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New effort seeks to diversify University

Council looks for ways to reach out

In the 1800s, Boston University was at the vanguard of diversity among institutions of higher education, having all its programs open to women from the beginning and never having instituted quotas to limit African-American or Jewish students, as many universities did in that era. Today, like many universities, BU has difficulty attracting minority students and faces a persistent challenge to achieve appropriate representation of women and minorities among faculty and senior administration.

One initiative to combat these imbalances was launched in 2002, with the creation of the Admissions Student Diversity Board, a division of the admissions office that seeks to recruit underrepresented minority students. Now another major effort is under way with the creation of the Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, cochaired by University Provost David Campbell, Gloria Waters, dean of Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and Roscoe Giles, a College of Engineering professor and deputy director of the Center for Computational Science. Faculty members make up the 10 additional council members.

Provost David Campbell,
council cochair.

Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

The group aims to lead BU’s efforts to develop and sustain an institutional environment that attracts and supports a diverse faculty. The initial focus areas include equity in salaries and leadership opportunities among faculty, more effective recruiting and retention of women and minority professors, and programs and policies that promote a balance between work and family life. University President Robert Brown created the council after discussions with faculty and administrators at a meeting on diversity he hosted this past spring. It is similar to a diversity committee Brown helped establish in 2002 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was provost before coming to BU.

“Boston University will only reach its full potential if we are able to attract the very best students, staff, and faculty to our community, irrespective of gender or race,” says Brown.

The formation of the council comes a year after a report on BU professors’ salaries revealed that female full professors earned only about 84 percent of what their male counterparts earned. When the numbers were published, Brown called the disparity troubling and pledged to work towards gender equity in faculty salaries. This fall, he noted in a letter to faculty that some progress had been made, with women now earning 90 percent of what men earn as full professors, 95 percent as associate professors, and 93 percent as assistant professors. 

Meanwhile, more than two thirds of BU’s full-time Charles River Campus faculty are male, and nearly 60 percent of Medical Campus faculty are male. In terms of minority representation among faculty, Campbell terms the current numbers pathetic. Only 10 percent of the 1,515 full-time Charles River Campus faculty are nonwhite, including only 1.3 percent African-American and 1.5 percent Hispanic. Nearly 8 percent of Charles River Campus faculty are Asian. On the Medical Campus, 80 percent of the 542 full-time faculty are white, 15.5 percent are Asian, 1.5 percent are African-American, and about 3 percent are Hispanic.

Roscoe Giles, ENG prof and
council cochair. Photo by
Kalman Zabarsky

Campbell and his cochairs have yet to set a detailed schedule of meetings for the council, but he anticipates meeting at least monthly. In addition to full council meetings, there will be a number of working groups established to focus on particular pieces of the council’s mandate.

The council will assess and recommend policies to the University, focusing on the current state of diversity at BU and on policies enacted by other universities as potential examples of best practices. For example, both Harvard and MIT recently created a diversity point person within their provost’s office. The council also plans to review recommendations made in a report published this year by the National Academies titled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Its policy recommendations include improved mentoring for female faculty and more flexibility for part-time work.

A major challenge to implementing many of these initiatives, notes Campbell, will be the need for additional resources. Council member Julie Sandell, a School of Medicine associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology and chair of the Faculty Council, says another challenge will be getting people to think differently about diversity and equity. “Diversity isn’t just something that’s nice to have or politically correct,” she says, “but it also has real value for the institution.”

Gloria Waters, Sargent
College dean and council
cochair. Photo
by Kalman Zabarsky

Indeed, in terms of adopting policies to help retain faculty, the National Academies report provides numbers supporting Sandell’s point. The report states that the cost of replacing a single professor in the sciences can average between $400,000 and $1.8 million at private research universities.

“I very much look forward to the work of the council,” says Brown. “The issues that they will address and the proposals they will bring forward will play an important role in enhancing the diversity of Boston University.”

While Campbell hopes the council will be able to propose several concrete steps within a year, he and his cochairs say its work will be ongoing for some time, both to foster policies that promote diversity and to monitor the progress of different colleges and departments within the University. 

“The council will give us an opportunity to have an ongoing examination of diversity issues at the University,” says Waters, “and also to set best practices so that moving forward we really have better policies and procedures in place to ensure a diverse faculty and an equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.”

“I think our very existence,” Giles adds, “will cause people at BU who are thinking about these issues to want to come forward and give us input.”

The Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion will soon have a Web site with information on its mission and progress. In the meantime, the council encourages any member of the BU community with thoughts on enhancing diversity within the University to contact one of the council members.

David K. Campbell, provost (dkcampbe@bu.edu)

Roscoe Giles, ENG professor (roscoe@bu.edu)

Gloria Waters, dean of Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Deborah Belle, CAS professor of psychology (debbelle@bu.edu)

C. B. Bhattacharya, SMG associate professor of marketing (cb@bu.edu)

Deborah Cotton, MED professor of medicine (cottond@bu.edu)

Neta Crawford, CAS professor of African-American studies (crawfor@bu.edu)

Juliet Floyd, CAS professor of philosophy (jfloyd@bu.edu)

Raul Garcia, SDM professor and chair of health policy and health services research (rig@bu.edu)

Sheryl Grace, ENG associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering (sgrace@bu.edu)

Carol Neidle, CAS professor of modern foreign languages and literatures (carol@bu.edu)

Julie Sandell, MED associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology (jsandell@bu.edu)

Tammy Vigil, COM assistant professor of mass communication, advertising, and public relations (tvigil@bu.edu)