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A Closer Look at Measuring Diversity: NYU as Case Study

November 19-20, 2004
at Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana

Following are excerpts from Session I of the conference:

Presenter: Sharon L. Weinberg, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, Professor of Quantitative Methods and Psychology, New York University


According to Steven Brint, "[d]iversity, a term of contention in the 1970s and 1980's, had, by the end of the 1990s, become a cardinal virtue in university life" (Brint, 2004, p. 37). Sociologist Neil Smelser makes an even stronger statement by noting that "[t]he political forces of the nation are such that the march of diversification in universities . . . will become an established historical fact" (Smelser, 1994, p. 53).

What has been the progress toward that diversification with respect to faculty and how has that progression been measured? While many studies of faculty diversification have focused on the increase in the total number and proportion of minority faculty at universities, others have taken a different perspective, one that addresses the distribution of minority faculty across, as well as within, departments. The following articles published in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education give evidence for this multi-leveled faculty diversity focus.

One article notes that "[t]he aggregate number of blacks who hold full-time positions on the faculties of our nation's colleges and universities has risen dramatically over the past two decades … But during this period there has been explosive growth in higher education in general….and, as a result, the black percentage of all full-time faculty in colleges and universities rose from 42 percent in 1981 to 4.9 percent in 1997" (JBHE, 2000, no. 28, p. 22).

In another article, the author compares the overall growth in faculty diversification of Yale with Harvard, and suggests that, at least at Harvard, overall growth is linked strongly to one department; namely, black studies. In particular, that article notes that "[a]ccording to the latest JBHE faculty survey, Yale stands near the bottom of the Ivy League in its percentage of black faculty. Yale has a slightly higher percentage of black faculty than Harvard, which, exclusive of black studies, consistently has produced a very poor record. Yet Harvard has successfully deflected public criticism because of its large, powerful, and prestigious Afro-American studies department" (JBHE, 2000, no. 27, p. 23).

In still another article, the sluggish growth in faculty diversity is linked explicitly to the uneven distribution of minority faculty across departments and the absence of minority faculty in some departments. According to its author, Theodore Cross, "The depth of the problem affecting all of our great universities comes into sharp view when one examines particular departments. For example, in the natural sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, and computer science) consisting of 181 faculty members, there is no black person on the Harvard faculty" (Cross, JBHE, 1994, no. 4, p. 43).

And finally, in a fourth article, which focuses on a department with robust numbers of black faculty (i.e., history), the author cautions that "[t]he healthy statistics on the number of historians who are black should not obscure the profound academic racial stereotyping that has occurred and still exists in the history departments of our great universities … 53 of the 57 black faculty members at the highest ranking universities teach either African or African-American history" (JBHE, no. 25, p. 17).

A close look at the diversity rationale provided by the two Supreme Court decisions, University of California v. Bakke in 1978 and Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, may offer some insight as to why faculty diversity has been measured in terms of both the aggregated number or proportion of minority faculty university-wide, as well as in terms of the disaggregated number or proportion of minority faculty by discipline, department, or course. It also may offer some insight as to why, perhaps, universities currently remain segregated across departments by discipline and within departments by courses taught.

Slide #2: Presents the different diversity rationales of both the Bakke and Grutter cases.

1978 - University of California Regents v. Bakke — Justice Powell's plurality opinion conceptualized the diversity rationale as encompassing the educational benefits of diversity; that is, the contribution of a variety of viewpoints to the "robust exchange of ideas" in the university setting.

2003 - Grutter v. Bollinger (Michigan Law School) - Explicitly endorses the Bakke diversity rationale that educational benefits are valuable, but supplements it with the more expansive view that diversity on admissions ensures that "all members of our heterogeneous society may participate in the educational institutions that provide the training and education necessary to succeed in America."

What are the ramifications of these two diversity rationales in the university setting? Let's consider Bakke first, as addressed in Slide #3.

As noted in this slide and reinforced in a recent Michigan Law Review article by Harry Edwards, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Justice Powell's plurality opinion in Bakke "was narrow: he valued racial and ethnic diversity only to the degree that it brought about a diversity of 'experiences, outlooks, and ideas'".

This narrow view has been subject to two criticisms as noted on the slide - It stereotyped students by assuming that they had certain ideas because of their race. And, it could not explain the need for diversity in the so-called "objective" fields such as the natural sciences or mathematics.

Furthermore, the Bakke diversity rationale also cannot easily account for the need to have diversity within disciplines, in addition to university-wide.

Before turning to the ramifications of the Grutter diversity rationale in the university setting, let's review some of the key elements of it that underscore the notion that it presents a more expansive view. See Slide #4.

In the Grutter case, the Court states that "universities, and in particular law schools, represent the training ground for a large number of our Nation's leaders."

It also states that "in order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."

And finally, that diversity in admissions is vital because it ensures that "all members of our heterogeneous society may participate in the educational institutions that provide the training and education necessary to succeed in America."

