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Faculty Composition: Who We Are & Who We Want to Be

Other articles in the 2019 May Newsletter:

The 2019 Joint Provost/Senate Retreat began with four presentations concerning faculty composition at USC, followed by an open discussion of issues raised by the presentations, which was chaired by Jody Armour, the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law. First, Adrianna Kezar—a Dean’s Professor at the Rossier School of Education and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education—gave a pre-recorded presentation about how the composition of faculty across American universities is changing. She noted that the number of tenured faculty is declining everywhere and across all disciplines, including at USC. Currently, on average, tenured faculty make up approximately 30% of most faculties. She also noted that the nature of non-tenured faculty is changing, with many taking on a variety of duties, including not only teaching but also research and scholarship. She discussed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the different tracks, including tenure-track, full-time non-tenure-track (known at USC as “Research, Teaching, Practice, and Clinical” track faculty), and part-time faculty. She then urged everyone to think strategically and intentionally about what we want our future faculty composition to be, keeping in mind our core academic values, including (1) the need to promote equity between faculty who have different roles; (2) the need to protect academic freedom; (3) the need to ensure flexibility in appointments; (4) the need to foster professional growth; and (5) the need to promote collegiality and a sense of community.

Next, Executive Vice Provost Elizabeth Graddy summarized USC’s current faculty composition.  Of USC’s 7,400 total faculty, 20% are tenured/tenure-track, 37% are full-time RTPC, and 41% are part-time (including “adjuncts” who have outside jobs). USC’s percentage of part-time faculty is lower than the national average. Over the last decade, the total number of faculty at USC has grown 44%, with most of the growth taking place among full-time RTPC faculty (83% growth).  As to gender, only 27% of our tenured faculty are female, while 50% of our full-time RTPC faculty are female. Compared with USC’s “peer” institutions, we have a lower percentage of tenured/tenure-track women and a higher percentage of RTPC women. She also noted that although USC’s diversity has increased, 74% of our tenured faculty, 42% of our tenure-track faculty, and 58% of our RTPC faculty are white.  Of our tenured faculty, only 3% are black, 4% are Latinx, and 16% are Asian. Compared with peer institutions, USC has slightly higher percentages of Asian and Latinx faculty, but a slightly lower percentage of black faculty.

Shaun Harper, who is a Provost’s Professor of Management and Organization, and the Executive Director of USC’s Race & Equity Center, spoke next about why it is vital for USC to hire more diverse faculty.  He began by pointing out that the composition of our faculty does not match the diversity of our students or our community.  Research shows that students and faculty of color who work in a community that is “too white” are negatively impacted because their “context and color” are not represented. They lack role models of their own race, which can negatively affect their intellectual aspirations. Furter, when students do not openly learn about race as part of their studies, it leaves them unprepared for the workplace, where racial diversity is more pervasive. In addition, faculty of color are often asked to bear a higher service obligation and mentor more students. When a university has too few faculty of color, it becomes a vicious cycle: those few faculty of color tend to feel isolated and overworked, and eventually leave. It will take a concerted and deliberate effort to break out of that cycle.

Finally, Kelvin Davies, a Distinguished Professor of Molecular and Computational Biology, and the Executive Vice Dean of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, discussed the unique problems encountered by research faculty. Too often university policies focus on the needs of instructional/teaching faculty, while the issues faced by research faculty go unnoticed. Yet, some of our schools have high numbers of research faculty, including Keck School of Medicine, Viterbi School of Engineering, and Dornsife College of Arts and Sciences. Of our research faculty, 64% are not the primary investigator on their own grants. Of that 64%, some work in self-supporting long-term institutes or core facilities, but many others work in someone else’s laboratory.  Research faculty who work in someone else’s lab have the least control over their own job security.  USC should consider providing some form of“gap funding” to support all of our research faculty when they are between grants.

An open discussion followed the presentations, during which several themes emerged.  Overall, there was agreement that USC needs to be intentional and strategic as it thinks about faculty composition.  More specifically, as to diversity, our goal should be for faculty diversity to match student diversity. To do that, we will need to change our hiring practices at the school and department level—faculty need to consciously avoid trying to replicate themselves when hiring new faculty. We also need to develop pipelines for diverse faculty, especially in the STEM fields. We must also think strategically about how to best balance the numbers of faculty on the different tracks, hopefully stopping the decline in numbers of tenured faculty, and hiring the best quality faculty on every track.

Rebecca Lonergan
Professor of Lawyering Skills, and Associate Director of Legal Writing and Advocacy Program
Gould School of Law