Calls for a diversified scientific workforce are a dime a dozen. But a new survey of the top chemistry departments in the United States shows that the message isn't getting through to the department chairs who do the hiring.
The survey, by chemistry professor Donna Nelson and her students at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, finds that blacks and Hispanics each constitute barely 1% of the 1637 tenured or tenure-track faculty members at the top 50 chemistry departments, and that 23 of the 50 departments have no underrepresented minorities (see table). It also shows that 12 of the 18 black faculty members (13 are African Americans, the rest earned undergraduate degrees from other countries) are full professors at or near retirement age, and that none is an assistant professor.
To Nelson, a Native American who grew up in Oklahoma, the numbers suggest that the continuing flow of reports about the importance of diversity in academia (Science, 21 July 2000, p. 378) hasn't reached the people who actually do the hiring. "It's just not happening, and I don't know why," she says.
To chairs of some top-ranked departments, the answer is the tiny number of chemistry Ph.D.s awarded annually to underrepresented minorities. The 56 blacks and 42 Hispanics who received doctoral degrees in 1999 represent only 4% and 3%, respectively, of the 1400 chemistry Ph.D.s produced that year. "We are constantly on the lookout for such people," says Stephen Lippard, head of the chemistry department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has no underrepresented minority faculty members. "But the pool is a lot smaller than we'd like."
But some observers say that a scarcity of candidates, a phenomenon true for other disciplines in the physical sciences, doesn't fully account for the problem. They also point to a chilly climate in many chemistry departments that discourages young scientists. "Raising the number of minority Ph.D.s is important," says Philip Phillips, a West Indian theoretical chemist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, "but there also has to be active involvement and a commitment to the cause. And I don't see that."