Research on Gender and Promotion

In this post, I would like to do a follow-up on my previous blog on promotion. The following largely draws on various reports I have shared in different venues. Moreover, I had assistance from fellow sociologists and the KU-APSCUF Social Justice Committee in drafting various parts of those reports. As a social scientist, I believe that we should continuously gather and review this sort of data while addressing problems such as sexism within our institutions. I welcome any comments or criticism of the following information and analysis.


Promotion is a process that involves many actors both on and off-campus. This overview presents empirical data on gender and promotion at Kutztown University. Gender, much like race and sexuality, undoubtedly impact promotion. The data presented is meant to provide context as to what is going on at the university. Clearly, gender matters. However, the following can give us insight as to how it matters at Kutztown University. That said, the following cannot speak to individual cases of promotion or denial. It can, however, speak to structural flaws at KU in regard to promotion, as well as issues in higher education.

Using Factsheets and Factbooks from the Office of Institutional Research (OIR), we see that there are significant gaps between male and female professors at different ranks. *** Note: I am using OIR data that only uses “men” and “women” as categories. Figure 1 illustrates the number of men and women at different ranks from 2007-2019. It should be stated here that the overall number of faculty has decreased in this period as well. That said, Figure 2 shows a gradual increase in the percentage of female assistant professors. From 2007-2009, there were more male assistant professors than female. Since 2009, there have been more women at the assistant professor rank. Notably, in 2019, we see about twice as many women at assistant than men.

This suggests that KU has been hiring more women than men – while overall staffing is decreasing. Despite these gains, there are still significantly more male associate and full professors, than women at the same rank. In fact, the gap between male and female associate professors has increased since 2016 despite gains a few years earlier. In 2016, 46.1% of associate professors were women, and in 2019, it had dropped to 41.7%. The percentage of women at full professor rank dropped as well. This suggests a step backward.

Figure 2 illustrates that some women are getting promoted to full professor. More on that later. However, we see a decline in associate professors that parallels gains in the rank of full professor. Yet, given the number of female assistant professors, we should be seeing the percentage of associate professors hold or even increase if they are being promoted at the same rate as men.

We see this in greater detail in Figure 3, which illustrates the number of male and female tenured assistant professors. In our system this is possible. There are two observations that can be made here. The first is there is nearly 3 times the number of women than men that are tenured assistant professors. The second is that while the number of tenured male assistant professors has decreased, overall the number of women has largely remained steady – despite an increase in the middle of this time period.

The Promotion Process

We are a unionized campus, as such our promotion process is governed by our collective bargaining agreement, as well as a local set of guidelines. Looking at the data provided to the faculty union (APSCUF) by the administration, and generated by past university promotion committee (UPC) members, we see that men and women are being promoted at relatively similar rates between 2010-2018. On the surface, this may appear to be a contradiction. What this suggests is a major part of the bias/discrimination that is occurring has a structural dimension.

First, while promotion rates are similar, men are generally applying for a promotion at higher rates than women for both associate and full professors ranks. For instance, more men applied for associate professor 2016-2018, despite there being more women assistant professors. In other words, men are applying at higher rates than women. We need to ask why this is the case. Is it due to maternity leave, women being discouraged from applying, or lack of mentorship?

Second, related to the question about mentorship, the department where female assistant professors are in could be variable. For instance, a single department – Elementary Education – in Fall 2019 had 7 tenured assistant professors. Which accounts for 19% of the 37 tenured assistant professors in 2019. All are women. Another department, English has 5 tenured assistant professors, most of which are women. These two departments account for about 1/3 of all tenured assistant professors. This could be an internal departmental problem, a broader disciplinary issue tied to norms in publishing, or how fields are gendered .

My previous blog entry examined Google Scholar results for successful promotion applicants. Looking at results in Google Scholar (which is not the same as publications), I found that in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) between 2010-2018 the following:

  • For promotion to Associate Professor for those in Humanities fields, there was a mean of 2.06 results. For the Social Sciences there was an average of 3 results, and for STEM fields an average 3.97.
  • For promotion to Full Professor in CLAS, we see means of 4.85 for Humanities, 11.63 for Social Sciences, and 10.57 for STEM.

