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Exploring Program Effects on Life Sciences Faculty Diversity: Assessing the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities

Connie L. McNeely and Christine O’Brien


Studies have repeatedly shown that the severe lack of social diversity in the upper echelons of education in the United States, while reflecting basic societal biases and the status quo, represents a serious challenge to the political, social, and economic vitality of the nation. Moreover, relative to practical, ethical, and intellectual issues, diversity is, in its most fundamental guise, a scholarly and pedagogical principle, and the extreme dearth of faculty diversity has been identified as detrimental to the foundation of educational values. This lack of diversity has been replete throughout academia but is especially acute in fields such as the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Part of a highly complex societal dynamic, this is no small problem that can be addressed in any significant way through short-term thinking and superficial policies.

Noting this critical problem, the Ford Foundation became a leader in efforts to redress the situation and has served as an impetus and model to other philanthropic organizations that also recognized the need for greater diversity in higher education. The Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities were established in an effort to increase the presence of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups in the professoriate in the United States. To increase academic diversity and enrich tertiary curricula and participation nationwide, postdoctoral fellowships were offered to academically promising individuals claiming primary ethnic or racial identification with groups reflecting long-standing and severe underrepresentation on the faculties of U.S. colleges and universities.



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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation Exploring Program Effects on Life Sciences Faculty Diversity: Assessing the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities Connie L. McNeely and Christine O’Brien Studies have repeatedly shown that the severe lack of social diversity in the upper echelons of education in the United States, while reflecting basic societal biases and the status quo, represents a serious challenge to the political, social, and economic vitality of the nation. Moreover, relative to practical, ethical, and intellectual issues, diversity is, in its most fundamental guise, a scholarly and pedagogical principle, and the extreme dearth of faculty diversity has been identified as detrimental to the foundation of educational values. This lack of diversity has been replete throughout academia but is especially acute in fields such as the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Part of a highly complex societal dynamic, this is no small problem that can be addressed in any significant way through short-term thinking and superficial policies. Noting this critical problem, the Ford Foundation became a leader in efforts to redress the situation and has served as an impetus and model to other philanthropic organizations that also recognized the need for greater diversity in higher education. The Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities were established in an effort to increase the presence of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups in the professoriate in the United States. To increase academic diversity and enrich tertiary curricula and participation nationwide, postdoctoral fellowships were offered to academically promising individuals claiming primary ethnic or racial identification with groups reflecting long-standing and severe underrepresentation on the faculties of U.S. colleges and universities.

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation How successful were such efforts in addressing the problems of institutional exclusion and restrictive educational practices in contemporary U.S. colleges and universities? To what extent did the Ford Foundation fellowship program help increase the racial and ethnic diversity of college and university faculties? To what extent and how did the fellowships affect recipients’ professional outcomes? In other words, have recipients of the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities been successful in the pursuit of academic careers? Such questions are particularly critical in an era of—despite evidence of significant and positive effects of diversity on educational outcomes—increased attacks and challenges to educational democracy and rights, withdrawal and cutting of resources, and serious weakening of institutional will. Accordingly, the National Research Council of the National Academies, which administered the fellowships on behalf of the Ford Foundation, has initiated an assessment of the program and related outcomes, which is the focus of this paper. After a brief overview of the postdoctoral program, with particular reference to fellowships in the life sciences, various aspects of programmatic success are delineated for use in understanding and framing the impact of fellowships. Building on that discussion, an overview is then provided of current in-progress efforts to assess the impact of the Ford Foundation fellowships in terms of recipient outcomes. Considering the approach and type of information required for program evaluation, particular attention is given to the type of data being collected and the manner in which it will be used for determining programmatic and individual success. THE POSTDOCTORAL PROGRAM Although the focus here is on postdoctoral awards, the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities also included awards at the predoctoral and dissertation levels of graduate study, all aimed at the ultimate goal of increasing the presence of underrepresented groups in the U.S. professoriate. In 1979 the Fellowship Programs Office of the National Research Council began administering the postdoctoral fellowships, with awards first made in 1980, and in 1986 the program expanded to include fellowships at the predoctoral and dissertation levels. Overall, between 1980 and 2004 under the administration of the Fellowship Programs Office, 2,260 fellowships were awarded to academically promising individuals who were U.S. citizens claiming primary ethnic or racial identification with groups reflecting long-standing and severe underrepresentation on the faculties of U.S. colleges and universities—that is, Ameri-

