pursue courses beyond general chemistry, many of them will go into public policy professions. So it behooves us to convince them that chemistry is good.
Another key question is, What exactly is the problem? The problem is the dearth of diversity in the workforce. One example is the fact that only 18 African Americans and only 22 Latinos are currently employed in chemistry faculty positions by the top 50 institutions as ranked in a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) study. The top 50 institutions have been defined as those receiving the most governmental or private research funds available to academia. It does not mean that these are the best institutions; it just means that they are getting the most funds. The net effect of these statistics is that we are averaging less than one African American or Latino per each one of these institutions. Thus the numbers are small.
One might believe that this is a problem only in academia. But it is more general than this as illustrated by the following example. The Dow Chemical Company has only three Latinos out of 150 employees in their R&D department. This low number (and ratio!) is not good and it is not Dow’s fault. Dow is a great company. They are forward thinking. They have at least three representatives at this meeting today, and they do want to recruit Latino Americans and African Americans. But yet, they are not getting them because they are not coming through the pipeline.
The consensus within our group is consequently that the problem is the result of the low numbers of students entering the chemical field. And the numbers are low for many reasons. One possible reason for the lack of more success stories within academia is the low probability of success regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. Let us look at the numbers and make a rough estimate. There exist about 1,600 faculty members in the top 50 institutions. Approximately 1,600 students are being produced with Ph.D.s in chemistry each year. So, assuming that no other factors contribute and that the average turnover of a faculty member is about 20 years, then the chances of obtaining a faculty position are about 1 in 20. This is a very conservative estimate because many chemistry faculty in this country earned foreign doctoral degrees, and the average turnover rate is probably longer than 20 years. Regardless, whether it is 1 in 20 or 1 in 100, the odds of becoming a faculty member are still low. Given these odds and the fact that we are producing only about 20-50 African American Ph.D.s per year, it is no small wonder that we have so few in the academic ranks. Moreover, the students entering the pipeline also see this calculus and use it to assess whether or not to pursue this unlikely path in favor of other more financially remunerative nonchemical professions.
Another key questions is, Who is going to provide the solutions? Among the possible answers are
Professional societies. The American Chemical Society (ACS) has been doing a number of things to identify the problem and take action.
Funding agencies. Funding agencies could consider requiring principal investigators to deliver on the promises of diversity, with severe repercussions for failure. Perhaps this would cause principal investigators to take this issue more seriously and consequently effect change at a grass-roots level.
Universities. Chemistry departments and upper administration could also use a yardstick-measuring impact on diversity in judging their faculty with respect to case of retention, promotion, and tenure on this basis. In other words, at the end of the year, salary raises would be impacted by what you have done or not done with respect to diversity. But in fact, most promotions, tenure, and salary decisions at the top 50 institutions or any research department are judged almost exclusively on how much you have done in terms of research. How much teaching you have done and service you have provided is judged with a small t and small s, respectively. And the issue of diversity is but a small component within that small s. But if we really believe that diversity is important, then this small fraction will need to be given a higher priority.