Retention is a major driver of racial disparities in academia
Large segments of society are under-represented in science and engineering in universities at all levels, but particularly among full professors. Additionally, the most under-represented groups are the fastest growing in the US population. This is often attributed to the difficulties in recruiting graduate students and faculty from these groups. A new study published in PLoS A indicates another key reason: retention.
“While many academics wish to view academia as impartial, our results indicate that this is not the case: retention biases within academia contribute to low diversity among academics,” says senior author Allison Shaw, associate professor of ecology, evolution and behavior. .
A common explanation for low diversity in academia is the challenge of recruiting based on a lack of candidates. The new study shows that failure to retain academics is also a major factor in the disparities. Researchers at the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota used a combination of data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a new mathematical model, which answers a “what if” question: what the medium would look like university if there were no racial or ethnic differences in the tendency to move from one school cycle to another? Comparing the model predictions with the NSF data quantifies how skewed the representation is.
“This project is part of an effort to use the tools that biologists have developed to understand diverse and complex natural systems, and to use them to apply a critical look at our own discipline,” says co-author Daniel Stanton , assistant professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior in college.
Among the results, the researchers reported that:
- Academia disproportionately retains white scholars while failing to retain black, native and Hispanic scholars.
- The most significant loss of black and Hispanic academics occurs between the graduate student to postdoctoral researcher stages, while the loss of Indigenous academics occurs during the transitions between the faculty stages.
- The image for Asian academics is complicated because there are so many Asian international students graduating. Thus, Asian academics are simultaneously under-represented among faculty relative to expectations based on the composition of students, but over-represented relative to expectations based on the composition of the US population.
- Many of these disparities have moved in the wrong direction over the past decades.
“Understanding and addressing misrepresentation in academia is essential if we are to build a community that truly reflects and realizes the potential of the society it aims to serve,” said Shaw.
Shaw and colleagues suggest that future work should explore the diversity of experiences within each broad racial or ethnic category, as well as intersectional effects; the ways in which considering multiple aspects of identity (eg, women of color) may lead to different results from studying each aspect alone.
– This press release originally appeared on the University of Minnesota website