The difference in disciplines is interesting here. It is perhaps worth asking if issues are perhaps exacerbated in fields where there is less “traditional” research activity such as peer-reviewed publications, or disciplines that are heavily gendered such as education. Here, it is also important to ask how these expectations affect men and women differently.

Below is an updated table with promotion to full professor data (the differences between this chart and the previous blog are due to my catching some errors).

Figure 4: Google Scholar Results of Promotion Applicants to Full

Year# Promo. to Full MEAN Google Scholar Results
(All Years Prior to Promo)
Median Google Scholar Results
Data Sources: Kutztown University Daily Brief Emails and Google Scholar

A claim commonly made about promotion at Kutztown (and beyond) is escalating requirements. That said, there does not seem to be a steady increase in Google Scholar results over time. Rather, there has been a lot of fluctuation. Again, the data above is simply a count of search “hits” with a successful applicant’s name. It does not take into consideration “quality” of item that is found. It is a fact, that there has been greater scrutiny of publications since 2015, following a crackdown on faculty publishing in predatory journals.

Given the growing importance of quality (perhaps in addition to quantity), this raises the question of time between promotions. Since my previous blog post, I’ve been able to get more complete data for recently promoted faculty As such, I have since been able to look up the data found in Figure 6. As you can see, there’s a great deal more variation among successful female applicants for full professor than for men.


Figure 6 may imply an age dimension for women going up for full professor. This also means that other factors should be looked at. I was unable to do a thorough analysis for women of color. As seen in Figure 7, KU is not a particularly diverse campus. To put this in perspective, only 9.4% of faculty are women of color. The incredibly small numbers, especially for Black and Latinx women, make it difficult to see larger trends. However, we do see that Black women at KU generate above-average Google Scholar results. Specifically, the 8 black women as of Fall 2019 at KU (1 full professor, 2 associate professors, and 5 assistant professors) had a mean of 4.6 results and a median of 2.5.

Figure 7: Faculty Demographics (Fall 2019)

Asian/Pacific Islander222143
Native American112
2 or More Races / Unknown5712
Source: Kutztown University Fall 2019 Fact Sheet


Wrapping up, promotion is a process. It is not just a matter of a decision being made in a fixed point in time. Rather, there are a number of social/political/cultural forces and biases that influence the outcome. It is my hope that this blog post assists others in having a meaningful conversation as to how to mitigate those biases.

Efficiency isn’t necessary Efficient in HigherEd

Here’s a follow up to my previous post about student-to-faculty ratios not being related to university finances. I recently asked an administrator if the ratio is a proxy for revenues and expenditures. I was told that the ratio is actually a measure of efficiency.

For my more critical readers, I can hear the groans upon hearing the word “efficiency.” No doubt efficiency is a very corporate term and a stand-in for return on investment. Stepping aside from the very corporate dimensions of that word, efficiency also refers to the relationship between inputs (e.g. resources) to outputs (e.g. a task or function). For example, efficiency can be reducing the amount of energy needed to light up a house. Yet, even from a technical standpoint, efficiency is full of contradictions. Jevon’s Paradox occurs when improvements in energy efficiency lead to more consumption. This increased consumption offsets the potential benefits of “efficiency.” In other words, the technocratic push for efficiency often ignores the real-world deployment of such tools and strategies.

Real-world consequences can be relatively minor like leaving your lights on more since you have energy-efficient bulbs. However, the push for efficiency has had negative consequences in other ways. Edward Tenner (2018) has written about the Efficiency Paradox, noting that efficiency is rooted as much in “racism and xenophobia as in technological idealism” (xii). The reason being efficiency often comes from the top without regard to the social consequences of deploying formulas to optimize whatever those in power want to make efficient. For example, metrics to optimize “safety” can lead to segregation and discrimination in mortgage lending.

What does this mean in education? Is a faculty member teaching more students per class more efficient? Well if efficient means cheaper, then yes. However, what sort of consequences come with that? Retention and graduation rates come to mind. This is especially going to be costly for first-generation, those with disabilities, LGBTQ, non-traditional, and students of color. They need a diverse faculty who can provide mentorship and a safe space for them throughout their careers. As such, an efficiency metric solely based on increasing class sizes might not solve the financial problems caused by decreased enrollment. Then, of course, we are now in the world of COVID-19. Larger classes can limit options for physical distancing.

