An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s April 21 issue outlines the progress NDSU has made in the number of tenured female faculty members.
The article, “We Raised Our Female Faculty Numbers. So Can You: Tips from a university that once drew national attention for its dearth of tenured women,” was written by doctoral student Cali Anicha, NDSU FORWARD research associate; Canan Bilen-Green, vice provost for faculty and equity; and Alan Denton, professor/interim chair of physics and NDSU Commission on the Status of Women Faculty committee member.
The authors have heard from colleagues that the article is inspiring, encouraging and useful--and that it is being circulated at a number of universities.
According to the article, the American Association of University Professors ranked 1,445 institutions in 2006 based on their proportion of tenured faculty members who were women. Among the 222 doctoral institutions listed, NDSU came in second to last.
“We saw ourselves as a university that valued fairness and equity; many of us were surprised and embarrassed,” the authors wrote in the article. “It also motivated us to do better, and since then we have made steady progress in moving women faculty members through the ranks.”
The authors note that although NDSU has seen progress, it is important to continue working for gender equity on campus. The article highlights the idea that while the structural changes the project has engaged with are not typically identified as diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (called DEIA) practices), key changes in policies and practices that determine merit have addressed DEIA concerns by focusing on increasing equity within annual performance, promotion and tenure reviews.
In 2006, 13% of NDSU’s tenured faculty members were women – that number has now risen to 33%. In 2021, more than half of faculty promotions went to women (61% of promotions to associate professor and 40% of promotions to full professor).
“Although a brief article cannot do justice to all the previous and ongoing work of ADVANCE FORWARD, it does succinctly identify and summarize several of the most enduring institutional changes that have come about through the persistent efforts of numerous faculty, staff and administrators,” Bilen-Green said.
Among the steps taken, the university created the NDSU FORWARD project. The acronym stands for Focus on Resources for Women's Advancement, Recruitment/Retention and Development. The effort works with campuswide faculty initiatives and activities focused on gender parity and equity, with an emphasis on women faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.
The authors attribute NDSU’s gains to some key changes in policies and practices. They offer these suggestions to other institutions:
• Increase equity and transparency by making promotion to full professor practices more clear, mitigating potential bias by identifying conflicts of interest and making tenure-clock extensions automatic in cases of childbirth and adoption with reminders to promotion and tenure committees that tenure-clock extensions must not raise expectations for productivity.
• Broaden sources of evidence for teaching evaluations and to include progress toward promotion and/or tenure in annual evaluations of probationary faculty members and associate professors. The article noted the importance of ensuring that chairs of promotion and tenure committees have opportunities to participate in regular trainings that discuss how gender bias shows up and provide suggestions for how to interrupt it.
• Establish a promotion-to-professor task force to help associate professors successfully apply for promotion to full professor.
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