Michael Austin reported in a 2016 post that women constitute just 11.7% of BYU-Idaho faculty members. This appears to be an error, although the error isn’t Michael’s fault. As he noted, the best source of information on the demographics of university personnel is the Department of Education’s IPEDS database. At the time of his writing, the most current final release of survey results was for 2013. But the survey responses are self-reported, and whoever was tasked with the survey at BYU-Idaho that year seems to have made a hash of things.
A graph of faculty balance at BYU-Idaho based on IPEDS data since 2002 looks like this:
I suspect that a third of BYU-Idaho’s women faculty members didn’t quit en masse in 2013 and then return by 2015, but rather that whatever intern or student worker or newly hired administrator was told to fill out the IPEDS survey for 2013 simply made a mess of it that year. Whatever the case may have been, the current percentages of women on faculty at the BYU campuses are all fairly similar: BYU-Idaho at 18.7%, BYU-Hawii at 19%, BYU-Provo at 20.4%.
This shouldn’t detract from Michael’s overall point, of course—there are too few women teaching at BYU campuses. But it does raise the question of why BYU-Provo, a large urban campus with graduate programs, a research mission, better connections with LDS graduate student networks, massively superior resources, incomparably better opportunities for dual-career couples, and much greater flexibility in hiring and salaries, doesn’t do much better than BYU-Idaho, a rural, isolated, exclusively teaching-focused school with heavy teaching loads.
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For tracking university hiring histories, we have not only IPEDS data, but also the university catalog’s list of faculty (including year of hire, in the case of BYU-Idaho), as well as public information about recent hires. (In the following, I am going to ignore BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College entirely because I have no particular knowledge of or insight into those schools.) This additional information provides a useful confirmation that BYU-Idaho’s percentage of women faculty is in fact close to 20%, and also lets us dig a bit deeper into institutional history and current distribution across the campuses.
If we look at BYU-Idaho faculty cohorts by year of hire (for faculty that are still at the university as of the 2016-17 catalog year, of course), hiring of women appears to have increased over the decades, but not consistently.
|hiring cohort||women (percent)|
|1970-1990 (n = 41)||9.8%|
|1991-2000 (n = 122)||16.4%|
|2001-2005 (n = 126)||10.3%|
|2006-2010 (n = 97)||21.6%|
|2011-2015 (n = 140)||22.9%|
The percentage of women (and, incidentally, the percentage of faculty with Ph.D.s as well; someone was planning ahead) rose substantially in the 1990s before two-year Ricks College became four-year BYU-Idaho, but then declined sharply in the early 2000s.
Information published online by BYU-Idaho about new faculty for 2012-2017 suggests that the percentage of women continues to rise.
|hiring cohort||women (percent)|
|2012 (n = 48)||22.9%|
|2013 (n = 40)||22.5%|
|2014 (n = 51)||19.6%|
|2015 (n = 56)||32.1%|
|2016 (n = 42)||28.6%|
|2017 (n = 26)||30.8%|
But the increase in women hired may not translate into a long-term increase in women faculty overall. The articles only distinguish temporary from CFS-track faculty (the rough equivalent of tenure-stream faculty) in 2012 and 2015. In 2012, women’s share of CFS and temporary faculty match their overall percentage (22-23%). In 2015, women achieve parity with men as 50% of temporary faculty hires, but constitute only 20.6% of CFS-track faculty hires.
BYU-Provo’s undergraduate catalog does not identify the year of hire, so we have to rely on the less precise year of terminal degree to get a sense of historical developments in Provo. If we use year of terminal degree to construct cohorts, we find that Rexburg and Provo are converging in the percentage of women hired as faculty members.
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If one were in a position to increase the hiring of women faculty, one might look first at the most promising targets: large departments with frequent hires.
Over the decade from 2006-2015, eight departments at BYU-Idaho combined hired only one woman: History, Geography, and Political Science (1 of 11), with no women hired in Religious Education (out of 21 hires), Biology (11), Business Management (11), Mechanical Engineering (9), Accounting (6), Design and Construction Management (6), and Physics (5). (As of this writing, religious education at BYU-Idaho has just hired its first woman as a faculty member.)