I conclude with this final thought on metrics. Our system has other metrics for financial sustainability they are not using. For instance, they have “Education and General (E&G) Expenditures per Student FTE.” This is a bit better since we are back to talking about actual finances. However, there’s a political component. When they propose they are increasing the student-to-faculty ratio, they are saying they want to spend less per student. This E&G metric would confirm that. The optics here are very different than suggesting a ratio of 20:1. I believe that this is why they chose this problematic student-to-faculty metric, versus more accurate ones for examining financial sustainability.

Overworked (the pandemic version)

Previously, I’ve written about my workload. As I begin to prepare for Fall 2020, I’ve been thinking about how I can design classes that will avoid the COVID chaos of Spring 2020.

Like everyone else, my time commitment to my classes increased dramatically once we went online due to the COVID-19 closures and quarantine in the spring. In addition to all the work needed to convert my face-to-face classes online, there were other issues. Rather than have a relatively set schedule for work, we moved into a 24/7 environment that has broken apart our already porous academic work and non-academic lives.

Continue reading “Overworked (the pandemic version)”

Persistence in Academic Publishing

As we close out 2019, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the fact that it’s been ten years since I earned my Ph.D. Things are good for me. I’m lucky and privileged to be a full professor with tenure. This journey, however, wasn’t easy. Academia is like a series of races, where you’re often crawling past a finish line dehydrated and glad it’s over. Take for instance publishing. I just had an article come out that took five years to get published. I also had another recent article that took six years. This means rejection after rejection, a lot of negative feedback from reviewers, as well as the purgatory of several revise and resubmits. Sure, I have a writing strategy. However, there’s no way to really anticipate or plan for the inevitable heartbreak of being rejected after a third round of R&Rs. My point in bringing this up is to emphasize that writing, especially academic writing, is difficult. It’s hard practically, intellectually, as well as emotionally.

So here are some thoughts:

  1. As people have started doing on Twitter, we should normalize rejection. There are two parts to his. The first is we need to demystify the process of academic writing and publishing. This means openly talking about the journey from the data, the field, or wherever, to the article or book. The second part is honestly talking about the stumbles, so we have a culture that reinforces the idea that rejection is not the same as failure.
  2. Another part of this involves understanding that there are different audiences out there for different work. Unfortunately, this might mean that you end up with a reviewer (or editor) who simply disagrees with your approach. So, the rejection isn’t about you or your work. Real story: I once had minor R&R. However, when I resubmitted it, it went to an incoming editor who disagreed with my approach and desk-rejected it.
  3. Yet, that doesn’t mean that your work is perfect. Really, no one’s work is perfect. This means one has to understand the difference between constructive criticism, and someone being a jerk. For a great discussion of this, check out his episode of the SocAnnex podcast on “Academic Hazing.”

Wrapping this post up (and closing out the decade), it will be interesting to see how academic work changes in the next ten years.

Some data on promotion at my university

In this blog post, I would like to provide some data for my colleagues on promotion at our university. I have heard many different comments in regards to research and publications. However, there appears to be very little data, or evidence beyond anecdotes describing what’s going on systematically. So, I’ve sat down and put this estimate together. The following chart of search “results” for publications was created using our Daily Brief newsletter announcements, and doing searches on Google Scholar.

  Assistant-Associate Professor Associate-Full Professor
Year # Promoted to Associate  MEAN  Results

(Prior 5 Years)

Median # Promoted to Full  MEAN Results

(All Years Prior)

2010 11 2.45 1.00 7 6.28 7.00
2011 16 3.00 2.00 5 6.66 7.00
2012 14 2.00 1.00 1 2.00 2.00
2013 19 2.00 1.00 5 4.50 3.50
2014 19 4.00 2.00 5 12.40 13.00
2015 19 2.00 1.00 10 3.64 1.50
2016 14 2.43 1.00 13 5.90 4.00
2017 13 2.23 1.00 16 12.37 6.00
2018 13 2.69 3.00 6 10.83 12.00
All 2.40 1.00 7.86 6.00