In short, "the point is that we live in an inclusive society" and that "each part of our community must have access to all that makes our society function" (Harry Edwards, 2004).

While the differences in diversity rationale may appear subtle, they are not. See Slide #5. Simply stated, the Grutter rationale provides a more solid foundation for the view that diversity in all disciplines - and indeed in all professions and fields that could be part of the Nation's "leadership" - is important both: To ensure "legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry" and To ensure that "all members of our heterogeneous society may participate."

Accordingly, with respect to the university setting, one may argue that for the last twenty five years the narrow conceptualization of the diversity rationale in Bakke has justified the use of an aggregated, university-wide measure of faculty diversity, one that contributes to a variety of viewpoints and the "robust exchange of ideas" in the university setting. One may also argue that it has justified the hiring of minority faculty in only certain departments and, in particular, in those with strong links to ethnic content areas, through its implication that, like students, faculty, because of their race, have certain ideas to contribute to some areas, but not necessarily to others (i.e., the so-called more "objective" areas, such as the natural sciences or mathematics).

With respect to measuring faculty diversity at the university setting, these two different diversity rationales suggest two different approaches. As the next slide (Slide #6) suggests, Bakke's fairly narrow understanding of diversity benefits may be measured in the aggregate, university-wide, as a proportion of minority faculty relative to the total. And that Grutter's more expansive view is best measured as a disaggregated proportion, by discipline, department, and even courses taught.

Rather than answering the question "What is the aggregated proportion of minority faculty at a particular university?" (a la Bakke), a more complete and appropriate question for measuring faculty diversity (a la Grutter) is "What is the likelihood that a student at a particular university will enroll in a course taught by a minority faculty member given that the student is a classics major, a philosophy major, a math major, etc.?"


At this point, I would like to turn to a more concrete representation of these ideas. Using NYU as a case study, I will present what might be considered to be a more complete assessment of faculty diversity, one that moves us beyond the narrow diversity rationale of Bakke to the more expansive diversity rationale of Grutter.

Slide #7: At each level of education, Black and Hispanic representation declines.

Slide #8: However, the trend in the percent of U.S. citizens who receive doctoral degrees has been improving significantly over time.

Slide #9: The minority representation on NYU's faculty has grown over the last ten years, but less so in the last five years.

Slide #10: The trend in NYU's FAS with respect to faculty minority representation mirrors the university-wide trend.

Slide #11: On the surface, in the Humanities, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians appear to be well-represented relative to their respective national pools.

Slide #12: However, the aggregate numbers mask a concentration of Black faculty in only seven of the twenty-two Humanities departments, which are those that have ethnic-related courses. I should point out that these seven departments account for 100% of all Black faculty in the Humanities. Said differently, all other departments in the Humanities at NYU have no Black faculty. These would include: Philosophy, Classics, Italian, German, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Fine Arts, and Religious Studies, to name a few.

Slide #13: The same holds true for Hispanic faculty in the Humanities.

Slide #14: And this is true for Asians, as well, in the Humanities.

Slide #15: With respect to the Social Sciences, once again, in the aggregate, the diversity percentages look on par with national pools.

Slide #16: But, again, on closer examination we find pockets of concentration of Black faculty in a limited number of the eleven departments in the Social Sciences. Moreover, the courses associated with these faculty are largely ethnic-specific.

Slide #17: And the same is the case for Hispanic faculty.

Slide #18: And for Asian faculty as well.

Slide #19: With regard to the so-called "objective" fields of math and the natural sciences, only Asians exceed national pools; Blacks and Hispanics are significantly less well-represented than national pools would indicate.

Slide #20: Only one out of five departments in the math and natural sciences has any Black faculty.

Slide #21: Only two of the five have Hispanic faculty, and with low percents.

Slide #22: Asians do much better in their representation in the math and natural sciences.

Slide #23: So, what are the implications of this analysis? Multiple definitions of diversity need to be considered in analyzing data and in formulating policy. Using a likelihood criterion, that is, the likelihood that a student will be taught by a minority faculty member, from the data presented today and from reports in the literature, unless a student is studying an ethnic-specific area, such as Black history, the likelihood would appear to be small. Less than half (only 14 of 38) of NYU's FAS departments have minority faculty. And so, while in the aggregate, the situation appears to be improving, at least for the underrepresented minorities, that improvement may be in large part a function of the growth in minority and ethnic studies programs in the late 80's (Frank, Schofer & Torres, 1994; Levine and Cureton, 1992). We need to capitalize on the expanded diversity rationale conceptualized in Grutter v. Bollinger to motivate across the board faculty diversification that is not limited to ethnic specific areas. With such diversification, we can hope to fulfill the vision of Grutter v. Bollinger that "all members of our heterogeneous society may participate [as students and faculty] in the educational institutions that provide the training and education necessary to succeed in America."