Proving Academic Discrimination
A new report on underrepresented groups and faculty positions is very interesting and useful because, unlike the conservative attacks on ideological exclusion, this study actually compares the numbers in the pipeline (Ph.D. recipients in the previous decade) with the number of assistant professors. For a long time, we’ve all been told that the “pipeline problem” is the reason why so few blacks and other minorities get academic jobs. This study shows that more blacks have Ph.D.s than get jobs in most science and technology fields. In 13 out of 15 fields studied, blacks are underrepresented among assistant professors compared to Ph.D.s; that’s a remarkable finding. It certainly tends to refute the impression of racial preferences for African Americans in academia. Sociology is just about the only field where blacks are overrepresented (9.5% of Ph.D.s vs. 11.7% of assistant professors), and that may simply reflect a growing market in certain subfields such as urban sociology. Interestingly, Hispanics don’t face similar disparities, and many fields where blacks are sharply underrepresented (such as economics and political science) have overrepresented numbers of Hispanics. For example, blacks are 3.9% of economics Ph.D.s and 1.7% of assistant professors, while Hispanics are 4.3% of Ph.D.s and 8.9% of assistant professors. This could reflect an “any minority will do” approach: if economics departments are under pressure to hire minorities but still discriminate vs. blacks, they can simply hire Hispanics to appease people.
For women, the numbers are fairly equal, but women are sharply underrepresented in three of the fields where women are most heavily represented: chemistry (32.4% of Ph.D.s vs. 21.2% of assistant profs), psychology (67.8% vs. 48.5%), and biology (46.3% vs. 35%). Interestingly, the current levels of female assistant professors in psychology and biology is lower than even the rate of female Ph.D.s in 1986-95, indicating a long-term problem. There may be a fear that “too many women” in a department is considered undesirable.
On the flip side, tokenism may explain the unusual diversity of mechanical engineering departments, where blacks (1.5% of Ph.D.s, 3.0% of assistant profs), Hispanics (1.9% vs. 3.7%), and women (8.4% vs. 18.0%) are all heavily overrepresented, even though mechanical engineering has the least diverse Ph.D. recipients. A tendency to hire one (or a few) underrepresented minority in a department might cause this to happen.
White males are slightly underrepresented in most fields (but sharply overrepresented in psychology); however, the key reason for this is not affirmative action, but the heavy overrepresentation of Asian faculty, who have very high numbers among assistant professors, far above their proportion of Ph.D.s. The exact reasons for this is unclear, and there are a number of possible options: 1) Asian Ph.D.s are superior in quality as researchers because only the best Asian students are admitted to graduate programs due to discrimination; 2) hiring committees think that Asians are smarter and therefore favor them in hiring; 3) Asians are already well represented in academia, and therefore provide a supportive environment; 4) Asians face discrimination in the corporate workplace, and therefore are not lured away by higher salaries; 5) Asians in academia come from well-off backgrounds or families where academia is highly valued, and therefore forsake higher corporate salaries.
The underrepresentation of blacks could also be attributed to many factors: 1) minorities lack mentors who help them succeed and have connections to get them jobs; 2) minorities are lured to the corporate world and its higher salaries because they are recruited there or because they tend to be poorer and need to pay off student debts; 3) minorities face discrimination in academic hiring.
The studies claiming to show systemic hiring discrimination against conservatives in academia haven’t even taken the first step in proving a disparity: comparing the number of conservatives who get Ph.D.s to the number hired in each field. Once we have these numbers, it’s not proof of discrimination, but it should lead us to look carefully at the factors causing it. The lack of black professors in many different fields is now proven to be real, and not solely a consequence of the pipeline problem. That indicates that universities need to take action to fix the problem.
(See the InsideHigherEd.com report here.)