These numbers should be considered estimates, for the following reasons:

  1. Promotion is not only linked to “Scholarly Growth” per our union contract. It includes teaching and service. The numbers to not necessarily suggest a “minimum” needed for promotion.
  2. The above only includes those listed in the Daily Brief, and does not include those who were later promoted through a union grievance, or lawsuit.
  3. Google Scholar under-indexes the humanities, and of-course those in the arts might be in fields where one doesn’t publish to gain tenure or promotion. Also, as publishers put more past material online, sometimes these numbers change.
  4. Google Scholar results used are simple counts. There is no differentiation between books or articles. However, our union contract explicitly states that the evaluation process should use quality over quantity.
  5. At the same time, it should be noted that Google Scholar counts also include book reviews, non-peer reviewed reports, as well as publications in predatory journals. However, it should be noted that there was not a concern regarding predatory publications by our university administration until 2016.
  6. It is important to note that our system separates tenure and promotion to associate professors. This means it is possible to receive tenure and be denied promotion to associate professor. It also means someone can choose not to apply for promotion. Nonetheless, for convenience, I have used results in the 5 years leading up to promotion, which is time time-frame when most faculty will also be applying for tenure. However, in several cases people took longer than 5 years to be promoted to associate.
  7. For data on full professors, I’ve chosen to use lifetime results prior to the year in which the individual was promoted. The range in which people on our campus become full professors range from 3 years, to decades, after they receive promotion to associate. Without direct access to everyone’s CVs, it’s really hard to come up with a perfect way to delimit time-to-full.

In the absence of looking at actual publications (not just results) and creating a more nuanced coding system, I did look at disciplinary fields, and academic unit/college. For instance, our College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) is where most of the traditional “research” fields within the humanities, social sciences, and STEM are located. Looking at that breakdown, we see for promotion to Associate Professor for those in Humanities fields, there was a mean of 2.06 results. For the Social Sciences there was an average of 3 results, and for STEM fields an average 3.97. For promotion to Full Professor in CLAS, we see means of 4.85 for Humanities, 11.63 for Social Sciences, and 10.57 for STEM.

Finally, below is data from our Office of Institutional Research regarding faculty ranks.

What is top-tier?

This blog post is a follow up to my previous defense of scholarly writing and a response to something I have been hearing from some colleagues at my institution– that publishing in top-tier journals is “impossible” for most faculty at my university. In this post, I want to first unpack this problematic assumption and then offer my thoughts on getting work published.

A bit of background: I happen to do interdisciplinary work. What I’ll be addressing might not work for all fields. Also, I am writing this while  at a regional teaching-oriented institution that has a 4/4 course load, where some publishing is required. Despite our faculty collective bargaining agreement explicitly stating quality matters more than quantity, many on my campus would argue that our contract does not offer guidance of how to evaluate quality over quantity. The result has been predatory publishing squeaking through the tenure process in the past, and more recently faculty getting denied due to ill-defined notions of quality.

Getting back to the question of publishing in particular venues – I think that the concern of my colleagues needs to be re-framed in the following ways. What constitutes a top-tier journal? Are we just talking about flagship journals of professional organizations? Are we talking about impact factors and other bibliometrics? Quantitatively, top-tier could mean anything within the first two quartiles of ranked journals in a field – which could account for several dozens of journals that are well cited and publish solid work. However, there are also journals in subfields that are also ranked. Web of Science and Google Scholar have categories beyond traditional/major disciplinary areas. Subjectively, it depends on your subfield. Is it a journal that you have cited in your own work? Is it a journal that publishes work you read regularly?

If I had to provide my own definition, I would say it’s simply a journal that publishes work that fellow scholars in the field recognize and respect.  Usually, this means there’s a correlation with citation counts, but it could be that it is affiliated with a professional association or be with an well known/established publisher. So yes, it’s a broad definition. However, you should always keep in mind what does or does not count in your department/institution as well as your field.

