On the Report on Recruitment and Retention of Minority Faculty and Students

I write in response to the report "On Recruitment and Retention of Minority Faculty and Students" by Dr. Phoebe Leboy, member of the Steering Committee of University Council [see COUNCIL in this issue--Ed.].

Dr. Leboy usefully calls attention to the University's continuing need to recruit and retain minority students and faculty. The same need exists at all of our peer institutions; it presses on all of us.

Penn's commitment to minority recruitment was strongly affirmed by President Rodin in her open letter of September 1996 that was published in these pages. In that letter she rightly said that "[s]ustaining diversity is vital to the future of Penn, higher education and our country. It is central to our institutional commitment and highest calling to provide Penn students with the best possible education."

As we continue our efforts to expand diversity on campus and enhance our success in the recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty, Dr. Leboy's report will be a helpful source of information and support. With that in mind, I would like to emphasize certain conclusions in the report and correct certain data that I believe are inaccurate.

I am pleased that, as the report points out, Penn appears to be at the top of the Ivy League in the application, admission and matriculation of Asian-American undergraduates. I am also pleased that, as the graduate student numbers reveal, Penn has 32 percent more minority Ph.D. students today than in 1990 and, in particular, that the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to African-American and Latino graduate students has increased continuously over the past 14 years.

However, I also agree with the report's position that Penn--and our Ivy peers--need to do better in recruiting and retaining African-American and Latino undergraduates. I am optimistic that we will see continued improvement in the future thanks to sustained efforts by our Admissions Office as well as to recent retention initiatives on the part of Penn's undergraduate schools.

I am pleased that the faculty section of Dr. Leboy's report recognizes growth in the number of minority faculty in each of Penn's undergraduate schools over the past decade. The majority of the senior faculty in Dr. Leboy's group who are no longer present reflect retirements or death rather than retention failure. Without question, however, we do need additional growth. Rigorous review of all available data will be required before we can assess the full significance of these retention data.

In general, Dr. Leboy's analyses of minority students and faculty deal with small numbers, and do not fully address the statistical significance of differences that are noted. However, it is not my purpose to question the rigor of a report that I believe is otherwise helpful. In fact, I concur with Dr. Leboy's basic position, that Penn and our sister institutions must work even harder to recruit the best minority students and faculty, and must provide these talented individuals with every opportunity to develop and succeed once they reach our campus. I look forward to further discussion at University Council and across campus of the important issue of recruitment and retention of minority faculty and students.

--Robert Barchi, Provost

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 25, March 23, 1999