Diverse by example: Increasing diversity in academia

Policy Committee explores inclusion and belonging among PA faculty

STATE COLLEGE, Feb. 2 – Nationally, just 6% of college and university faculty are Black. Today, the PA House Democratic Policy Committee, along with co-hosts state Reps. Gina H. Curry, D-Delaware, and Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., explored the topics of diversity and inclusion among academic faculty in Pennsylvania at a hearing in State College, PA.

“Diversity and inclusion amongst faculty is important because Pennsylvania is diverse,” Kinsey said. “I am grateful that we were able to host this important conversation and work toward solutions to address the lack of diversity among faculty in Pennsylvania so that we may serve as an example to other parts of the country working to address these issues.”

The House Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony from four panels that spoke to different personal experiences as faculty or steps being taken by Penn State and testing systems to make Pennsylvania faculty a more diverse body. Two panels included current and former faculty of color at Penn State University, another panel included voices from Penn State University, and a third consisted of representatives from the Educational Testing Service, which is working to recruit and bring more diverse, qualified faculty to higher education in Pennsylvania.

During the faculty panel, Dr. Gary King, professor of Biobehavioral Health, shared that between 2004 and 2018 at University Park, the number of black professors remained stagnant at around 100, and their proportion to other professors had decreased from 4% to 3%. He urged the university to act to swiftly to address this in 2022.

Members of the university administration spoke about their current efforts to recognize today’s challenges and their work to adapt the institution to meet those challenges. They outlined how they are improving current ratios that exist at Penn State across their various departments focused on lifting diverse voices, recruiting faculty of color, and working to train diverse faculty to enter tomorrow’s academic workforce.

“Being faculty members of color, it sounds as though these problems with diversity and inclusion create an overwhelming situation because so much weight is put on those faculty who are the sole individual doing the work for their particular group, ethnicity, and race,” said Curry. “In hearing these testimonies today, it is clear that we must all work together to find solutions to the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging among faculty members serving at our educational institutions in our Commonwealth.” 

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, chair of the Policy Committee, added in closing: “I want to thank all the members, everyone who participated in today’s hearing, and to Penn State who has been very accommodating to the committee this week.”

A recording of today’s hearing and other hearings from the House Democratic Policy Committee can be found at www.pahouse.com/policycommittee.