Faculty lacks diversity despite University efforts

As the University was lauded for admitting a record number of freshmen from underrepresented groups this year, the ranks of faculty and administrators in the eight largest colleges on campus continue to be dominated by men and white people.

Though the Office for Access and Equity has implemented myriad policies to increase diversity, 72 percent of faculty and administrators in the colleges examined are male, and 69 percent are white, as of January 2018. Members of University faculty, leadership and the Diversity Realized at Illinois by Visioning Excellence committee have said there is still progress to be made.

College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Gies College of Business

College of Education

College of Engineering

College of Fine + Applied Arts

College of Media

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

College of Applied Health Sciences


Aditi Das, assistant professor in molecular and cellular biology and woman of Asian heritage, said she has always overcome bias by working harder than the men surrounding her.

Now as a tenure-track faculty member, she still feels she has to publish better papers and produce better work to be taken as seriously as her male colleagues.

“I have several female grad students in my lab right now, and I tell them not to worry about what people think about you,” Das said. “Just work hard, and if you produce a good paper, nobody can dismiss you. Good work speaks for itself.”

Das’ comments were mirrored by other female faculty and women of color, who say they’re underestimated by students and colleagues from other universities, are put at a disadvantage after having children and have to work harder to achieve the same level of success as their male colleagues.

With men currently making up 74 percent of the faculty and administration in the Gies College of Business, Brooke Elliott, head of the Accountancy department, praised the college’s efforts to diversify faculty, but said she wished the demographics looked different.

“It is difficult to navigate a career, to move from assistant to associate to full, and also to move into administration when you have no female role models,” Elliot said. “There's never been a female head of accountancy for our 100-year history; I'm the first. I think implicit bias probably did play a role.”

Search committees tasked with hiring faculty are required to appoint a diversity advocate, document good faith efforts to create a diverse applicant pool and take online diversity training, a process Das and Elliott said was fair and unbiased.

The Targets of Opportunity Program also provides funding support to cover the salary of an underrepresented minority if the search committee selects them for a position.

Matthias Grosse Perdekamp, physics department head and member of the DRIVE diversity committee, said the committee is focused on increasing faculty diversity by reducing implicit bias.

DRIVE holds workshops certain members of search committees are required to attend and recommends strategies for ensuring diverse applicant pools and reducing bias, including spending more time evaluating each applicant.

When Grosse Perdekamp participated in a search committee for the physics department, he said he was dismayed to find the applicant pool was largely white and male.

“As far as I can see, there's no solution that can fix this in two or three years; we have to invest and build the pool,” Grosse Perdekamp said.

After contacting a former colleague who directed Grosse Perdekamp to a mailing list for female professors in nuclear physics, the department ended up hiring Anne Sickles, heavy ion physicist from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“There are strategies one can pursue to have more diverse candidates in the pool,” Grosse Perdekamp said. “The main problem with it is it takes a lot of time. You have to talk to a lot of people and write to many people, so it's important to have at least some people who are committed to pursue diversity (on search committees).”

Grosse Perdekamp worries that other search committees, some of whom receive up to 600 applicants for a single opening, don’t have a sufficient amount of time to go through each application.

With men making up 82 percent of faculty and administration in the College of Engineering, Sickles, now an assistant professor in physics, believes the problem lies with girls being discouraged from STEM at a young age.

Sickles said she’s accustomed to working in a male-dominated field, and hasn’t encountered bias in the department or in the search committee she has served on.

“For the most part, men that I've worked with are nice, decent human beings who are very supportive and fun to work with,” she said.

Elliott said that as a female department head, she’s focused on increasing the representation of women and minorities in her department, not just for her department’s sake, but for the students’.

“We would like to produce more students and attract more minority students to our program, but in order to do that you have to have underrepresented faculty,” Elliott said. “It's difficult to attract underrepresented students when they don't see faculty that really commit to them or support them.”

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A previous version of the article showed the College of Education statistics under the College of Engineering. The correct numbers are now displayed. It also said Matthias Grosse Perdekamp was the nuclear physics department head. He is the physics department head, shown in this version. The Daily Illini regrets the errors.