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‘Underrepresented’ is an understatement for minority faculty members

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We know that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are poorly represented in the sciences. Data obtained by the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE) puts a number on the problem, at least for chemistry: Members of these groups account for just 4% of tenure-track chemistry faculty members at the top 50 chemistry departments in the United States, as measured by how much they’ve spent on chemistry research. Of these faculty members, about 61% are Latino, 33% are African American, and 6% are Native American.

“That 4% figure is ‘discouraging, but it’s not surprising,’ says Malika Jeffries-EL, an associate professor of chemistry at Iowa State University,” quoted by Linda Wang and Sophie Rovner in Chemical and Engineering News, which released the report in conjunction with OXIDE. “Luis Echegoyen, a professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, El Paso, notes the percentage of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in chemistry faculty positions hasn’t improved much since he was a program officer in the Chemical Dynamics Program at NSF [the National Science Foundation] in the early 1980s. ‘After all the federal funding that has been put into increasing the number of URMs in faculty positions, the truth is that 30 years later, we have very little to show for it,’ he says.” It’s time for some new ideas about how to address the problem, they and others agree—although exactly what new approaches should be taken remains to be determined.

A relative bright spot in the report is the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Of its 37 chemistry faculty members, two are African American and four are Latino; URM faculty members make up 16% of the department. The next highest performer was the University of California, San Diego, at 11%. Its 45-member department has five Latino faculty members—the highest number of Latinos in a single chemistry department. The University of Washington, Seattle, chemistry department has the most African-American faculty members, with three. None of the chemistry departments have more than one Native-American faculty member. 

Eleven universities have no underrepresented minorities on their chemistry faculties. The departments at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago are all white, and nine other institutions—including the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Northwestern University; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology—have only white and Asian members.

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