Larry Gordon/EdSource Today
The library at Cal State Los Angeles. The campus student body is among the most diverse in the state.

The faculty and senior leadership at many of California’s public colleges and universities are so overwhelmingly white — and frequently male — that the increasingly ethnically diverse student bodies lack enough role models for success, a new report contends.

The “Left Out” study by the nonprofit advocacy group Campaign for College Opportunity identified the racial identity and gender of tenured and non-tenured faculty, campus leaders and system executives at community colleges, California State University and University of California and found that those on average “do not reflect the racial and gender diversity of our students” — often with enormous gaps.

While 69 percent of students overall at those schools in 2016-17 were identified as non-white, only about 32 percent of the tenured faculty and 38 percent of the senior leadership were, the study found. And though 54 percent of public college and university students last year were women, 47 percent of tenured faculty and 43 percent of system executives were.

The study, subtitled “How Exclusion in California’s Colleges and Universities Hurts Our Values, Our Students and Our Economy,” calls on campuses and systems to work harder to broaden hiring pools and prevent bias, even restarting talent searches if a diverse group of candidates is not found. Its authors acknowledge that Proposition 209, the statewide measure approved by voters in 1996, forbids racial affirmative action for admissions or hiring at those schools but they said many other clearly legal steps can encourage career pathways for Latinos, African-Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans to become professors and academic administrators.

The authors said they hope the proportions of minority and female faculty and administrators will increase to be similar to those of students. “Our failure to do so means that students will not have those crucial mentors who can effectively guide them through the challenges and opportunities in higher education. An absence of diversity in positions of power will have a chilling effect on the aspirations of potential leaders who see little room for people like themselves in academia,” the report stated.

“The validation of students’ experiences and struggles by faculty of the same ethnicity and gender builds self-confidence and self-esteem among students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may come to college doubting their academic potential,” it added.

Leticia Tomas Bustillos, one of the report’s principal authors, said in an interview that the study does not imply that white people could not be effective mentors to minority students or could not empathize with them. But Bustillos, who is the campaign’s director of policy research, said that it is still important for women and students of color to feel welcome on campus by seeing a decent amount of teachers and leaders “who look like them.”

There have been notable recent changes in some positions, such as having UC’s first woman president, Janet Napolitano, and Eloy Ortiz Oakley as the first Latino chancellor of the state community college system. But other statistics for 2016-17 in the report show large disparities between the composition of the student bodies and that of faculty and administrators. Among those:

  • At UC, 39 percent of students are Asian American-Pacific Islander, 26 percent white, 26 percent Latino and 4 percent black. In contrast 70 percent of UC tenured faculty are white, 16 percent Asian-Pacific Islander, 7 percent Latino and 3 percent black. The UC regents are 62 percent white.
  • At the Cal State system, 43 percent of students are Latino, 25 percent white, 18 Asian-Pacific Islander and 4 percent black while the breakdown among tenured faculty is 62 percent white, 18 percent Asian-Pacific Islander,10 percent Latino and 4 percent black. The Cal State trustees are 70 percent white.
  • Grouping all community colleges in California, 44 percent of students are Latino, 27 percent white, 14 percent Asian-Pacific Islander and 6 percent black, while 61 percent of tenured faculty are white, 15 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian and 6 percent black. About 59 percent of administrators are white.

Colleges often say that the academic pipeline from high school to graduate school is not producing enough Latino and black candidates, particularly in the hard sciences. But the officials of the Campaign for College Opportunity, which has offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington, D.C., say plenty of young candidates have earned degrees in California alone. The expected massive retirements of Baby Boom generation members presents “a tremendous opportunity today to really change what the face (of faculty) looks like,” said Audrey Dow, the campaign’s senior vice president.

Reached for comment, the California higher education systems said that some of the data has improved since the survey was conducted but they did not dispute the report’s general accuracy. They all said they were working to bolster diversity among students and faculty.

Paul Feist, vice chancellor for communications and marketing at the community colleges headquarters, said his system “shares the Campaign for College Opportunity’s sense of urgency in closing equity gaps and creating educational environments that effectively improve student outcomes.” Colleges are implementing plans to improve students’ graduation rates and eliminating bias in hiring faculty, among other steps, he said.

At Cal State, Melissa Bard, vice chancellor for human services, said in a statement that: “Recruiting the most qualified candidates to lead, teach and work within the CSU community and those who are representative of the students we serve is an institutional priority. The CSU is focused on projects and initiatives designed to improve diversity and to support the development and the retention of leaders within the university.”

Similarly, UC “is committed to recognizing and nurturing merit, talent and achievement by supporting diversity and equal opportunity,” according to a statement from UC system spokeswoman Claire Doan. “UC has expanded its efforts to recruit, support and retain diverse faculty and leadership at each of its campuses. And the university is making progress: New faculty hires over the past five years are more diverse — in terms of both race and gender — than the current overall faculty population.”

Looking at women’s roles in higher education, the report found the highest numbers at community colleges; there women comprised 54 percent of students and the same share of tenured faculty and 51 percent of senior academic leadership in 2016-17. That year nearly half of all community college campuses were headed by women.

