Out of every 100 full-time university faculty members in the U.S., 75 are white, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Despite small advancements over the past few years, faculty diversity is still a large issue across university campuses, especially at the University of Southern California.
Annenberg Associate Dean of Diversity William Celis said that USC faculty diversity could increase. "It has been improving over the last few years, but it definitely could be better."
The non-tenured Asian professor population at USC has increased by 13 percent from 2013 to 2016, according to a report by USCNews. There has been significant growth in the number of Asian professors over the past three years, but the number of white professors still continues to dominate the large majority, taking up 61 percent of the non-tenured faculty positions.
According to the same report, black and Latino people only hold four and seven percent of the non-tenured faculty positions.
Dr. Jeffrey Upperman, an associate dean of faculty diversity at USC's Keck School of Medicine, said that although the numbers are significant, faculty diversity must be looked at two-fold. He said that we must focus not just on the numbers, but the impact that diversity has on education across the globe.
"We want to see that there is faculty of color, faculty coming from other diverse backgrounds, and being first 'generationers,' or other LGBTQ communities, etc., who are coming in and having an impact on not only scholarship at USC, but really around the world," he said.
At USC, 76 percent of tenured faculty members, those who possess permanent contracts with the university, are white, according to USCNews. Celis said there are a couple of reasons behind that staggering statistic. One, he said, is that there are much fewer people of color than white people graduating from high school, getting a college degree, a Master's degree, and then a Doctorate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2014-15 public high school graduation rates of the around 50 million public school students was 88 percent for white students and 75 percent for black students.
Celis added that the second reason for the disparity among tenured professors is the lack of mentorship for underrepresented ethnicities, something he says is needed to get through the tenure process.
"Pipeline is number one. Lack of mentoring is number two. Number three, the sometimes unfriendly environments that women and people of color find themselves in because they're not exactly diverse, and so young scholars of color, young people of color, will not enjoy the same kind of support that someone else might, for which everybody needs to pursue tenure," he explained.
As a doctor of color, Upperman said that in his experience, he was fortunate enough to have strong African-American role models that he could lean on in the Keck School of Medicine, but that he is also a strong believer in shared interest groups, such as the National Medical Association or the Society of Black Academic Surgeons.
"Having strong affinity groups and support networks are going to be important because it's not a matter of folks not interacting across whatever those so-called lines may be, but it's really about folks interacting with folks who have like ideas and backgrounds, and sharing some key strategies and tactics for moving on and ahead," he said.
A more diverse faculty would be beneficial to students on campus, according to a survey by the Ph.D. Project. The report states that 96 percent of the 1,000 minority students surveyed said that studying under minority professors positively impacted their learning experience. Sixty-nine percent of the students surveyed by the project also said that they felt more prepared to enter the corporate business world after being taught by a minority professor.
"We do hear it in recruiting events from students of color, women, that students tend to come to programs, tend to enroll in programs that have a good representation of people, of society," Celis said. "We aren't doing students a favor graduating them into these workplaces and into the broader society with a minimal understanding of our culture, of American society. That's another reason why diversity is important."
Celis said that the university must widen its pool of job applicants and promote employment opportunities in a variety of publications and areas in order to have a more diverse faculty.
The American Association of University Professors conducted a study and found that a majority of professors felt that a more diverse class environment makes for more lively and varied discussion of higher quality. Seventy percent of the professors surveyed stated that classroom diversity is important for exposing students to new concepts, and 69 percent of the professors said that diversity was crucial for students when examining their own perspectives.
Back in 2015, USC Provost Michael Quick promised to increase diversity on campus, writing in a letter to the USC community that "universities should be spaces committed to showing the promise of diversity and helping everyone recognize, appreciate and respect difference."
This year, USC instituted the Race and Equity Center to better facilitate with increasing the diversity of both the faculty and campus. The person responsible for the launch of this new program, Shaun R. Harper, told USCNews earlier this year that the center will unite faculty to focus on race inequalities, immigration, among other issues.
Celis said he believes faculty diversity will improve in the future. "It has to get better. It just absolutely has to get better for all the reasons principally for young people, he said. You're coming here and we have to do a better job of preparing students for a multicultural society. Diverse faculty isn't the only way to do this, but it is a key piece of a richer education, a better preparation for 21st century America."