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APLU report focuses on bolstering diversity in STEM faculty

July 09, 2020
By: Sarah Holbert

Just 10 percent of STEM faculty at four-year institutions are from underrepresented backgrounds, according to a new report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. The report and an accompanying guidebook, which were supported by the NSF INCLUDES grant, look at the lack of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM faculty positions and outline several key findings and steps for higher education leaders, researchers, and policymakers to bolster diversity in STEM faculty.

The findings highlight that not only is there a lack of data on why individuals from underrepresented groups are not prevalent in STEM faculty (i.e. missing where barriers to profession entry may be), but also how support wanes at the post-doctoral and early-career stages compared to levels found in undergraduate programs. This is due to the pervasiveness of the “pipeline” assumption, or the idea that most students follow a single track from undergrad to a professorship, which does not account for the challenges unrepresented minorities may face along this path. Challenges include a lack of role models, mentors, and quality advising; the importance of support during transition points, such as between undergraduate degree completion and entry to graduate school, or from graduate school to postdoctoral or faculty positions; and the potential implicit bias in admissions, hiring, and promotion and tenure. Thus, without a community of support, the challenges underrepresented groups face often go unaddressed, signifying a need for programs such as peer support, mentoring, quality advising, learning cohorts, and family support programs to help students succeed.

It also found that existing university support programs that may work for certain underrepresented individuals early-on in their academic career by and large have limited national impact on diversifying faculty throughout STEM fields. While programs that do exist often benefit from support from federal agencies and philanthropic foundations, many are too broad and are not designed to specifically address the needs of individuals who have disabilities, are veterans, or have other marginalized identities. Furthermore, while support programs may exist, there are few efforts to educate and build awareness among faculty members about the effects of implicit bias and microaggressions, which causes additional problems with encouraging or discouraging applications and applicants, determining who is admitted to graduate study, and who is recruited and hired as faculty colleagues..

The report includes recommendations for higher education leaders, STEM faculty, researchers and policymakers focusing on inclusivity and building supportive systems for students of diverse backgrounds to pursue faculty careers. The recommendations include a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in a broad range of core institutional activities for higher education leaders, encouraging STEM faculty to support learning about inclusive practices through sponsoring faculty training, course buy-outs, recognition in tenure and promotion review, encouraging research on various professorship pathways for underrepresented groups, and creating incentives for diversity in STEM ecosystems through appropriations.

APLU and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL), based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have launched a five-year, National Science Foundation-funded project to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive STEM faculty nationwide. The program, Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty, is working to increase the learning, persistence, and completion of students from underrepresented groups in STEM through creating a more diverse and inclusive faculty. More about the program can be found here.

stem, higher ed