OU Professor Documents Under-Representation of Female, Minority Faculty
Centrella, Heidi R., THE JOURNAL RECORD
A professor at the University of Oklahoma has compiled data that has piqued curiosities for some time, but has never before been confirmed. Said data reflects the under-representation of female and minority faculty members at top research universities.
Donna Nelson, associate professor of chemistry, conducted a national survey of department chairs at the top 50 departments in each of 14 science and engineering disciplines, as ranked by the National Science Foundation. The information gathered included demographic data on tenure and tenure-track faculty, desegregated by gender, race and rank - information never before compiled.
Nelson, who has been a professor of chemistry for 20 years, said because she had worked in chemistry her entire life, she knew firsthand what the environment was like.
And it's horrible, she said. We really are behind the rest of the world in science, and this is extremely important right now because women and minorities both are dropping out of science nationally. And all of these organizations say that they're investigating why, but they really don't want to know why because it's really sort of ugly.
Nelson's research shows that while there are fewer women and minorities in these positions, and women hold the lowest academic rank, their doctorate attainment is quite high.
Anytime you have this huge PhD attainment, there's this huge hiring pool, she said. But then very few women are actually in those positions. That tells you there's a problem.
Furthermore, her research shows that in the top 50 computer science departments, there are no black, Hispanic or Native American tenured or tenure-track women faculty.
Nelson said she faced obstacles and retaliation, and also received some pressure not to report the data from within the American Chemical Society, but this did not keep her from publishing the information. Because of this, Nelson received last week the National Woman of Courage award from the National Organization for Women.
According to her research, in chemistry, math and some other disciplines last year, more than half of the bachelor's degrees were received nationally by young women. Yet in math, the faculty is only 8.9 percent female.
So you have more than half of the degrees going to young women, but less than 10 percent of the faculty is women, she said. These young women are in there with very few role models, very few female mentors.
Nelson will speak Thursday on Capitol Hill at the invitation of U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to address this issue and that of Title 9, a law that guarantees in educational institutions women will receive equal treatment to men. Wyden requested the Government Accounting Organization to study the larger agencies, including the NSF and National Institutes of Health, to see if this law was being implemented, or, doing what it's supposed to do. …