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation can Indian or Alaska Native, Native Pacific Islander, African American, Mexican American, or Puerto Rican identification.1 The Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities were meant to support or lead to careers in academic teaching and research in a wide variety of major disciplines and interdisciplinary fields spanning the physical and life sciences, mathematics, behavioral and social sciences, engineering, and humanities. They were awarded to individuals in research-based fields of study who demonstrated superior scholarship and showed greatest promise for future achievements as scholars, researchers, and teachers in institutions of higher education, as determined through a rigorous review process conducted by leading scholars in the various fields. While the fellows’ disciplinary areas were quite diverse, of the 725 postdoctoral fellowships awarded during the 1980–2004 period, 126 (17 percent) went to individuals in the life sciences.2 In general, the postdoctoral fellows were encouraged to spend the fellowship’s 9- or 12-month tenure at an institution other than the one with which they were affiliated at the time of application, with a designated faculty member or other scholar serving as host. The fellowships were awarded to support full-time, approved research at an appropriate nonprofit institution of higher education or research, including universities, government or national laboratories, privately sponsored nonprofit institutes, government-chartered research organizations, and centers for advanced study. An institutional allowance also was provided to each fellow’s employing institution after completion of the fellowship to assist with the fellow’s continuing research expenses. The Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities were “full-service” awards, providing direct and indirect resources for academic success in addition to basic financial support. These resources included paid expenses to attend conferences of Ford fellows and a wide 1   The last year in which awards were made under the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for Minorities Program was 2004. In 2005 the program was replaced by the Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships, open to all U.S. citizens regardless of ethnic or racial background. 2   The eligible fields of study in the life sciences encompassed a wide range of basic biomedical fields, including for example anatomy, bacteriology, biochemistry, biological immunology, biological sciences, biomedical engineering, biometrics and biostatistics, biophysics, biotechnology research, cell biology, chemistry, developmental biology/ embryology, endocrinology, environmental health, epidemiology, genetics, microbiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, nutritional sciences, parasitology, physiology, toxicology, and zoology.

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation range of advisory and practical workshops and opportunities, such as academic exchange sessions, peer and senior networking, mentor identification and relationship development, academic survival and strategizing, career planning and advancement, publication guidance, and publisher contacts and meetings. These and other resources were provided as means by which the fellows might better their odds for success. THE MEANING OF SUCCESS Relative to the primary fellowship goal of a diversified professoriate, success is at once a progressive and multidimensional concept at both individual and institutional levels of analysis. The term “progressive” here is employed at first glance in reference to the individual fellow’s progress along the academic career path—that is, to professional development and advancement and degrees of success. Thus, for example, while the overall goal may have been to diversify the professoriate, issues of individual minority recruitment, retention, and promotion are fundamental determinants of success. Drawing from a relatively small pool of candidates in the first place, with few doctorates awarded to minorities in general and substantially fewer awarded in the life sciences, the complexion of initial hiring, employment conditions, and opportunities for and rates of advancement (or not) is a crucial consideration in assessing outcomes for these postdoctoral fellows. A highly simplified typical progression might entail, for example, initial hiring as a tenure-tracked assistant professor, promotion to associate professor with tenure,3 and tenured full professor. Alternatively, part-time and “off-ladder” positions such as lecturer and some adjunct professorships are typically characterized as contingent employment and dead ends relative to security of employment and pay levels,4 and these are increasingly the positions to which minority doctorate holders are relegated.5 Therefore, while initial hiring might be considered a “quasi-success” or “partial success,” the instability and tenuous employment conditions attending most lectureships are obstructions to fully successful outcomes in terms of diversifying the professoriate. Few holders of these types of positions can transition to tenure-track employment, at least not without changing institutions, which, over time, also becomes increasingly difficult and unlikely. 3   Associate professorships in some (particularly some Ivy League and some other elite institutions) are not tenure eligible. 4   See discussion of these types of positions in Bradley (2004). 5   See discussion and data references in GESO (2005).

