Underrepresented Minority Faculty
Frequently Asked Questions
Study of URM faculty in the U.S. represents a central area of research interest due to their historical and contemporary underrepresentation in all disciplines and among faculty. The following four groups are considered underrepresented relative to their proportion in the general U.S. population: African American/Black, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and Native Americans. Although the percentage of African American faculty increased from 3.2% in 1988 to 5.0% in 2010 and the percentage of Hispanic faculty increased from 2.4% to 3.6% during the same period (see Table 1), the percentage of Black and Hispanic faculty obtaining tenure and earning promotion to full professor has stayed relatively stagnant.
Table 1. Percentage distribution of full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by academic rank, race/ethnicity, and sex: Fall 2015
In fall 2013, of those full-time faculty whose race/ethnicity was known, 79 percent were White (43 percent were White males and 35 percent were White females), 6 percent were Black, 5 percent were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).
These groups have a historical legacy of exclusion in U.S. higher education institutions and prestigious occupations. Yet these groups are an invaluable part of our domestic talent pool and proffer diverse intellectual, scholarly, and pedagogical perspectives. In a time when the United States is on the cusp of an inevitable demographic shift – that will make us a minority-majority nation – the retention of URM faculty in higher education is even more pressing. Given the increasing numbers of URMs in the population, if we’re not successful with balancing this underrepresentation, we won’t adequately serve the state, the nation, and the world.
Within the historically White, male, upper-middle class field of the professoriate, the interlocking effects of sexism, racism, and classism contribute to unwelcoming work environments for URM faculty. Significant underrepresentation of URM faculty signaled a call to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the barriers to increasing URM representation in research-extensive universities. RWJF funded a national mixed methods study that examined occupational stressors, family-work balance, mentoring experiences, coping strategies, and their relationship to health and mental health status among URM faculty. A brief summary of the thematic findings from Understanding the Relationship between Work Stress and U.S. Research Institutions’ Failure to Retain Underrepresented Minority (URM) Faculty may be found here.
URM faculty bring intellectual and pedagogical diversity to the academy due to their unique and specific backgrounds that shape how they teach, what they study, and their ability to nurture and mentor the next generation of students. Since URM faculty serve as role models for URM undergraduate and graduate students and those interested in important questions of race, class and ethnicity, without URM faculty, it is more difficult to recruit, retain, and graduate URM students.
Strengthening all campus climates with a focus on “inclusion,” not just “diversity,” creates a welcoming, reaffirming, supportive environment where URMs feel fully included, heard, and empowered; making the institution better for everyone. Creating a responsive departmental environment for URM faculty is key. This requires some attention to how we currently “do business” and implementing more inclusive ways of managing personnel. The changes institutions make to address the isolation and alienation of any marginalized population lead to a more accountable, more equitable, more ethical, and more dynamic institutions. The presence of URM faculty at higher education institutions changes the culture of the institution; it communicates to students the value of various life experiences, and it often translates to further community engagement and a rich variety of topics of study.
This is not a simple question but universities across the country are making strides and demonstrating a commitment to finding solutions. Campuses committed to supporting diverse groups often need to go through multiple cultural and institutional (policy and practice) changes. But, commitments to hiring and mentoring this population of scholars and making sure you and your institution understand why URM representation is important to the culture and climate of your institution—what it communicates to your students, staff, and faculty—is definitely a starting point. Making policies for tenure, promotion, and family leave, for example, more explicit and accessible, definitely strengthens the possibility that URM (and other minority populations) will succeed at your institution.
Great question! Mentoring has been shown to be a huge asset for URM faculty in their academic life course. If done well, it can mean the difference between being hired or not, getting tenure or not. Your senior faculty experience—in terms of knowledge of the academy—are invaluable to URM faculty. For further information on mentoring please see: Zambrana, R.E., Ray, R.J., Espino, M. M., Castro, C., Douthirt-Cohen, B., & Eliason, J. (2015). “Don’t Leave Us Behind”: The Importance of Mentoring for Underrepresented Minority Faculty. American Educational Research Journal, 52(1), 40-72.