Most ACM members reside outside the U.S., and while diversity issues vary around the world, we thought it would be enlightening to do a case study on one marginalized group in the U.S. in the hopes that the lessons learned could be helpful to other groups and in other regions. This case study is on the education origins of Black faculty members in computer science (CS) at U.S. universities. (Note: We use the term "Black" to represent "Black/African-American.")
Black tenure-track faculty members are severely underrepresented in computing research departments. According to the most recent Computing Research Association (CRA) Taulbee Survey, there are a mere 83 (1.7%) Black CS-tenured and tenure-track faculty members at U.S. Ph.D.-granting institutions includes 18 (0.9%), 25 (2.3%), and 40 (3.1%) Full, Associate, and Assistant Professors, respectively.5 Using U.S. Department of Education data,5 the breakdown by academic rank as compared to that for Black professors across all degree-granting institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is shown in Table 1.
According to the most recent U.S. Census, 13.4% of the U.S. population is Black,2 so all the numbers in Table 1 represent significant underrepresentation. Worse, it is a situation at the faculty level is unlikely to change soon because while 10.1% of bachelor's degrees are awarded to Blacks, the CRA Taulbee Survey reports a mere 203 (1.4%) of the students currently enrolled in CS Ph.D. programs are Black.5
In this Viewpoint, we look at the Black faculty currently in CS research departments (meaning those with a CS Ph.D. program), asking:
The CRA Taulbee Survey provides summative information about the demographics of the CRA member institutions. This information is very useful; however, it does not give specific details such as the number of Black faculty at each member institution, or the number of Black Ph.D. students at the institution level in CS. To illuminate these details, an analysis of Black faculty at CS research departments was conducted. CS research departments are defined as those that have a Ph.D. program.
Jeff Huang at Brown University used a class to do a crowdsourcing data experiment to collect information about CS faculty at 51 top research universities in the U.S.3 This data shows that the top 11 producers of CS faculty in his study account for the majority (53%) of the entire CS faculty across those universities. Our research team did a similar data experiment, but this time the experiment was to look for Black faculty.
Black tenure-track faculty members are severely underrepresented in computing research departments.
In December 2021, using the CRA Taulbee Survey's list of member institutions,5 U.S. News & World Report's graduate program rankings,4 and the authors' knowledge of CS Ph.D. programs, 194 U.S. Ph.D. granting CS departments/colleges websites were searched with 152 (113 public, 39 private) from the 2020 CRA Taulbee Survey and the others from places the author identified, including HBCUs that have a CS Ph.D. program.
The search query was structured as follows: institution name computer science faculty, for example, University of Florida computer science faculty. During the search, the CS department or college website was browsed to identify the faculty listing. This exercise was done to visually identify Black faculty on the CS departments/colleges websites. If photos were not present, a search for the faculty members' personal websites and LinkedIn profile was conducted. During the search, the faculty member's current institution, their name, rank (Full, Associate, Assistant), gender (as identified by the author), undergraduate institution, and Ph.D.-granting institution were recorded. It should also be noted that some of the faculty identified did not have a CS Ph.D. degree. For example, there were faculty from Industrial Design and other areas. We did not make a distinction of the faculty members' Ph.D. discipline, only that they are currently tenure-track faculty in a CS research department or college.
Each of the major findings are described here.
Black faculty. 106 Black tenure-track faculty from 70 different institutions were found during the search. Therefore, 124 (63.9%) CS Ph.D.-granting departments/colleges do not have a single Black faculty member. The 2020 CRA Taulbee Survey reported 83 Black tenure-track faculty, but our search identified 85 at the Taulbee departments. The difference is likely related to timing. This search was done in December 2021, and the Taulbee data was collected earlier in 2020/2021. However, the difference of two faculty is minor and suggests this study's protocol was effective in identifying Black faculty.
Overall, this study found 32 (30%) Black female faculty and 74 (70%) male Black faculty, distributed among the academic ranks as shown in Table 2.
