE surveys began, either, with the 2015–16 numbers reflecting almost no growth since previous years. African Americans made up just 1.6% of faculty in 2015–16, and Hispanics, Latinos, and Latinas just 2.8%. Native Americans and multiracial faculty are both at less than 1%.

And those who do get hired may have a difficult time moving up the ranks. According to the OXIDE data, the percentage of minority full professors remains basically flat, with only slight variations since 2011–12, when OXIDE first began collecting data.

Minorities in academia

The percentage of underrepresented minority chemistry faculty is far behind that of chemistry doctoral degree recipients and the population as a whole.

Chemistry professors at top 50 schoolsa 1.6% 14.8% 2.8% <1.0% <1.0% 80.3%
Chemistry Ph.D. recipientsb 4.6 9.2 5.5 <1.0 <1.0 75.1
U.S. populationc 13.3 5.9 17.8 1.3 2.6 61.3
a Tenured and tenure-track faculty at the 50 schools identified by the National Science Foundation as having spent the most on chemistry research in fiscal 2014. Excludes schools that didn’t provide underrepresented minority (URM) data. b Awarded by U.S. universities to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. An additional 2.3% of Ph.D.s were awarded to chemists of other races or those who did not report a race or ethnicity. In this survey, Pacific Islanders were counted as Asians so are not included in URM reports. c The sum equals more than 100% because Hispanics may be included in more than one minority group.
Sources: OXIDE survey, NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates 2015, U.S. Census Bureau: State & County QuickFacts

The percentage of minority associate professors is down around 2% since 2011–12, though it’s unclear why, Stallings says. It could be that they are being promoted into full professorships, replacing minorities who are retiring. Or it could be that they are leaving academia for other professions before they become full professors.

There is some good news. The percentage of assistant professors has increased more than 2% since data collection began, to 7.8% in 2015–16. And those are the very people who will fill the academy in the future, Stallings says.

“If we had done nothing in the last five or six years, we would not have the potential for turning the corner with hiring at the assistant professor level,” Hernandez surmises. “We need to be very vigilant. We need to support them and promote them to make sure we continue this momentum.”

That’s vital to the continued success of chemistry, Hernandez explains. As the diversity of the U.S. continues to increase, chemistry will not be competitive if it doesn’t adapt to demographic changes.

Top departments

Underrepresented minority chemists represented 10% or more of faculty members at these schools in the 2015-2016 academic year.

Note: Underrepresented minorities (URM) include African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina, Native American, and multiracial. 

Source: OXIDE survey

There has already been some success in increasing the percentage of minority students who graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry. García-Garibay remembers there was a single Hispanic chemistry graduate student when he came to UCLA. Now there are approximately 30 out of 300, an improvement but still a far cry from the proportion of Hispanics in the general U.S. population.

But most of those students are not ending up as faculty members, he says. “We are losing out on a lot of talent that we are not able to capture.”

Hernandez points out that even those minority doctoral graduates who could become chemistry professors are often choosing other careers instead. “We have a supply problem, but there is undoubtedly a demand problem as well,” he explains. “It’s not because they don’t want to be academics, but there are better opportunities provided by our competitors.”

That’s in part what OXIDE is attempting to address with its biennial meeting for chemistry department chairs, the National Diversity Equity Workshop. The meeting grounds departments in social sciences research that shows why diversity is important for high-quality research.

“The chemistry community has not generally handled diversity and inclusion scientifically,” Stallings says. But OXIDE is hoping to change that. “No more swinging at the fences randomly. Let’s make strategic decisions.”

William Tolman, former chair of the chemistry department at the University of Minnesota, says he found the OXIDE meeting “extraordinarily eye-opening and impactful.” He came back with strategies to talk to his faculty about diversity by focusing on its contribution to excellence. “They can buy into that quickly and easily.”

Even more important, Tolman says, was that he returned with a checklist of things he could do to make the climate in his department better for minorities and women. For example, the department now has a diversity committee and addresses issues of diversity regularly. “Talking about it openly makes a big difference,” he says.

The university has also worked to change hiring practices to be more inclusive. While it has had luck hiring more women, Tolman says his department is still struggling to hire minority faculty. “What we are trying to do here is effect culture change. I can sense that culture change is slow.”

That’s where OXIDE’s diversity workshop comes in. “The important part of having those 50–70 schools in the room? They are the feeder programs for the entire nation,” Stallings says.

Credit: Paige Jarreau
Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy in her office at Louisiana State University.
Photo of Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy in her office.
Credit: Paige Jarreau
Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy in her office at Louisiana State University.

Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in Louisiana State University College of Science, attended the OXIDE workshop for the first time last year.

“So often in academic leadership we get caught up in putting out fires and we don’t take the time to think deeply about these issues of diversity and inclusion,” she says.

The workshop’s evidence-based approach to changing departments’ cultures is impressive, Wilson-Kennedy says. In the past, diversity programs “worked on fixing students,” she says. “A lot of the work now is on fixing systems.

“It’s a long-haul method, but I think it’s the method that has the best potential for dividends,” she says.

People are often disappointed when they see the numbers of minority faculty remain flat from year to year, she says. She always tries to keep in mind that it took decades to create this problem, and it will take decades to fix it.

