Diverse faculty sparse

Carnegie Mellon’s minority faculty members compose only 13 percent of the university’s total faculty population, according to this year’s fall staff survey by the U.S. Department of Education, which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education Oct. 8. This puts Carnegie Mellon in the below-average range for percentage of minority faculty at colleges and universities in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

“The importance of minority faculty is the same as the importance to Carnegie Mellon of all aspects of its diversity­ — they make us better,” Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon stated via e-mail. “Beyond the general value of diversity, minority faculty also serve as role models for minority students.

“Carnegie Mellon is comparable to its peers in terms of the percentage of its faculty who are minorities, but the numbers are low — too low — despite a significant increase over the last several years. Increasing the diversity of our faculty remains a high priority,” he continued.

In 2000, Cohon created the Diversity Advisory Council, comprised of students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, and external community leaders. The council has focused on identifying diversity issues, building awareness, and supporting the university’s initiatives.

However, increasing diversity at the university has proven to be a more difficult task than anticipated.

“Our efforts are complicated by pipeline issues such as institutions competing for a very small pool of minority Ph.D.s, especially the academic ‘stars.’  ” said Everett Tademy, assistant vice president of the Diversity Advisory Council.

Departmental strategies and sensitivity training programs for faculty are a couple of the recommendations being developed and practiced by the council to increase diversity on campus.

“I believe that our university is committed to thorough and aggressive searches for faculty and that in recent years, particularly coinciding with Dr. Cohon’s presidency, these efforts have led to positive results [in terms of] both minority and women faculty hires,” Tademy said. “Yes, much more needs to be done, but I see university leadership, particularly our college and school deans, insisting on results and holding department heads and academic administrators accountable for improving both minority and women participation in the recruitment pool.”

The council’s goals for this year include increasing the presence of minorities in administrative and upper-level staff positions and closely watching the minority undergraduate enrollment, according to the council’s most recent report. Universities that rank in the first quartile for minority representation have at least 35 percent more minority faculty than Carnegie Mellon, the report noted.

Students said that there were both advantages and disadvantages to increasing diversity on campus. While acknowledging the university’s need to increase faculty and staff diversity, first-year mathematics major Ashish Babaria explained what he believed to be drawbacks of being taught by minority faculty.

“The issue with minority faculty at CMU is that, at times, when students are being taught by minority professors and TAs, they tend to experience difficulty trying to understand due to difference in cultural and geographical factors that may result in variations in forms of communication,” Babaria said.

Other students, such as first-year history major Nick Sciannameo, recognize the advantages such diversity brings.

“Diversity amongst the faculty generally offers diversity of viewpoints, which consecutively makes way for more worldly education,” Sciannameo said.