Chicago-area universities not making the grade on faculty diversity

Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Chicago-area universities not making the grade on faculty diversity
Illinois colleges and universities have increasingly diverse student bodies, but that racial diversity is not reflected in their faculties.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For college students Alex Jackson and Lily Ng, having professors of color is especially meaningful.

"Even though it is cliché that representation matters, it really does," said Jackson, who is a doctoral student at DePaul University.

"The experience is a lot more personable and enjoyable if it's someone I feel like I can relate to," said Ng, who is a junior at Northwestern University.

Experts say a diverse faculty can have a positive impact on the success of students of color, but it doesn't stop there

"All students benefit from faculty of color, not just students of color," said Jose Garcia with the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

However, at some Chicago area universities, the faculty doesn't mirror the student enrollment. In some cases the faculty demographics don't come anywhere close.

"I had Black educators in high school and elementary school. So, I am like where are they on a higher ed level?" Jackson wondered.

The ABC7 data team requested student and faculty demographic information from some of the largest universities in and around Chicago. We also looked at student demographic data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Our analysis found that at Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Loyola, and the University of Illinois-Chicago, the percentage of students of color is much higher than the percentage of non-white faculty.

At NIU, 46 percent of students are non-white. But people of color account for only 22 percent of the faculty.

At Northwestern, 35 percent of students are non-white. The university does not provide overall faculty demographic information, but breaks it down by school. The journalism school has the most diverse teaching staff: 27 percent people of color.

Loyola University reports 39 percent of students are non-white, but only 21 percent of faculty are non-white.

Of the schools in our analysis, UIC is the most diverse. People of color account for roughly 57 percent of the student population at UIC and 33 percent of faculty.

However, while 28 percent of UIC students identify as Hispanic, Hispanic professors make up just 7 percent of the teaching staff.

Professor Héctor García Chávez does not work at UIC, but said universities need to improve recruitment of Hispanic faculty.

"There are other diverse candidates out there, but what happens when the hiring practices don't reflect the world we live in," he said.

Local universities say they're actively working to recruit and retain faculty from underrepresented groups with various programs and grants.

UIC has a Bridge to Faculty program, which is designed to increase faculty diversity. It's now in the third year with 35 scholars, and 10 of the original cohort have joined UIC as faculty, according to UIC officials.

"It will take time, but we have to pick away and plug away from different angles," said Aisha El-Amin, associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging at UIC.

In June, Loyola University announced the largest individual gift in institutional history of $100 million from John and Kathy Schreiber.

It will fund full scholarships, room and board, and an array of comprehensive support services for aspiring Black, Latino, first generation, and other ethnically and racially diverse students who are historically underrepresented in higher education, the university said in a statement.

The University of Chicago and DePaul University didn't share their faculty demographics with ABC7.

But DePaul spokesperson Mary Hansen said in a statement, "We believe that a diverse community is essential to preparing students to engage the complexity of the world today, and we aim to recruit and retain faculty and staff to reflect the rich, vibrant diversity of our student body."

Earlier this year Governor JB Pritzker signed a higher education bill that requires all public universities and community colleges to develop and implement equity plans, including the diversity of their faculty.

The state also increased funding to the Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois program, which gives scholarships to students from underrepresented group pursuing graduate degrees.

"In order to have more faculty of color, we need to keep more students of color in the education system," Garcia said.

Still, this DePaul doctoral student says some people of color may be reluctant to pursue a career in academia because of a lack of diversity.

"It makes you wonder if it is achievable," Jackson.