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CLASS embraces UH gender equity and diversity parity initiative

The College has a significant role in the federally-funded Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success

Last month, the University of Houston kicked off the inaugural year of a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Program.

The purpose of the grant is to increase the number of women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and provide women and people of color with opportunities to move into leadership roles at the university.

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences has fully embraced the mission of the new Center for ADVANCING UH Faculty Success created from the grant and is providing substantial resources to ensure the Center’s successful attainment of the grant’s goals.

CLASS is one of five UH ADVANCE colleges, including Engineering, Technology, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Education that house the university’s 23 STEM departments. In CLASS, those departments are Economics, Health and Human Performance, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.

“Our social and behavioral sciences faculty contributed significant expertise and research to the university’s successful application for the National Science Foundation Institutional Transformation ADVANCE grant,” said Dean John W. Roberts.

The Center includes a Social Sciences Team led by Drs. Lisa Penney and Alan Witt in the Department of Psychology. The team will conduct a five-year investigation on the psychological processes that yield institutional effectiveness to identify the primary and secondary drivers of departments’ ability to increase the number of women and minority faculty and women’s ability to succeed in STEM fields.

Additionally, English Professor Elizabeth Gregory is leading the Center’s Work-Life Integration Committee. Dr. Gregory is the director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program within the College. She has also served as the head of the CLASS Diversity Committee since its inception in 2010 to Spring 2014. The Committee is now chaired by Christina Sisk, associate professor of Hispanic Studies.

The CLASS Diversity Committee reported to Dean Roberts last month that the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty in the College in Fall 2014 has risen to 337, a six percent increase from Fall 2010. In that same period, the percentage of women tenured and tenure-track faculty has stayed relatively constant at about 39 percent.

The percentage of African-American tenured and tenure-track faculty in the College has inched up from 4.1 percent in Fall 2010 to 4.5 percent in Fall 2014, but can still be considered stagnant.

The most increases are in the ranks of Hispanic and Asian-American faculty. Asian-American tenured and tenure-track faculty now represent 6.2 percent of the total ranked faculty, an increase of 32 percent from Fall 2010. Hispanic tenured and tenure-track faculty comprise 11.3 percent of the total, an increase of 16.5 percent from Fall 2010.

Dr. Ruth Simmons
Dr. Ruth Simmons

The CLASS Diversity Committee has analyzed the data by rank and gender and is developing recommendations for Dean Roberts on how to increase the number of women and minority junior and senior faculty members.

Brown University President Emerita Ruth Simmons provided several recommendations for how a university can address gender and diversity issues at the Oct. 21 kickoff event for the new faculty success center.

A humanist with a doctorate in romance languages, Dr. Simmons inaugurated the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college when she was president of Smith College prior to her appointment at Brown University.

She effectively built the case for why and how universities must work harder to achieve gender equity and diversity parity.

Colleges and universities are obligated to “make the field of play not just less bumpy, but level for women and minorities," she said. “The low-hanging opportunities are gone leaving us to struggle w/ the most entrenched biases in the push for equality.”

Dr. Jennifer Glass
Dr. Jennifer Glass

The second kickoff event for UH’s ADVANCE efforts was the College’s John P. McGovern Annual Award Lecture in Family, Health, and Human Values on Oct. 30. This year’s lecture was delivered by Jennifer Glass, Barbara Bush Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Entitled “Salary, Family, Climate: What Keeps Women out of S.T.E.M. Fields?,” Dr. Glass’ speech delved into the factors limiting women’s career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

She shared that women are increasingly entering STEM majors – although women remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computer science majors. But the increase in the pipeline of women with STEM degrees has not translated into increased numbers of women in STEM occupations.

Her research so far is pointing to the climate of STEM work environments as possibly the major factor driving women out of STEM fields at a faster rate than men.

Another CLASS-connected event of the new Center is the STEM in the Americas Speaker Series, co-curated and co-sponsored by the Center for the Americas. The series will bring to campus each semester a woman professor from one of the STEM disciplines to talk about her research and ways to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, social and behavioral sciences.

Dr. Cristina Villalobos
Dr. Cristina Villalobos

The first speaker is Dr. Cristina Villalobos, Professor of Mathematics and Director of the Center of Excellence in STEM Education at the University of Texas – Pan American. She will deliver a speech at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 5 about her research on “Optimal Control in the Treatment of Retinitis Pigmentosa,” and her role as the director of UTPA’s Center of Excellence in STEM Education, which was created from a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Center for the Americas is led by Dr. Susan Kellogg, professor in the Department of History, and Dr. Lois Parkinson Zamora, Moores Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and chair of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies.

“The lectures, trainings, research studies and symposia planned for the five years of the ADVANCE grant have the power to transform the culture of University of Houston and generate significant opportunities for women and minority faculty,” Dean Roberts said. “The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences will fulfill its role in turning that potential into measureable actions and advancements.”

- By Shannon Buggs