sary, but we can’t wait for the next generation; we need to do something now
that will have an immediate impact.
What Will Work
Universities have the responsibility to
hire and promote minority faculty members, and if we take the role seriously, we
could make a significant improvement
over the next five years. Here are some
steps that I think we need to take:
Put qualified people in strong post-doctorate positions. Graduate research
advisors must take a role in finding a
strong post-doc position for students
with potential. After receiving my Ph.D.
from UCLA, I was guided by David San-chez, the only underrepresented minority faculty member at that time in
the UCLA Mathematics Department, to
a post-doctoral position at the University of Wisconsin. This intervention and
guidance was probably the most important in my entire professional life.
At Wisconsin, I was very fortunate that
I got to work with some of the finest
mathematicians in my area. I was fully
integrated into the research program.
Graduate advisors must elicit a commitment of that kind of relationship from
the post-doc advisor and then check to
see that it is happening. The post-doc
position may be the most critical step
in either making or breaking a successful future in the academy.
Reexamine hiring criteria. When top
level departments hire new faculty,
their number one criteria is the candidate’s potential to be the next Gauss or
Turing. What we assess when we hire
is not what we expect or need of all faculty. I will illustrate this point with a
story. A few years back I was invited to
the University of California Berkeley as
a Regents Lecturer. I gave five different
talks in five days. In my university-wide
talk on diversity, I included a segment
entitled “Why the Berkeley Math Department Would Never Hire Me.” The
reason is that my potential for winning
a Fields Medal in Mathematics is low,
even though I have performed solid
research that would get me tenure at
essentially any university including
Berkeley. As I went from talk to talk the
minority graduate students followed
me around like I was the Pied Piper of
Hamelin. I told them that my next talk
really was not for graduate students.
They said they did not care and just
We can’t wait for
the next generation;
we need to do
that will have an
wanted to interact with me. Simply
stated, I would give Berkeley more than
99% of their faculty in the broad and
complete sense. Of course, I would be
promoted; I would give in so many components that the university values. At
universities like Berkeley, the promotion criteria are much broader than the
hiring criteria, and this is good for the
university and the nation.
At Rice in 2005 I was appointed University Professor, an honor bestowed
upon only six individuals, including two
Nobel Laureates, in its 100-year history.
However, I did not gain this distinction
for my research alone, but primarily for
contributions in the other dimensions
I have discussed. When I gave my acceptance speech I thanked Rice for being sufficiently progressive to allow me
to do it my way. I stated that I hope this
example serves to show young faculty
members that there are various paths
to the same place, not just one, and the
other more non-traditional paths are
important. The Berkeley Math Department would greatly benefit from hiring
someone like me, but they are unwilling
to break their traditional hiring culture.
And Berkeley is of course, representative of other universities that follow the
same course of action in hiring.
Mentor young faculty. The Nelson data
shows a loss as members go through
the tenure process, a heartbreaking
failure. It is wrong to assume that beginning faculty members will understand
faculty culture and what is expected of
faculty members. They need someone
who will be forthright with them about
departmental expectations. Someone
must warn them of the danger of being enticed away from research by too
much leadership or outreach too soon.
This mentoring must be proactive.
Young minority faculty members frequently will not ask for help or express
concern that there is any problem with
their progress. A few years ago, the Rice
Sociology Department denied tenure to
a young minority woman claiming that
her as yet unpublished book on minority K– 12 education was not up to par
with their standards. Yet this book when
published was extremely well received
and allowed her to be hired with tenure
at an excellent Tier 1 University. In talking to this woman, she told me she was
shocked by the decision and thought
the department was most happy with
her research. She had not had sufficient
communication with her chair. The loss
to Rice was huge; this young woman was
the primary mentor of Rice minority
women undergraduates across campus.
Many a tear was shed and much anger
felt when she left. In another case, a
minority faculty member was denied
tenure because he had extremely poor
teaching evaluations. He was hired
from industry, and his research was solid, but he had not been sufficiently well
mentored on the need for good teaching. Rice lost a valuable faculty member
who could have been saved with proper
mentoring. Just as industry has for new
executives, many departments are now
making new faculty mentoring a formal
responsibility of caring senior faculty
members, and more need to do so.
We often lament the condition of
representation without providing suggestions for making changes. I hope
the suggestions I’ve made here might
be the impetus for discussions in departments across the U.S. I am keenly
interested in this process and welcome
participation in a national effort to
improve representation of university
science and engineering faculty.
1. nelson, J., and brammer, C.n. A National Analysis
of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at
Research Universities,” norman, oK, october, 2007,
January 2010; http://chem.ou.edu/~djn/diversity/
2. Tapia, r. Minority students and research universities:
how to overcome the ‘mismatch’. The Chronicle of
Higher Education 55, 29 (Mar. 27, 2009).
3. Tapia, r. True diversity doesn’t come from abroad. The
Chronicle of Higher Education 54, 5 (sept. 28, 2007).
Richard Tapia ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Maxfield-oshman
Professor in Engineering Department of Computational
and Applied Mathematics at rice university and Principal
Investigator and Director of the Empowering Leadership
Alliance, an nsF broadening Participation in Computing