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Top 50 chemistry departments largely white, male

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Diversity not synonymous with chemistry

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June 4,
Volume 79, Number 23
CENEAR 79 23 pp. 67
ISSN 0009-2347
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Survey finds minorities to be woefully underrepresented in top chemistry departments


Seeking the best and the brightest from all backgrounds has become a battle cry of chemistry. There are a number of efforts under way, such as the American Chemical Society's Scholars Program, to bring intellectual diversity to the chemical enterprise by enticing minority individuals to take up the profession. But will there be places for them, outside of industry, if they do so

Recent surveys from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, suggest not. Not only is there a paucity of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans--collectively known as underrepresented minorities (URMs)--on the chemistry faculties of top research universities, but they are barely a blip on the radar screen when it comes to ACS journal editors. Among the 178 editors, according to a survey conducted by Oklahoma associate chemistry professor Donna J. Nelson and student Chris Banner, are one African American and one Hispanic.

The faculty diversity study was carried out in fall/winter 2000 by four Oklahoma undergraduate science majors. Working under Nelson's direction, the students--Lina Ea, botany/microbiology; Leah Mitchell, chemical engineering; Sheleatha Taylor, chemistry; and Audra Wendt, chemistry--solicited diversity data from the 50 chemistry departments identified by the National Science Foundation as having spent the most money on chemical research. All 50 departments responded.

The results were disturbing, if not surprising. Of the 1,637 tenured/tenure track faculty at the 50 departments, 43 were identified as URMs. There were 22 Hispanics, 1.3% of the total; 18 African Americans, 1.1%; and three Native Americans, 0.2%. Another 100, or 6.1%, were identified as Asians, who are in this context not considered underrepresented.

Even when compared to chemistry Ph.D.s awarded in 1991–99, the numbers are low. Whites received 78.2% of the Ph.D.s; Asians, 15.9%; Hispanics, 3.0%; African Americans, 2.4%; and Native Americans, 0.4%.

Just over half of the 50 departments, 27, had any URMs at all on their faculty rosters. The University of Washington, Seattle, led the list with four. The Universities of Florida and of Southern California each had three. There were two URMs on the faculties at Arizona State, Florida State, Rutgers,Texas A&M, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, Massachusetts (Amherst), and Oklahoma. Georgia Tech; Ohio State; Purdue; SUNY Buffalo; SUNY Stony Brook; UC Irvine; Georgia; Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Maryland; Michigan; Minnesota, Minneapolis; Notre Dame; University of Pennsylvania; South Carolina; and Yale each had one URM on their chemistry faculties.

The statistics contained some good news. Hispanics were represented on all rungs of the academic ladder--12 held the rank of assistant professor, six were associate professors, and four were full professors. Compared with other URMs, Nelson notes, more Hispanic faculty are recent hires, 14 of the 22 having received their Ph.D.s since 1991. Between 1991 and 1999, Hispanics received an average of 38 chemistry Ph.D.s per year in the 50 departments. It was perhaps not unexpected news that there were only two Native American full professors and one associate professor, given that Native Americans received an average of 5.3 chemistry Ph.D.s per year between 1991 and 1999.

What was surprising to Nelson and was the worst news from the study was that there were no African American assistant professors at the schools surveyed, despite the fact that blacks received an average of 35.4 Ph.D. degrees per year in 1991–99, including a high of 56 in 1999. There were six black associate professors and 12 full professors. However, many of the latter are nearing retirement age. With few younger chemists in the pipeline to replace them, Nelson points out, African American chemistry professors are not only not holding their own, they're becoming a vanishing species. Reversing that trend will be difficult.

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Top 50 chemistry departments largely white, male
White 1,494 100% 91.3%
Full 1,054 71 64.4
Associate 209 14 12.8
Assistant 231 15 14.1
Asian 100 100 6.1
Full 35 35 2.1
Associate 21 21 1.3
Assistant 44 44 2.7
Hispanic 22 100 1.3
Full 4 18 0.2
Associate 6 27 0.4
Assistant 12 55 0.7
African American 18 100 1.1
Full 12 67 0.7
Associate 6 33 0.4
Assistant 0 0 0.0
Native American 3 100 0.2
Full 2 67 0.1
Associate 1 33 0.1
Assistant 0 0 0.0
SOURCE: Donna J. Nelson,University of Oklahoma, Norman

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Rank and file
Diversity not synonymous with chemistry
White 1,494 47 162 10,250
Male 1,340 45 143 7,411
Female 154 2 19 2,839
Asian 100 3 6 2,086
Male 89 3 6 1,292
Female 11 0 0 794
Hispanic 22 0 1 396
Male 17 0 1 275
Female 5 0 0 121
African American 18 0 1 319
Male 17 0 1 204
Female 1 0 0 115
Native American 3 0 0 48
Male 2 0 0 37
Female 1 0 0 11
a Includes assistant and associate editors. SOURCE: Donna J. Nelson, University of Oklahoma, Norman

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