Panel Paper: Leader of the Pack: Representation & Diversity Priorities Among Department Chairs

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 9:10 AM
Cochiti (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel L. Fay, Mississippi State University, David Pitts, American University and Vicky Wilkins, University of Georgia
The representative bureaucracy literature finds that gender and racial/ethnic minority representation can improve outcomes for underrepresented groups served by public agencies. Although there is evidence of a link between passive and active representation for both gender and race/ethnicity, it is unclear whether (and how) this operates at different levels of the organization, especially if outcomes for underrepresented groups improve because of a general prioritization of diversity. Understanding how managers set priorities, whether diversity is among them, and how that translates into improved outcomes for service recipients is important in clarifying the link between passive and active representation.

We consider this question in the context of postsecondary education, where diversity priorities are set at multiple levels but arguably influenced most heavily by one: department heads. In most university settings, department chairs have wide latitude in setting diversity priorities in hiring faculty and staff, recruiting students, and deciding how to frame the department’s mission and research.  We examine this question empirically using data from an NSF survey of 770 department heads from Carnegie Extensive Universities in the STEM fields combined with data from the NRC on academic department characteristics and IPEDS data of institutional characteristics.  

The manuscript makes three contributions to the literature. First, we examine the self-reported diversity priorities among middle managers thereby explicitly capturing the causal link between passive representation and active representation.  Secondly, we isolate the female and minority representation at the department and institutional level to understand how each influence management priorities.  Finally, we offer an empirical test of the effect gender and minority representation has on the strength of diversity priority changes among managers.  Our findings offer new advancements for representative bureaucracy theory and the understanding of critical mass thresholds in the link between passive and active representation.