Community meeting reports on experience of underrepresented minority faculty at Stanford

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Community meeting reports on experience of underrepresented minority faculty at Stanford

by Christin L. Munsch on Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 7:02pm

Image of URM Faculty ReportOver 50 faculty members, administrators, and other university leaders gathered to hear the results of an in-depth study of underrepresented minority faculty conducted by the Panel on Faculty Equity and Quality of Life.

Among those present were Provost John Etchemendy, several department chairs, and faculty from most of Stanford's seven schools. The May 29 meeting was open to everyone in the Stanford community, and attendees were able to voice their opinions and ask questions.

At last count, Stanford had 137 underrepresented minority faculty members, out of a total of 1,995 faculty overall.

The reason for the study

In 2008, the Panel on Faculty Equity and Quality of Life surveyed all Stanford faculty, in order to assess campus climate. Generally, faculty were highly-satisfied with their roles as Stanford professors. However, underrepresented minority faculty reported lower levels of support, a lower sense of inclusion in the Stanford community, and having to work harder than their colleagues to be perceived as a legitimate scholar.

In response to the findings, the panel formed a Committee on Underrepresented Minority Faculty to conduct a follow-up study. Data from this new study was released at the May 29 meeting.

Shelley Correll, professor of sociology and chair of the panel, explained that the new, interview-based study was designed to dig deeper to understand how underrepresented minority faculty experience Stanford. ”When do minority faculty experience collegiality? When do they feel isolated? What are their experiences with leadership and mentoring? While the survey study provided a broad summary of faculty experiences, the interview study goes deeper, exploring how these experiences emerge.”

Fifty-two underrepresented minority faculty participated in interviews for the study—this number equaled 44 percent of all underrepresented minority faculty at the time. Each interview lasted approximately one hour. 

Underrepresented minority faculty experience research isolation

Among the study's key findings was that faculty members feel valued when colleagues engage with and express appreciation for their scholarship. Two ways this is done is by giving feedback on one another’s work and through research collaboration. Underrepresented minority faculty, however, often experience “research isolation” in that they lack colleagues whose research is similar enough to provide valuable feedback or to engage in collaborative research projects.

"When someone is the only person of color or the only woman in their unit they often feel that their work is marginalized.... [W]e need to enhance the opportunity for faculty to connect over research."

"Faculty experience collegiality when they have the opportunity to connect over research and they feel isolated when they lack this opportunity,” Correll said. “When someone is the only person of color or the only woman in their unit they often feel that their work is marginalized. What this suggests is that we need to enhance the opportunity for faculty to connect over research.” She added that Centers like the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity do a great job of connecting faculty whose research deals with race and ethnicity, but we need to expand these opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that a collegial work environment that communicates value and respect for a faculty members’ work is critical to satisfaction and increases the likelihood of remaining at Stanford.

Mixed feelings about self-promotion

The study also found that women and underrepresented minority faculty members have mixed feelings about self-promotion. Many participants expressed the belief that in order to get recognized for their work and contributions, they needed to self-promote. Yet many felt uncomfortable doing so and felt their self-promoting behavior was not well-received.

Correll admitted that this finding was somewhat surprising. “We did not ask a question about self-promotion but many faculty reported that to get recognized, faculty have to self-promote,” she said. "Many underrepresented minority faculty do not feel comfortable self-promoting, a feeling they attributed to either cultural upbringing or gender socialization. Further, they reported that when they did try to self-promote, their attempts were not well received by their peers or unit leaders.”

This finding is consistent with social science research. For example, according to a series of experiments by Laurie Rudman, a psychologist at Rutgers University, when women self-promote they are viewed as more competent, but some also view them as less likeable and less hirable.

Disproportionate amount of diversity-related service is performed by minority faculty

Underrepresented minority faculty report performing a disproportionate amount of diversity-related university service, according to the study. They also feel that such service is often not recognized or rewarded by unit leadership.

Because having a diverse faculty is important to the university’s success, both minority and non-minority faculty can and should be expected to contribute to this institutional goal.

Correll said she was “struck by the deep passion for diversity-related service, especially when that service was directed at helping underrepresented minority students.” Yet, the study also found that the participants often felt over-burdened by the amount of diversity-related service they perform. According to the report, the participants felt that diversity-related service often becomes the responsibility of underrepresented minority faculty.

“To me, this finding suggests two things,” said Correll. “One, we need to hire more underrepresented minority faculty. We have had some success with our existing programs, but we need to keep our foot firmly on the gas pedal and think strategically about how we can do even better. Second, we need to incentivize and encourage all faculty to become involved in diversity-related service.”

Correll explained that, because having a diverse faculty is important to the university’s success, both minority and non-minority faculty can and should be expected to contribute to this institutional goal.

Stanford’s commitment to faculty diversity

The study of underrepresented minority faculty at Stanford, and the recent panel discussion, are just two recent actions taken by Stanford demonstrating the university’s commitment to faculty diversity.  In 2007, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy issued a reaffirmation to Stanford's Commitment to Faculty Diversity outlining its efforts to recruit and retain underrepresented minority faculty and graduate students. 

According to the statement,"Stanford University seeks and promotes an academic environment for each faculty member that is collegial, intellectually stimulating and respectful of his or her contributions and accomplishments."

The university’s commitment to diversity is based on the belief that “a more diverse faculty enhances the breadth, depth and quality of our research and teaching by increasing the variety of experiences, perspectives and scholarly interests among the faculty.” Furthermore, a diverse faculty ensures that Stanford students – who are also increasingly diverse – will have a variety of role models and mentors.

The statement obligates faculty search committees to make extra efforts to seek out qualified women and minority candidates. It also calls for continued monitoring and yearly reporting of the representation of women and minorities on the faculty, their salaries, and their tenure and promotion rates.

The recent town-hall meeting at Stanford was the first of two events. The second meeting will occur in fall 2014 and will focus on mentoring and voice in decision-making. An executive summary of part one of the Follow-Up Study of Underrepresented Minority Faculty at Stanford University can be viewed online.

Shelley Correll
Shelley J. Correll
Barbara D. Finberg Director, Clayman Institute, Professor of Sociology, Stanford University

Shelley Correll is the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is a professor in the Department of Sociology.

Christin L. Munsch
Christin L. Munsch
Postdoctoral Fellow, Clayman Institute for Gender Research

Christin Munsch is a sociologist and a member of the Clayman Institute’s working group on Redesigning and Redefining Work. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the Clayman Institute.