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation Ford fellows tend to be high achievers. As consistently remarked by fellowship review panels, the awardees typically reflected extremely high levels of excellence, qualifications, accomplishments, and potential relative to otherwise comparable peers from all backgrounds at similar stages in their careers. Note that these panels, particularly in the life sciences, were themselves diverse, often constituted primarily by “mainstream” academics (lest one charge bias in that regard). Frankly, while the goal for review panel constitution was one of broad inclusion across all groups, if for no other reason than limited numbers and availability, the pool of life science reviewers necessarily reflected the mainstream population. However, the “hiring field” itself is not necessarily level; that is, hiring is not necessarily based on merit and achievement rather than ascription, to the extent that fellowship support may not in the end open the kind of doors expected or hoped for relative to academic acumen and promise. Similar statements might be made about promotions. There have been some suggestions that minority candidates with higher qualifications and degrees from prestigious institutions still are frequently passed over for lesser candidates from other social backgrounds or are often given less favorable terms of employment. Of course, for any given individual, this may not be the case, with some individual minority scholars receiving the “star treatment” (for a variety of reasons). However, the issue here is one of general trends and patterns. What is the case for the Ford fellows? Have they gone into academia as planned, and have they progressed as expected? These are issues for investigation in assessing fellowship outcomes. Related to career progression is the multidimensional nature of success, encompassing various evaluative and qualitative aspects of academic employment in direct and indirect terms and which may or may not be affected by a postdoctoral fellowship award. While for Ford’s primary goal the ultimate positive result for individuals might be the accomplishment of tenured full professorships, such outcomes can be affected by, for example, the types of institutions, along with their rankings, in which fellows typically find positions. Also, type and ranking of both employing institution and of institutions from which degrees, particularly the doctorate, were conferred can affect the amount of “external currency” tied to a position or individual, which also can translate into concrete professional rewards (or penalties). Moreover, different institutions require heavier or lighter teaching loads, provide more or less research support, expect more or less university and community service, and so forth, all of which have implications for career achievement. In addition, the nature and prestige of awards—including postdoctoral fellowships and their locations—can have a bearing on advancement, as can professional service. Of premium importance for most faculty positions, of course, are publica-

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation tions and the outlets in which they appear. In other words, success can be determined along a variety of dimensions, including, among other things: types and rankings of employing institutions, types and rankings of degree-granting institutions, employment conditions, professional service and involvement, interaction with students, research opportunities and support, and publications. Also, as their careers progress or as a means of advancement, faculty members might take on administrative positions (e.g., as center directors, deans) while still maintaining their faculty status. The question then in terms of success is whether such positions afford them any significant decision-making power, leadership capacity, or other benefit. In addition, the type, level, and quality of interaction with students, research opportunities, and publication activities all affect the meaning and quality of success for the individual, for the academy, and for society. ASSESSMENT APPROACH Given the progressive and multidimensional nature of success, determining the impact of the foundation’s postdoctoral fellowships for minorities must necessarily turn on a broad range of information and accounts of fellowship awards and recipients. In addition to basic information on the number of fellowships awarded and the disciplinary fields in which they were awarded, and the relative numbers and proportions of fellowship awards to individuals in each eligible underrepresented group, further information is needed on fellowship recipient educational background and attainment, their fellowship experience, and their professional trajectories and development. Accordingly, answers to several related questions are needed. For example: What proportion of fellows did in fact assume careers in academia? To what extent have the postdoctoral fellowships contributed to the attainment of academic positions? To what extent have the postdoctoral fellowships contributed to and/or supported tenure bids? Have fellows in certain disciplinary fields been more successful than those in others? Have fellows in particular academic departments been more successful than those in others?

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation Do fellows on the faculties of certain universities tend to be more successful than those in others? How do fellows fare professionally relative to others both internal and external to their reference groups? These kinds of questions are consistent with the programmatic goals of the fellowship program and reflect concerns regarding fellowship impact and effectiveness. In other words, have fellows with completed postdoctoral fellowships assumed careers in academia? While postdoctoral fellowships were awarded to support the work of promising fellows in order to help them obtain academic positions and/or tenure, to what extent does this happen? Have fellows been more successful in some fields than others? Do they tend to be more successful in some universities and some departments than others? To answer such questions, a survey of postdoctoral fellows is being conducted as part of a broader general survey of recipients of Ford fellowships for minorities. SURVEY PLAN Beginning in 1993 and reported in 1995, a previous survey of Ford postdoctoral fellowship recipients was conducted by the Fellowship Programs Office.6 However, follow-up to this original survey has been incomplete and sporadic at best, with no consistent or systematic efforts at collecting relevant information or tracking fellows. Therefore, to capture the progressive and multidimensional aspects of success for the individual fellows and the resulting impact on their participation in the professoriate, the General Survey of Ford Fellowship Recipients is being conducted. Seeking answers to several questions that will provide data for determining the impact of the program, the self-administered General Survey, distributed online and via regular mail to 115 fellows who received postdoctoral awards during the 1980–2004 period,7 has been designed to capture fundamental data on fellowship recipients, for example, their educational backgrounds, trajectories, and outcomes; demographic profiles; doctorate disciplinary fields; career paths, expectations, and outcomes; 6   A survey of predoctoral and dissertation fellowship recipients was also conducted. 7   A total of 2,088 surveys have been distributed to predoctoral, dissertation, and postdoctoral fellowship recipients.