By way of comparison, six departments hired women for a third or more of their open positions: Nursing (8 of 11), Communication (3 of 5), Teacher Education (5 of 9), Home and Family (7 of 16), Health, Recreation, and Human Performance (5 of 14) and Mathematics (5 of 15), as did four additional departments with fewer than 5 hires (Geology, Theater and Dance, Languages and International Studies, and Sociology and Social Work).
BYU-Provo’s college structure and academic ranks make reporting a bit more complicated. Looking again at the 2016-17 undergraduate catalog, women are 40% of BYU’s clinical and teaching-track faculty, including 50% or more of assistant teaching professors and associate clinical professors. But among CFS-track faculty, the percentage of women declines by rank from 23.4% at the assistant level to 18.3% at the associate and 9.2% at the full professor level.
The (small) College of Nursing stands out with 9 out of 11 women as CFS faculty, followed by Education (36.8%). The rest of the colleges are substantially lower, most notably Religious Education (10.5%), Management (9.2%), Physical and Mathematical Sciences (8.2%), and Engineering and Technology (1.0%, or one woman with 100 male colleagues).
That is to say: BYU’s faculty gender balance is dragged down even more by its science, engineering, and business faculty than by its religion faculty.
BYU departments where women constitute a third or more of the faculty include Nursing, Dance, Teacher Education, German and Russian, Communication Disorders, Counseling Psychology and Special Education, and French and Italian.
Departments whose faculty are fewer than 5% women include Economics, Physiology and Developmental Biology, Plant and Wildlife Sciences, Accountancy, Mechanical Engineering, Art (0%), Chemical Engineering (0%), Civil and Environmental Engineering (0%), Computer Science (0%), Electrical and Computer Engineering (0%), Finance (0%), Geography (0%), Instructional Psychology and Technology (0%), and the School of Technology (0%).
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What might the future hold? If we take history as a rough guide, and the priority of gender balance doesn’t change, we might expect the percentage of women faculty at BYU campuses to rise to around 30% over the next 30 years.
That’s not a satisfying answer, but it’s important to avoid magical thinking. There is no super accreditor that will force BYU to make faster progress. BYU has no shortage of eager applicants, its students are generally happy with where they are, students get hired and accepted into graduate programs after graduation, and there are numerous well-regarded programs on campus. Enrollments, employment, and rankings will not suffer if things go on as they have been. Any effective impetus for faster change will have to come from within and work within the institutional context.
Faster progress toward gender balance is certainly possible, however. A faculty with 40% women 25 years from now would represent considerable progress and could be achieved through a sustained commitment to gender balance with support from top administrators. If the College of Engineering and Technology started hiring men and women in equal numbers now, for example, and provided a supportive environment at all ranks for the women it hired, it could be composed of 25% women faculty members in 20 years, roughly where the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado is today. Other heavily male departments could see similar rises of 15-20% or more above their current level.
And those would be excellent outcomes, about the highest rates of progress that can be expected: Those hoping for faster progress need to be realistic about the pace of change imposed by faculty replacement through the processes of retirement and hiring, particularly for fields that are male-majority nationally. If BYU manages to increase its hiring of women engineers only to 25% rather than 50% each year—still a dramatic increase over current levels—women would still constitute just over 10% of the faculty in 20 years.
As a BYU alumnus, the parent of a BYU student, and a former BYU-Idaho temporary faculty member, I’m something of a minor stakeholder in the discussion, and I think the BYU campuses should hire more women as faculty members. There are national structural issues that are outside of BYU’s control, such as the oversupply of male Ph.D.s and faculty in many of the scientific and technical fields that enjoy broad public and political support, while opportunities in more balanced or female-majority fields in the humanities and social sciences are stagnant or shrinking. In addition, BYU necessarily reflects the church’s values, which certainly have an effect on the educational and career choices people make in ways that likely decrease the number of qualified women applicants for faculty jobs. But the current level of hiring women faculty is so low that much more could be done, right now, even with the existing national trends and institutional context.