University studying low number of women faculty

Story by Katlyn Mackie, Staff writer


Murray State Advance, a program funded by the National Science Foundation, is studying the issue of low recruitment and retention rates of women faculty in the sciences.

The program allows universities to study the recruitment and retention of women faculty in science.

It is nationwide and has funded over 40 universities across the country over the last 15 years. Its purpose is to find out what the issues are with retention and recruitment and to help the university address them.

The program started at Murray State in May 2016. It has run for one year so far and will continue for another two years.

“We’re pretty happy with our progress so far,” said Maeve McCarthy, mathematics professor and director of the Advance program.

McCarthy said science is broadly defined to include science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and social, behavioral and economic sciences (SBES).  

Data from the institutional research office showed that fewer women are hired in these disciplines, and data from the Institutional Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) office showed there are fewer women who hold a doctorate in areas of STEM, particularly math, computer science and engineering.

McCarthy said in psychology, biology and chemistry there are more women graduating, so it should be easier for Murray State to recruit more women. But that is not what they are seeing.

“We’re trying to find out what is it about Murray State that is appealing to some but not appealing to others, and how can we provide resources that make people take jobs at Murray State and stay in jobs at Murray State,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said Advance has done some work with the Women’s Faculty Caucus to build awareness of issues and intends to share their results with the caucus.

The Women’s Faculty Caucus has recently been interested in salary equity, which was studied this semester.

The salary equity study showed women in departments that are not male dominated such as history, english and education make lower annual salaries than other faculty – including men – at Murray State, which McCarthy said is “disheartening.”

In contrast, women in departments such as accounting, engineering and computer science have higher salaries than other women faculty.

History professor and President of the Women’s Faculty Caucus, Marjorie Hilton, said it is important to understand the broader context of the salary equity study.

Hilton said members of the caucus were not surprised about the salary study, given that in the U.S. women on average earn less than men, which coincides with the findings of the American Association of University Professors.

The members of the Women’s Faculty Caucus are deeply interested and engaged in learning more about the issues that affect women – and all – faculty,” Hilton said.

McCarthy said she does hear other women faculty talk about how they wish there were more women in their department.

“There are fewer women to talk to about professional issues that come up that are related to gender,” McCarthy said. “It’s a little bit easier when there’s more women in the department for you to talk about those things professionally and get advice.”  

The most recent numbers from Fall 2015 of women faculty in STEM and SBES are:

  • Non-tenure track positions (lecturer): 48 percent
  • Tenure track positions (assistant professors without tenure): 29 percent
  • Tenured positions: 20 percent

McCarthy said this indicates a couple of possibilities. Murray State is either hiring at a 50-50 rate but not keeping the women here beyond a few years or in the past did not hire as many women as the university is currently hiring.

She also said factors like how rural Murray is and the isolated community could affect the recruitment and retention rate.

“We’re not really sure at this point whether it is recruitment or retention or both that is impacting the issue, but what we are seeing is that at the higher ranks we have fewer women and at the lower ranks we have more women,” said McCarthy. “We’d like to see in the long term this balanced out a little bit.”