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation occupation and employment characteristics; and fellowship features, experiences, and related results. Note that, where possible, related parts of the General Survey have been constructed along the same lines of the 1995 survey instruments in order to allow for direct comparability and extension of findings. Furthermore, several questions were developed according to the design and data requests of the Survey of Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, which reports overall data on U.S. doctoral recipients. Thus, some comparison of Ford fellows survey outcomes with the broader population of doctoral recipients will be possible. In addition, several other available surveys are built on similar models and can provide valuable points of comparison and contextualization for the General Survey findings. These include, for example, the Survey of Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, the Survey of National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellows, the Gates Millennium Scholars Tracking and Longitudinal Survey, and the Merck Science Initiative Fellowship Survey. (However, note that limitations are also expected, dictated by various comparability problems, such as differing operationalization of demographic categories and time frames.) ANALYSIS AND OUTCOMES Overall, the expectation is that the data collected as part of the General Survey will be used in its most basic form to develop descriptive statistics on the distribution of and relationship among the various questionnaire items. These items address the kinds of questions posed regarding the characteristics of fellowship recipients, as discussed above, and provide a basis for general fellowship and success assessments. Thus, a wide variety of tables and figures presenting frequency distributions and central tendencies, variation, and other relevant information will be produced as basic analytical offerings in terms of: the number of fellowships awarded; the number and relative proportions of fellowship awards in specific disciplinary fields; the number and relative proportions of fellowship awards to individuals in each eligible underrepresented group; the number and relative proportions of fellows who have (or have not) assumed careers in academia; number of fellows in faculty positions relative to specific disciplinary fields, departments, and universities; number of fellows holding tenured faculty positions relative to

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation particular disciplinary fields, departments, and universities; levels and types of participation in supplemental Ford fellowship activities; the extent to which postdoctoral fellowships contribute to the attainment of academic positions; and the extent to which postdoctoral fellowships contribute to and support tenure bids. In addition, drawing on data available from other surveys, such as those previously mentioned, this information will be compared to like groups receiving fellowships from other sources; to general populations of minority graduate students, doctorates, and faculty members; and to the overall U.S. professoriate and population of doctoral recipients. In other words, fellowship recipient outcomes and success will be compared relative to the progress of others along a variety of dimensions. Such dimensions include, for example, relative educational achievement, institutions attended, demographic profiles, disciplinary fields, and career goals and attainment. Simple contingency tables and cross tabulations will enable controlling for interactive effects and will show the relative associations and distributions of such items. Overall, these comparisons will allow for a more detailed and contextualized depiction of Ford fellowship recipient outcomes and relative success for evaluation purposes. CONCLUDING COMMENTS The General Survey of Ford Foundation Fellowships for Minorities recipients will provide a basis for conducting surveys and tracking all Ford fellowship recipients and for evaluating and comparing various programs and related changes over time. Also, while not the initial concern, at some point more sophisticated analysis of the overall data might be desirable.8 In any case, individual interviews and focus groups, along with institutional audits and other contextual assessments, are planned in order to develop a finer-grained, more detailed, and textured depiction of the outcomes and experiences of Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships for Minorities recipients and of relative levels of programmatic success. Following the survey, regular tracking of fellows will be instituted for future assessments. Periodic analyses of curriculum vitae are also being considered as a means of evaluating career paths, productivity, and service. In general, while fellowships operate and are applied at the indi- 8   For example, factor and cluster analyses, logistical regression and multivariate analyses, and event history analysis.

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Enhancing Philanthropy’s Support of Biomedical Scientists: Proceedings of a Workshop on Evaluation vidual level, the hope is that, over time, they might have a cumulative institutional effect and, in the case of the foundation’s fellowships for minorities, will reflect and lead to an overall significant increase in the diversity of the U.S. professoriate. REFERENCES American Council on Education (ACE). 2004. Reflections on 20 Years of Minorities in Higher Education and the ACE Annual Status Report. Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity, Washington, D.C. Arensen, K. 2005. Little Advance in Ivy’s Hiring of Minorities and Women. New York Times, March 1. Bradley, G. 2004. “Contingent Faculty and the New Academic Labor System.” Academe 90(1). http://www.aaup.org/publications/Academe/2004/04jf/04jfbrad.htm. GESO. 2005. The (Un)Changing Face of the Ivy League. Graduate and Teachers Research Union, Yale University. http://www.yaleunions.org/geso/reports/Ivy.pdf. Harvey, W. B. 2003. 20th Anniversary Minorities in Higher Education Annual Status Report, 2002–2003. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (WWNFF). 2005. Diversity and the Ph.D.: A Review of Efforts to Broaden Race and Ethnicity in U.S. Doctoral Education. WWNFF, Princeton, N.J.