Racial Disparity in the Academy: An Observation

*Main image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout my academic career, I have often listened to, or been a part of, discussions about how to build a more inclusive academic community. To this end, academics of all disciplines sometimes consider the issue of racial representation among college or university faculty with the main concern being a disproportionately high number of White professors. Indeed, I was recently following a discussion among academics online in which one participant referred to academia as “suffering” from this over-representation of Whites among full time faculty.

The concern is that a college or university faculty without proper racial representation will not reflect the views of either the broader general U.S. population or the college student population, of which in both cases minorities are carving out larger shares due to changing demographics. Professors and students of different backgrounds (racial, ethnic, class, gender, etc…), it is argued, bring value to college campuses in that they bring different experiences and, thus, different perspectives on issues. This viewpoint diversity is essential to the mission of a university to seek truth through consideration of issues from multiple perspectives. I believe this argument makes sense and is fundamentally sound, as I have seen it play out on smaller scales in classroom discussions of complex issues among students of varying demographic backgrounds. Moreover, I see higher education’s first mission as the disinterested pursuit of truth, regardless of who holds it, who is offended by it, or how we arrive at it (within ethical bounds). So I certainly see value in having diverse voices in academic debates, even if I doubt perfect representative parity is always possible or needed.

Returning to my colleagues’ concern that higher education is “suffering” from a disproportionate number of white full-time faculty members, the statement struck me (anecdotally) as not having quite the resonance that it might have had nearly two decades ago, when as a student I first began to turn my attention toward a career in academia.

Consequently, I decided to check some current statistics and the numbers surprised me. This is what I found.

According to U.S. Census population estimates released in 2017, in 2016 the United States was 77% (76.9% to be precise) White. This considers only race and not ethnicity, thus incorporating so-called “White Hispanics” into the broader “White alone” racial category.


According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics from 2017, in 2015 (the most recent year for which they have statistics), 42% of all full-time faculty at degree-granting post-secondary institutions were White males while 35 percent were White females, totaling 77% of full time faculty.


77% of the U.S. population is White, while equally 77% of U.S. full time faculty members are white.

Based on these numbers, assuming they are accurate, Whites, as a percentage of full time U.S. faculty, are not over represented, but instead have reached a surprising parity with the broader U.S. population. For those seeking proportional racial representation among the U.S. full time faculty in comparison with the broader U.S. population, this seems rather remarkable as non-White minority groups make up the remaining 23% of full time faculty while also representing 23% of the U.S. population.

But, of course, parity is not the situation for all racial groups. Among the remaining 23% of full time faculty that are minorities, there are significant imbalances between various groups.

For example, the same estimates provided by the U.S. Census (mentioned above) shows that the category of “African-Americans or Blacks” make up 13.3% of the U.S. population, while “Asians” make up 5.7% of the U.S. population. If one were seeking proportional racial representation among full time U.S. college or university faculty, then it follows that 13.3% of all such faculty should be Black and 5.7% should be Asian. Yet according to the same study (cited above) by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 6% of full time faculty were Asian/Pacific Islander males and 4% were Asian/Pacific Islander females, totaling 10% of the total full-time faculty population. Concurrently, only 3% were Black females and 3% Black males, totaling only 6% of the full-time faculty population.


*I should note that while Whites, Blacks, and Asians account for roughly 96% of the U.S. population, various other racial or ethnic groups make up the remaining 4%, which I have not considered here. Additionally, this only accounts for full time faculty members, whereas the racial disparities may be far more significant among part time or adjunct faculty.