Senate budget committee wants more transparency of racial data


Members of the Senate Budget Policies Committee said that Pitt needs to improve the transparency of its staff data to help make the University a more equitable place.

At the June 24 meeting of the committee, members discussed potential strategies for improving diversity and retention for faculty of color and addressing pay inequities.

Tyler Bickford, co-chair of the committee, invited members to think about how the committee could best address these ongoing conversations, and specifically how the University’s resources can be better allocated.

The University has a role in Pittsburgh as a major employer, Bickford said. “If we’re having conversations about sort of prioritizing strategic initiatives, specifically around these areas, I think we need to be talking about the inequitable effects of on-the-surface race-neutral policies like these.”

According to the 2020 Pitt factbook, roughly 6.5 percent of Pitt faculty and staff are Black. That includes 3 percent of Pitt faculty. About 25 percent of Pittsburgh’s population is Black and roughly 15 percent for Allegheny County.

Yolonda Covington Ward, the chair of the Department of Africana Studies, compared data from the 2019 University factbook and one from 1984. In a letter to the University Times, she said, "In 35 years, the number of black faculty at our University has increased by 46 faculty members, while in the same time period we have added 1,318 white faculty members, nearly 30 times more."

She called Pitt’s lack of diversity an “open secret” and said the University struggles with hiring and retaining Black faculty and staff.

Inmaculada Hernandez, an assistant professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, said the School of Pharmacy has two Hispanic faculty and no Black faculty. Recently, two Asian faculty were hired.

She added that as time goes on, it will be tough to recruit more diverse faculty as more universities, such as the University of California and the University of Texas, have implemented cluster hire initiatives.

This in turn could cause the University to lose faculty as they leave in favor of schools with more diverse environments, she said. She also said it was important to keep in mind that once people of color are hired, they may have other interests and expertise outside of diversity and inclusion strategies.

Additionally, there are pay disparities when comparing the salaries of Black faculty and white faculty. Covington Ward said that faculty of color often do “unpaid diversity work” in addition to their normal teaching and research duties.

“One of the things I’ve realized is that, again, it’s often the underrepresented faculty of color who are carrying this burden,” Covington Ward said. 

Additionally, Bickford said that pipeline efforts to address a lack of diversity in higher education are not always successful, especially if clear goals aren’t set.

“And pipeline efforts only will have their actual impact years or even decades into the future,” Bickford said. “And so, at least, in addition to pipeline efforts, it seems like we’re at a point where we need to be having a very clear and urgent conversation about diversifying the professorate at Pitt across ranks.”

To address these and other issues, Covington Ward called on Pitt to improve transparency when it comes to diversity. For example, the factbook doesn’t differentiate the number of Black people who are full, associate or assistant professors.

The Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, the largest school in the University, has just four full professors who are Black, Covington Ward said, which is “just ridiculous.”

She pointed to the University of Virginia’s Diversity Dashboard as a potential approach for Pitt to make its data more visible.

“We need more transparency, so that when you see the rhetoric around diversity and around inclusion and equity and all of this, well let’s see if it actually pays off a year from now, two years from now, three years from now,” Covington Ward said. “And the only way to know that is if there’s public accountability.”

Mackey Friedman, an assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the Graduate School of Public Health, agreed with Covington Ward, adding that the committee should consider building upon its previous efforts of asking the University to be more transparent.

“I think it’s a great time to ask for more granularity in those data,” Friedman said. “And to look at trend data, we’ve got years and years of data that we can look at to speak to the issues that are being raised here.”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.

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