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How Important Is Diversity to U.S. Academics?

Turns out it depends on which type of scientist you ask. As part of its upcoming examination of more than 2000 U.S. doctoral research programs, the National Research Council asked faculty members to weigh the relative importance, in percentages, of five types of diversity among faculty and student populations.

The NRC asked the scholars, which included academics in the humanities, to rank the importance of faculty and student diversity with respect to women and to underrepresented minorities--African-Americans, Hispanics, and native Americans/Pacific Islanders--as well as international students. The program assessment won't be out until mid-February, but study director Charlotte Kuh previewed the diversity component during a talk Friday at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C.

The results follow. Remember that the numbers add up to one within each scientific discipline:

* Those in the health sciences are far more concerned (0.38) than are those in any other discipline with the number of  students belonging to underrepresented minorities. That discipline also tops the list with regard to faculty members belonging to underrepresented minorities (0.24). In contrast, those in the physical sciences put much less weight, 0.20 and 0.10, respectively, on those issues. Health scientists are least concerned (0.07) about the presence of international students.

* The number of female students is the top concern for those in the physical sciences (0.29), with the number of international students (0.21) their second biggest worry.

* The number of international students is three times more important to those in the physical sciences (0.21) than to those in the health sciences (0.7), and more than twice that for biology (0.9).

* The number of women faculty members is a bigger issue for biologists (0.23) than for those in any other discipline. But physical scientists are more worried than are those in any other discipline about the number of female students (0.29).

* In contrast to their colleagues in the health sciences, biologists are relatively unconcerned (0.14) about the number of underrepresented minority faculty members.