Howard University and the University of Florida (UF) had five Black tenure-track faculty, which was the highest number for any institution, see Table 3. Auburn University, DePaul University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), University of California at Berkeley, and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) all have three Black faculty in the computer science department or college. Some 16 other departments or colleges have two Black faculty. These 24 colleges and departments account for 60 (57%) of the Black CS faculty at research departments/colleges.
The Producers: Graduate alma maters. 22 (21%) of the Black faculty identified received a Ph.D. from one of the top 11 institutions from Huang's report. In his analysis, these institutions accounted for 53% of all the faculty,3 however, they only account for 21% of the Black faculty at CS research departments/colleges.
The University of Florida (UF) has produced the most Black faculty at Ph.D.-granting CS departments/colleges; UF has produced seven Black faculty followed by Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and MIT, which have each produced six. Table 4 shows the number of faculty by Ph.D.-granting institution for those that have at least two Black graduates that are now faculty. These 16 institutions account for 49 (46%) of the Black faculty at CS research departments/colleges. Howard University is the only HBCU to produce at least two Black CS faculty at research departments/colleges.
At the time of this study, there were 66 Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions.1 The AAU members are America's leading research universities. As such, the members earn the majority of competitively awarded federal funding for research. 42 (63.6%) of the AAU Institutions have at least one Black faculty member in CS. 60 (56.6%) of the Black CS faculty received a Ph.D. from an AAU Institution.
The Producers: Undergraduate alma maters. MIT is the only institution that has produced three undergraduates that are now faculty at CS research colleges or departments, see Table 5. Twelve other universities account for two Black faculty at CS research colleges or departments. These 13 institutions account for 27 (25%) of the Black CS faculty at research departments or colleges. Morehouse College is the only HBCU to have produced two Black faculty at CS research colleges or departments. With respect to undergraduate institutions, there were three Black faculty members that did not list their undergraduate institution on their website or CV; therefore, the data for those three undergraduate institutions is not included.
This research study explored Black faculty at CS research departments, meaning those that have a Ph.D. program. The analysis found 106 Black tenure-track faculty (43 Assistant, 33 Associates, and 30 Full Professors) from 70 different institutions. Huang's top 11 producers accounted for 53% of all the faculty,3 however, they only account for 21% of the Black faculty at CS research departments/colleges. UF was the top producer of Black tenure-track faculty at research departments followed by Georgia Tech and MIT.
MIT leads the way for undergraduate degree recipients who went on to be faculty.
MIT leads the way for undergraduate degree recipients who went on to be faculty. Howard University is the only HBCU to produce at least two Black CS faculty at research departments/colleges. At the undergraduate level, Morehouse College is the only HBCU to have produced two Black faculty at CS research colleges or departments. Howard University and UF lead the way with five Black tenure-track faculty. This study points to leading institutions that were not in Huang's top 11 list. Therefore, this information is useful for those recruiting Black CS researchers and for those looking for a Ph.D. program and/or Ph.D. advisor. Furthermore, this analysis will hopefully lead to CS departments/colleges becoming more transparent with their demographics data. This study was possible because of the uniqueness of the target population, meaning the ability to visually identify Black faculty.
Study limitations. This study relied on the visual appearance of faculty, data found in their online profiles and the authors' firsthand knowledge of Black/African-American identity to identify Black/African-American faculty. Furthermore, some identified faculty may not self-identify as Black/African-American. The gender was also identified by the author during the search from the visual appearance of the faculty member and their CV or LinkedIn data. Again, some faculty may identify differently than the author's classification in this study. These limitations were carefully considered during the search. The authors used these factors to count faculty within their best judgment.
1. Association of American Universities, 2021; https://bit.ly/3FLElWf
2. Data.census.gov. Exploring Census Data, 2021; https://bit.ly/3FL0uE4
3. Huang, J. Analysis of Over 2,000 Computer Science Professors at Top Universities, 2021; https://bit.ly/3jleBsn
4. U.S News and World Reports. Best Computer Science Schools, 2022; https://bit.ly/3FRgXrH
5. Zweben, S. and Bizot, B. 2020 Taulbee Survey. Computing Research News 33, 5 (2021); https://bit.ly/3HQE6vK
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