Lack of Diversity in Faculty Hiring

William Jelani Cobb on Feb. 13, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)A recent study found that most of the faculty hired for tenure-track positions in three separate fields received their PhD from one of eighteen different universities. Half of all computer science professors graduated from 18 universities, half of all business professors graduated from 16 universities, and eight universities produce half of all history professors. While this may be good news for students, who are able to learn from people trained at prestigious universities, it’s not so great for anyone who aspires to become a professor themselves.

One of the theories as to this unbalanced system is that less-prestigious universities are trying to boost their reputation by hiring graduates from more influential institutions. Hiring graduates from Ivy League schools and other top facilities sends a message to potential students that your school only hires the best of the best. Schools also need to analyze candidates’ potential based on very little experience, so it may be less risky to hire someone from a prestigious school instead of a candidate with a degree from a less distinguished institution.

“Not all PhD’s are ending up in academia; in fact, many end up in industry or government by choice,” says Rick Friedman, President, “The opportunities are good when the mind is open.”

So what does this mean for all the other PhD graduates? Graduates from prestigious schools often end up working at facilities approximately 25% lower on the academic hierarchy. Only 10% of PhD graduates move to a more influential institution. Because of the difficulty Ivy League graduates face finding college teaching jobs, other graduates are put at a greater disadvantage. Some analysts suggest this trend will stifle innovation, by ensuring that only ideas generated from Ivy League education will be heard and acknowledged.

Study co-author Aaron Clauset suggests that aspiring faculty should write and publish high-profile papers, as recruiters will be more easily swayed by experience than by something less measurable, like the reputation of the facility where candidates received their PhD.