The idea that certain types of publication is “impossible” is dangerous. I think my colleagues mean well. We are a teaching oriented institution. However, this assumption discourages junior scholars from attempting to publish in highly ranked journals that can help grow a career. Indeed, one should always keep local tenure/promotion timelines in mind. However, I personally believe that scholars – especially young ones – should always aim for the best journal their work fits in. It increases the visibility of your hard work. Also it is work that is future proof if the journal is ever acquired by another published.

They key here is that the work is a fit for the journal. Prior to submitting your work to a journal, you need to do your homework. Do you cite articles in that journal? Or authors that have published in that journal? Do you engage in the literature that those who have written in that journal work in? Does the journal publish primarily qualitative or quantitative work?

Indeed, it is harder to get published in some journals than others. However, rejection can be valuable. The best advice I ever got in graduate school on publishing is to have a ranked list of where you would like to publish. If you get rejected from your first choice, you move down to the next one until you get an acceptance. As you move down the list, you will likely get feedback that can help you improve your manuscript and have it published in a well regarded venue.

Finally, for some good tips on publishing see Victoria Reyes’ article in InsideHigherEd


Reflections on Higher Ed during APAHM

So it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). Increasingly, APAHM and annual events such as the Lunar New Year provoke odd feelings for me. As an Asian-American living in rural Pennsylvania and working in higher education, it can be awkward at times. In Berks County, where I live, the Asian (one race) population is 1.6%. On my campus less than 1% of students identify as Asian. A few years ago, I was asked at a conference if it was difficult being a faculty of color in rural Pennsylvania. I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

Being Asian-American in higher education is complicated. Asians/Asian-Americans are considered “over-represented” in higher education relative to the general population. Even at my institution, 9.1% of faculty are Asian / Pacific Islander, while the Asian population in Pennsylvania is 3.6%. Yet, Asian-Americans are often forgotten as a minority group on and off campus.

Indeed, there is a rationale for the exclusion of Asian-Americans from the category of under-represented minority group(s). In 2015, there were 55,006 doctoral recipients in the United States. About 1/3 of degree recipients are temporary visa holders. Among the top countries origin for visa holders, China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan rank in the top 5 countries. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents who received doctoral degrees, 8.7% were Asian-American – compared to 5.6% of the U.S. population. Of course, not all recipients of doctoral degrees work in universities. According to TIAA institute’s look at faculty diversity, 6.4% of all faculty are Asian-American and 2.1% of all faculty are immigrants (born and educated abroad). These two groups are also disproportionately at research institutions and not regional teaching-oriented ones such as my own.

However, this – and other – data tends to fuel the “Model Minority” myth and ignore the real experiences that people have. There are significant cultural and economic differences between different groups of Asian-Americans. The category of Asian includes people with heritage from about 4 dozen countries and many different ethnic groups. As such, the generalization of Asian-Americans as a single category is problematic. Moreover, income data that illustrates Asian-American success ignores the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest poverty rate in New York City, and there are high rates of poverty for many Southeast Asian groups. Asian-Americans are also faced with hate crimes and glass ceilings.

Just as the Asian-American category is problematic, Asian-American over-representation in higher education is not straightforward. It also does not mean an absence of racism, xenophobia, micro-aggressions, and various types of discrimination in the workplace. Take for example, in the life sciences 10.8% of recent PhDs are Asian-American versus the 4.3% in humanities fields. The resulting stereotype of Asians in STEM fields has consequences outside of those fields. For instance, there is a case of a political scientist profiled into teaching statistics. There are also concerns regarding the inclusion of Asian-American studies in curricula, and its consequences for tenure. The absence of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment from history lessons is revealing of the way in which Asian-Americans are still under-represented in higher education. At the same time, there is pressure for Asian-American scholars like myself – who do not work on Asia/Asian-Americans – to do so (stay tuned for a blog post on ‘mesearch’).

In conclusion, I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

In defense of scholarly writing

In this blog post, I would like to defend scholarly writing as well as the academic peer review process. I say this while also being very critical of the process and its inaccessibility. However, I don’t believe we should disregard its strengths.