“We are experiencing more of the status quo, but we are also seeing more discussions than I have seen in my lifetime,” Wilson-Kennedy says. “Maybe we are approaching a tipping point. That is my hope.”

Minority faculty at top 50 U.S. schools

Georgia Tech continues to lead in the overall percentage of underrepresented minority professors in chemistry.

Akron, U of 6 0.0% 1 0.0% 8 0.0% 15 0.0%
Arizona State U 13 7.7 9 11.1 30 6.6 52 7.7
Arizona, U of 7 0.0 8 12.5 23 8.8 38 7.9
Buffalo, U at 8 12.5 3 0.0 18 5.6 29 6.9
California Inst. of Tech. 3 0.0 0 0.0 36 2.8 39 2.6
California, U of, Berkeley 8 0.0 1 0.0 35 2.9 44 2.3
California, U of, Davis 10 10.0 5 0.0 30 6.7 45 6.7
California, U of, Irvine 7 0.0 8 0.0 32 3.1 47 2.1
California, U of, Los Angeles 6 33.3 4 25.0 36 2.8 46 8.7
California, U of, San Diego 11 18.2 13 15.4 26 3.9 50 10.0
California, U of, San Franciscoa na na na na na na na na
Chicago, U of 6 0.0 0 0.0 22 0.0 28 0.0
Colorado, U of, Bouldera na na na na na na na na
Cornell U (Ithaca) 7 0.0 4 0.0 21 9.5 32 6.3
Emory U 5 20.0 5 0.0 14 0.0 24 4.2
Florida State U (Tallahassee) 6 16.7 7 0.0 19 0.0 32 3.1
Florida, U of 3 0.0 12 8.3 19 5.3 34 5.9
Georgia Inst. of Tech. (Atlanta) 4 0.0 8 25.0 21 14.3 33 15.2
Harvard U 1 0.0 1 0.0 17 11.8 19 10.5
Illinois, U of, Urbana-Champaign 8 12.5 1 0.0 26 0.0 35 2.9
Indiana U, Bloomington 5 0.0 8 0.0 21 0.0 34 0.0
Johns Hopkins Ub 5 0.0 4 0.0 12 0.0 21 0.0
Kansas, U of 4 0.0 9 0.0 13 7.7 26 3.9
Massachusetts Inst. of Tech. 8 0.0 2 0.0 20 0.0 30 0.0
Massachusetts, U of, Amherst 5 0.0 3 0.0 14 7.1 22 4.5
Michigan, U of, Ann Arbor 10 10.0 6 16.7 23 4.4 39 7.7
Minnesota, U of, Twin Cities 5 0.0 7 0.0 28 3.6 40 2.5
North Carolina, U of, Chapel Hill 11 0.0 5 0.0 25 0.0 41 0.0
Northeastern Uc na na na na na na 25 5.7
Northwestern Ua na na na na na na na na
Notre Dame, U of 4 0.0 8 0.0 26 3.9 38 2.6
Ohio State U (Columbus) 11 27.3 7 0.0 31 6.5 49 10.2
Oregon, U of 3 0.0 6 0.0 16 0.0 25 0.0
Pennsylvania State U (Univ. Park) 6 0.0 9 0.0 20 5.0 35 2.9
Pittsburgh, U of 9 11.1 8 0.0 16 0.0 33 3.0
Princeton U 5 0.0 2 0.0 18 5.6 25 4.0
Purdue U, West Lafayette 8 12.5 11 9.1 26 0.0 45 4.4
Rice U 1 0.0 6 16.7 16 6.3 23 8.7
Rutgers U, New Brunswick 2 0.0 4 25.0 30 6.7 36 8.3
Southern California, U of 8 12.5 8 0.0 21 0.0 37 2.7
Southern Mississippi, U of 5 0.0 3 0.0 2 50.0 10 10.0
Stanford U 6 0.0 4 25.0 15 6.7 25 8.0
Stony Brook U 9 0.0 6 0.0 21 9.5 36 5.6
Texas A&M U, College Station 5 0.0 6 0.0 31 3.2 42 2.4
Texas, U of, Austin 5 60.0 3 0.0 21 0.0 29 10.3
Utah, U of 8 12.5 3 0.0 23 4.4 34 5.9
Vanderbilt U 3 33.3 1 0.0 15 0.0 19 5.3
Washington, U of, Seattle 14 7.1 3 0.0 22 0.0 39 2.6
Wisconsin, U of, Madison 5 0.0 4 0.0 28 0.0 37 0.0
Yale U 6 0.0 0 0.0 19 5.3 25 4.0
TOTAL 295 7.8 236 5.5 1,006 3.88 1,562 4.9
Note: Tenured and tenure-track faculty at the 50 schools identified by the National Science Foundation as having spent the most on chemistry research in fiscal 2014. For schools whose NSF ranking is based on multiple campuses, faculty numbers are for the campuses listed in parentheses. Underrepresented minorities (URM) include African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina, Native American, and multiracial. URM calculations exclude multiracial individuals listed as white/Asian because they are not considered underrepresented. In this survey, Pacific Islanders were counted as Asians so are not included in URM reports. a Did not reply to requests for information. b Top 50 ranking includes the Applied Physics Laboratory. c Provided total numbers but not disaggregated data. na not available.
Source: OXIDE survey


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