At Cal State, women made up 56 percent of students, 47 percent of tenured faculty and 44 percent of senior leadership. At UC, women were 54 percent of students, 33 percent of tenured professors and 39 percent of senior leaders. At the time of the research, 11 of the 23 Cal State campuses were headed by women and just one of UC’s 10 campuses, although that has since gone up to two at UC.

“The data show that women continue to trail men in securing faculty and leadership positions in California’s public colleges and universities. Though some points of equity do exist, our state and system leaders must take more intentional action if we are to see faculty and leadership bodies that are reflective of the students being served,” the report said.

The study’s authors said they used the colleges’ and universities’ own statistics, along with federal databases, for information about students and faculty. For administrators, they looked at campus information, websites and used photos and surnames for clues and then sought confirmation from the schools, although in many cases campuses refused to cooperate.

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  1. Professor X 4 years ago4 years ago

    What an alarming article. The people who hire, the people who are the gatekeepers for PhD programs are the overwhelming majority of faculty who are white males. It will stay that way until they are forced to change.

  2. Cindy May 5 years ago5 years ago

    There have been many faculty hired purely because of nepotism or for being part of the good ole boys/girls club. This is not based on merit whatsoever! This is why we do not have a diverse faculty to begin with. So what’s wrong with hiring qualified individuals who represent the student population?!?!

  3. Christian Miller 5 years ago5 years ago

    If you are concerned about diversity, please consider diversity of thought, diversity of philosophy, and diversity of political views. There seems to be little in our UC system.

  4. el 5 years ago5 years ago

    It's easy to dismiss this as a need, as some sort of silly window dressing, but I think it's really important to be watching this not overall but on a department by department level. I have a STEM degree. When I entered university, I had every intent of earning a PhD and maybe looking for a place in academia. There wasn't a single tenured female professor in any of the STEM departments in my school. My … Read More

    It’s easy to dismiss this as a need, as some sort of silly window dressing, but I think it’s really important to be watching this not overall but on a department by department level.

    I have a STEM degree. When I entered university, I had every intent of earning a PhD and maybe looking for a place in academia. There wasn’t a single tenured female professor in any of the STEM departments in my school. My academic advisor was an older man who I thought was just kind of ineffective in the role, and I just figured I’d gotten the short straw compared to luckier friends. Only later did I learn that he had been a valuable advisor to some of my male classmates, and the truth was he really just had no idea how to interact with a young female student. But there was no one around to teach me to assert my authority or competence as a woman… I was left with trying examples that worked for men or for women I saw on TV and via trial and error, I managed a style that seems to have worked for me.

    When I was an undergraduate, I spoke with a prospective black student we were recruiting who told me how much he admired people who could be the only black person in a classroom, but that wasn’t for him. He chose another school, where he could be one of a crowd, and stand out for his actions instead of his demographic.

    When I remember my experiences and some of my errors in figuring out just how to carry myself and my position, I think of how much more perilous the situation is for especially young men of color, as well as my classmate who was something like the 20th American black woman to get a PhD in physics or astronomy. (And I’m old but not that old.) I have not in my whole career had a female engineer senior to me; I have always blazed that path myself. Men have mentored me, and helped push my career, but there are some things they cannot teach or realize need to be taught.

    And so, taking all these things together, there are a couple of things that are important to realize:
    1. “Merit” is not some immutable thing. The number of papers someone has written is maybe not the best or only way to judge prospective faculty, whose major job is meant to be teaching and mentoring students, two functions that are rarely trained or measured in this process.
    2. Smart, capable people, especially people of color, are winnowed out of the pipeline to academia for foolish and inconsequential reasons at every stage of the game, because of the way it is played, not because they wouldn’t be outstanding faculty. Looking outside the obvious boxes could be a source for some amazing people, and often is, in my experience.
    3. Having mentors and examples for students in every department that will have some connections to the served students is critical for ensuring student success. Demographics are not the only source of connections nor are they sufficient, but leadership comes in many styles, and the style that works for a Russian-born white male is possibly not going to be useful to a Modesto-born African-American student, regardless of the brilliance of either as pure researchers.
    4. Keeping departments apprised on the statistics of the percentage and distribution of which students are successful needs to be part of the game. If a particular professor’s students are uniquely unsuccessful, it’s worth wondering exactly why that might be.

    I believe we have some of these issues with mentorship holding us back at the K-12 level as well, particularly for young men.

  5. Najla Hessabi 5 years ago5 years ago

    As a woman in the education system I understand the reality of the story; however, I don’t agree that we should have diversity in faculties for the cost of quality, ability, knowledge, and level of education. I hope we don’t hire faculties for the sake of diversity!

  6. Wayne Bishop 5 years ago5 years ago

    “ethnically diverse student bodies lack enough role models for success”

    What a hopelessly racist perspective on the nature of learning and the prospect of success through education, the only avenue available for a majority of students from communities dominated by low education and low socioeconomic status.