Professor Perna’s concern for equity in higher education extends to issues of faculty diversity and fair practices along racial/ethnic and gender lines. As Vice Provost for Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, she focuses on advancing the recruitment, retention, development, promotion, happiness, and well-being of faculty, with special attention to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Her research has addressed many facets of faculty diversity, including sex and racial differences in faculty tenure and promotion, retention of Black faculty members, and the relationship between family responsibilities and employment among faculty members. Professor Perna used data from the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty to examine how various family factors—parental status, marital status, and spouse’s employment status—affect a faculty member’s tenure and promotion outcomes. Her analyses revealed that the contribution of family ties to tenure status and academic rank is different for women than for men. Unlike women, men appear to benefit from having children in terms of their tenure status and academic rank and from being married in terms of their academic rank. What’s more, only 49% of female faculty members have at least one dependent, compared with 70% of male faculty members, suggesting that a greater share of academic women are intentionally foregoing parenthood and/or that non-mothers self-select into academics. It is possible that women professors think that the responsibilities of parenthood will lessen their ability to achieve and compete, while men feel less of such pressure. In a study of the status of Black faculty and administrators in public colleges and universities in the South, Professor Perna found that Blacks continue to experience substantial inequities. In the 19 states she and her co-authors examined, the gaps in equity were generally greater for Black faculty than for Black administrators. Among faculty, the degree of inequity for Blacks was greater among higher than lower ranking faculty and among tenured than tenure track faculty. Professor Perna and colleagues used case-study analysis to explore the ways that one historically Black women’s college promotes the attainment of Black women in STEM fields. The findings shed light on the ways that institutional characteristics, policies, and practices may mitigate the barriers that limit such attainment for Black women. The authors conclude their paper in Research in Higher Education with recommendations for improving policy and practice and for additional research.
“An excellent and diverse faculty is at the foundation of an excellent college or university.”
In an opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed, Professor Perna and Sydney Freeman Jr. wrote about the importance of institutional support for mid-career faculty of color to help them stay energized, stave off burnout, and thrive. Effective supports include culturally aware mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship. Coaches and sponsors, the authors wrote, can “help build a mentee’s skills and assist them in gaining recognition for their work and securing new professional opportunities.”
In another recent op-ed, published by Inside Higher Ed, Professor Perna stresses the need for better data about faculty diversity, experiences and working conditions, and (in)equities in measures of success. College and university leaders need more robust data if they hope to build and nurture an excellent and diverse faculty.