September 18, 2013

According to Special Committee Diversity Is Lacking at University

When new Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber addresses the University community at his official installation ceremony this Sunday, the topic of diversity is certain to be part of his speech. Last week, Mr. Eisgruber and the University’s Board of Trustees endorsed a report recommending strategies to increase diversity on campus, with a particular focus on graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and senior administrators.

A special committee established by former University president Shirley Tilghman spent five months investigating the topic. Deborah Prentice, the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs and chair of the Department of Psychology, led the effort with Brent Henry, a member of the class of 1969. “At the first faculty meeting yesterday he encouraged everybody to read the report,” Ms. Prentice said Tuesday of Mr. Eisgruber. “He’s eager to have people engage in the discussion.”

Ms. Prentice and Mr. Henry oversaw a 19-member committee of trustees, faculty, graduate students, and staff. The results showed that progress in efforts to increase diversity at the University since 1980 have been “uneven.” Among the conclusions: Whites dominate among faculty and undergraduates, and men are the majority among faculty.

“Our committee believes strongly that promoting diversity will make Princeton a better university — that this effort will improve our ability to attract the best scholars, the most promising students, and the most talented staff members and to create an environment in which all can flourish,” Ms. Prentice said in a press release. “We hope that the University community will embrace the values articulated in the report, and that each office and department on campus will draw on our recommendations to create a diversity plan consistent with their own goals and opportunities.”

Several recommendations came out of the report, with a focus on departmental responsibility, central support, and University-wide accountability. Specifically, academic and administrative departments should be allowed to decide how to best focus their efforts toward more diversity. The University should provide resources to departments, and monitor departmental efforts with regular progress reports.

In the press release, Mr. Eisgruber praised the report for “its acknowledgment that there is no one-size-fits-all solution” and cited the report’s “emphasis on the importance of departmental responsibility,” especially with respect to faculty hiring and graduate student recruitment. The report commends a successful graduate recruiting program in the department of molecular biology that rapidly increased the diversity of its doctoral program. Mr. Eisgruber has asked Provost David Lee and Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin to ask for proposals from departments to conduct other pilot projects, and Mr. Dobkin has been asked to create an advisory committee to oversee these projects.

The report acknowledges the University’s efforts to increase diversity since the admission of women in 1969 and the recruitment of African American, Asian American, Hispanic, and Native American students starting in the 60s and 70s. Also mentioned as having positive impacts are the establishment of the Center for African American Studies and the Program in Latino Studies, the creation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center, and the addition of an associate dean for academic affairs and diversity in the Graduate School.

Diversification of the graduate student body has proceeded more slowly than the undergraduate. In response, Princeton “needs to make substantive changes to its culture and structure if it hopes to remain a great American and global university, where the most gifted and promising individuals from every segment of society feel welcome and thrive,” according to the study.

Ms. Prentice said that while some of the study’s conclusions were enlightening, she wasn’t really surprised by what the committee determined. “The committee was put together to deal with a problem we knew existed,” she said.