There are two major critiques to academic writing and publishing. The first involves is the seemingly absurd process of publishing academic work. Submitting a journal manuscript for publication can mean a multi-month to multi-year commitment. Not only is time involved with revision as well as rejection, there are countless horror stories associated with the peer review process. In some fields, it is particularly bad. Editors face headaches as well.

However, if publishing was like the job market, my CV would likely be blank. The double-blind peer review is one of few places in which scholars from less recognized institutions are not judged based on affiliation and who they know. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that single-blind review does have bias toward well-known researchers and institutions. However, they found double-blind review does reduce biased found in the review the process of the journal they examined.

I work at a regional teaching-oriented institution and have a PhD from a middling state institution. I am at a disadvantage not only due to these biases, but I have fewer resources that scholars and doctoral recipients from more well-known schools. Thanks to double blind review in my field, my work has generally received fair evaluations – which includes acceptances and rejections from prestigious journals in my subfield. Certainly, the peer review process can be improved. There are suggestions out there. However, I want to say that the process is not without merits.

The second critique is the inaccessibility of research. On Twitter, I have certainly shared plenty of articles that argue academics need to change the way they communicate their research. This problem is complicated, when academic knowledge is hidden behind expensive paywalls. Many on academic social media have discussed the problem of work that counts (or does not) in promotion and tenure processes and problems with the use of prestige/impact factor. As my colleagues have noted on Twitter, non-academic writing is not valued in tenure and promotion processes. This pushes scholars to put their work in the hands of publishers that are not committed to sharing knowledge.

However, I do not believe it is as simple as saying blogs or other public writing should count. For instance, the American Sociological Association, which I am a part of, released a report called “What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion.” The report essentially calls for context when evaluating public work (see: discussion in Inside Higher Ed).

For me, this context is engagement with the field. There is value in engaging with your peers, just as there is value in work that is aimed at non-academic audiences.  Academic writing – even at non-research schools – is useful in keeping one’s skills up-to-date. Indeed, it is a highly specialized form of communication. However, that is fundamentally what it means to have a PhD and do academic work.

Post-Dissertation Research Trajectory

handwritingAs I write my tenure and promotion application letter that recaps what I’ve done, I’m also thinking a great deal about where my career will be going. Raul Pacheco-Vega has blogged a bit about his own trajectory. So I figured, I’d spend #ScholarSunday (Pacheco-Vega’s creation) doing a bit of writing on my own trajectory.

For some of us PhDs, we have a love and hate relationship with our dissertation. It was our ticket to being called “doctor.” It led to publications that helped us get jobs and advance our careers. However, we are often sick of it (and possibly the topic) once we’ve squeezed what we can out of it. Yet, moving on is hard. I was recently talking to a colleague of mine and she expressed concern about future research once everything in her dissertation was published. Moving on to a new project is often scary and intimidating.

I actually haven’t thought much about my dissertation for the past 2-3 years. My trajectory is (maybe) different from others though. There were a number of ideas that I had when I was starting my dissertation that were not feasible for a number of reasons. As such, I had a U.S. (or California) -centric dissertation on architecture and culture despite being trained in globalization and global cities. After getting a few articles out of my dissertation, I started moving on to a very different area of study. While my recent work on wildfire comes out of a very brief section of my dissertation, it was essentially a new project that required a lot of new research. I basically had to train myself in environmental sociology. Since then, I’ve been working on global urban and environmental issues rather than culture and built environment. Also, visiting Turkey and Ethiopia the last two summers have allowed me to explore new angles to look at the connection between environment urbanization, but in a way, I’m returning to my roots as a Binghamton Sociology trained scholar.

This shift (or return) led to a bit of awkwardness at the American Sociological Association (ASA) meeting last week. When asked what I work on, I struggled to find an answer. I think for the time being, the simplest explanation is that I look at the “intersection between built and natural environments in the U.S. and globally.” Six years ago, if a time traveler had told me that this was my future, I’d have been shocked.

I’m not sure if this trajectory makes me look unfocused, but I think my short attention span and desire to constantly work on different topics keeps my intellectual curiosity strong. Loving learning is what brought me here, and I still get excited when I learn something new. So hopefully, this excitement can inspire many more years of research and writing. After all, I’m still an early career researcher / scholar.