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Updated 11:00 AM March 8, 2004
 

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  Report on scientists and engineers of color
ADVANCE findings spur U-M to improve work environment


University leaders are aiming to improve the work environment for faculty of color in science and engineering—a climate described as chilly in a newly released study.

The study, "Assessing the Academic Work Environment for Faculty of Color in Science and Engineering," indicates that U-M scientists and engineers of color have a less positive experience on campus than their white colleagues, including higher rates of tokenism and racial stereotyping.

"The report helps us recognize the issues; now it is time to work toward resolving them," says Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs.

The benchmark study was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) ADVANCE program, a five-year project housed at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. The program is designed to promote recruitment and retention of women faculty in science and engineering and to improve the institutional climate for women faculty at U-M.

"We hope this study will lead the Michigan community to reflect on how to make the climate more positive for all faculty, and to take active steps to make improvements," says project director Abigail Stewart.

Collected in May 2001, the data were part of a previously reported larger study assessing the campus climate for women scientists and engineers. Analyses presented in the new report focus on faculty of color, and include attention to differences in the experiences of men and women of color.

The study builds on an understanding that the low representation of faculty of color in science and engineering fields is in part a "pipeline" problem—that is, a problem of few doctorates being awarded to minorities.

Other research has shown that minorities who complete doctorates in science or engineering face obstacles, such as hostile working conditions, which limit career attainment and satisfaction.

"We need to mend the links in our pipeline that run from pre-college programs through graduate study," Monts says. "If we exercise a vision that looks 10 to 15 years ahead, perhaps then we will be looking at faculty diversity in the sciences and engineering in a much different light."

As in previous studies, the U-M study found few differences in professional/career experiences and household characteristics between science and engineering faculty of color and white faculty. The two groups differed significantly in perceptions of their work environments. Faculty of color reported less satisfaction with resource allocation, experienced higher levels of racial and religious stereotyping and tokenism, and felt under surveillance more than white faculty.

About one quarter of science and engineering faculty of color reported experiencing racial-ethnic discrimination at U-M within the last five years.

In addition, the report shows that women scientists and engineers of color felt they had less influence over educational decisions than their colleagues, received less attractive offers and counteroffers, and received less mentoring. Moreover, they rated their departmental climate as significantly less positive than did their male counterparts, in terms of gender egalitarianism, scholarly isolation and the rating of their department chairs as fair, creating a positive environment, and being committed to racial-ethnic diversity.

University leaders, led by Provost Paul N. Courant, initiated a discussion of the report's findings. They have committed to continuing that discussion—with a focus on identifying solutions—during the next few months.

"The University has numerous models and best practices to guide us in our efforts," Courant says. "I applaud the deans and chairs for their dedication and valuable insight, and I look forward to future meetings as we seek viable solutions to improve the hiring and retention of faculty of color in the sciences and engineering."

Some recommendations for solutions that were offered in the report, and were based on specific findings, included:

• Ensuring that hiring, promotion and tenure policies and procedures are communicated and transparent, and feedback is given at critical intervals;

• Encouraging departments to engage in systematic assessment of climates;

• Providing chairs with adequate support and resources for mentoring, problem-solving and conflict-resolution;

• Holding the leaders of colleges, schools and departmental leaders accountable for their efforts to recruit, hire and retain women and faculty of color.

The full report and executive summary can be found on the ADVANCE project Web site, http://www.umich.edu/~advproj/advreports.html.

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