University Lacks Diversity in Department Chairs

This article was written for my JRN 400 class and was published on our class website on March 26, 2012. I also created the accompanying graphs.

University Lacks Diversity in Department Chairs

by Nicole LaChance

Michigan State University has more than 100 departments, but falls short when it comes to having diverse leadership. Of all the department chairs at MSU, only 16 percent are women and 11 percent are minorities.

The statistics of minority and female department chairs are lower than the proportion of the faculty as a whole. Women make up 35 percent of MSU’s faculty and minorities make up 26 percent of the faculty, according to data from the National Education Association and collected by College Prowler.

Many female and minority department heads are clustered into certain disciplines. Women are particularly lacking in the science fields. The College of Natural Science and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources both had less than 10 percent female department chairs, while the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine both have no female department chairs. The Eli Broad College of Business also has no female department chairs.

The College of Music, at 33 percent, has the second highest proportion of female department heads, second only to the College of Education.

“I do think that this is a fair representation of the demographics of the college, for the most part,” said Cynthia Taggart, chair of Music Education.

The women in the college, who make up 33 percent of department chairs, are respected and represent their departments well, added Taggart.She believes there is room for improvement, particularly in the area of ethnic diversity. The more diversity the college faculty has, the easier it is to promote student diversity.

Minority department chairs were more evenly spread out, with small percentages in most colleges. The College of Engineering had the highest proportion of minority department chairs, at nearly 43 percent.

The Eli Broad College of Business has one minority department head and, according to marketing senior Jon Derhammer, a majority of his professors have been Caucasian.  He does, however, think the college would benefit from more diversity.

“Diverse professors can particularly tell you how you can do business internationally, which is helpful,” Derhammer said.  “Also, diversity just brings in different opinions which are great for the business school.”

Department chairs, chosen for the position by their colleagues, act as the primary administration for their respective departments. They also serve as department spokespeople, making a diverse representation important.

However, not everyone agrees with this view. Yang Wang, chair of the Department of Mathematics, does not think diversity is an important quality in department chairs. There are good and bad chairs from any background or gender, he said.

“Department chairs are selected based on how well they can do their jobs,” said Wang. “Diversity should not be a factor in my view.”

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