The University of Maryland's efforts to promote gender diversity among its faculty and students have met with some successes, but challenges remain for underrepresented groups

Published on October 6, 2015

After four deans — one man, three women — stepped down since May, the University of Maryland set out to hire their replacements.

This fall, the university welcomed those replacements — all of whom are male.

While women used to make up roughly half of all deans at this university, the new hires bring that number down to four out of 15.

ABOVE: Professor Nelson Padua-Perez teaches a CMSC132: Object-Oriented Programming II section in the computer science building. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

“I don’t think we have to peg positions like this as a ‘woman dean position,’ but we need to be developing pools of candidates that are diverse enough so that a woman is going to be as likely to be the best candidate as often as a man is likely to be the best candidate,” said Bonnie Thornton Dill, the first woman to serve as the arts and humanities college dean.

Beyond hiring for its top academic positions, the university has a responsibility to recruit women and underrepresented minorities in all areas, Dill said.
University President Wallace Loh’s cabinet, for instance, is also male-dominated, with nine men among its 14 members.

Among certain underrepresented groups for which little data exists, recruiting and addressing concerns proves especially difficult, said Kumea Shorter-Gooden, this university’s chief diversity officer. While the university tracks the number of men and women among its faculty, staff and students, it collects no such campuswide data for its transgender population, Shorter-Gooden said.

“One of our challenges is that when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, all we really have is anecdotal information about how they’re faring, and that is a problem,” Shorter-Gooden said. “That means you can’t address challenges that they may be experiencing.”

A lunch date with inequity

As Dill bought herself lunch and sat down with some of her male colleagues, each pulled out a bagged lunch his wife had packed for him. Dill was at a new school, just starting out as an assistant professor, and she was shocked.

“I was like, you’re kidding,” Dill said. “These are my peers; this is my competition; this is the world I’m in. They’ve got their wives making them lunch, and I’m trying to take care of and feed a baby and grab something to eat.”

Female faculty members’ struggles to find a work-life balance can inhibit their ability to advance in the workplace, Dill said. Since 2008, the university has made policy changes to support such a balance, such as a stop-the-clock tenure policy and paid parental leave.

The stop-the-clock tenure policy automatically grants any faculty member who becomes a parent a one-year extension of their deadline for tenure review. Paid parental leave, added in 2012, allows a faculty member to leave for up to eight workweeks to care for a new child.

Despite these policy shifts, a 2015 faculty work environment survey revealed that female faculty are less satisfied than their male counterparts with the university’s work-life climate, according to information from the university’s ADVANCE program. The ADVANCE program works to improve the environment and opportunities for women on the campus.

Female faculty achieve tenure at the same rate as men when they undergo review, Shorter-Gooden said. But overall, women are less likely to go up for tenure, often choosing to go to another university or leaving the profession, she said.

The university’s 10-year strategic plan, released in 2008, states that diversity among top officials should reflect the total faculty makeup.

This university employs more female tenured and tenure-track faculty than in 2008, but not by much. Almost one-third of tenured or tenure-track faculty are women, compared with 30 percent in 2008, according to data from the university’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment.

“How do you put together an academic career and family and caregiving responsibilities?” Shorter-Gooden said. “So while the tenuring rate is the same as men for women who go up, which we’re proud of, we’re really continuing to work on improving work-life balance, which disproportionately — the problems, the challenges — disproportionately affect women.”

Black representation by college

While the student body is 47 percent female and 53 percent male, the university’s faculty is 38 percent female and 62 percent male.

More women are full professors and assistant professors than in 2008. The percentage of female full professors has increased to 23 percent from 21 percent, and the percentage of female assistant professors has increased to 48 percent from 43 percent.

“It makes a difference, especially to young people, I think,” Provost Mary Ann Rankin said. “Somebody who looks and sounds like you is in a role of leadership like that, it helps students see themselves in that role. It’s very important to have role models and examples of achievement who are the same gender and ethnicity.”

Although this university has made strides overall in attracting minority women to its campus since 2008 — the percentages of female Hispanic and Asian students and faculty have increased — not all its colleges have seen the same successes. And having few women in top leadership positions remains a problem, said Ruth Zambrana, director of this university’s Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity.

“When we look at women, they are less likely to move all the way to the top,” Zambrana said. “The academy has always been a male profession.”

This is especially true in STEM fields, such as the computer, mathematics and natural sciences college and the engineering school. Attracting women to these fields remains a priority for this university, Shorter-Gooden said.

The percentage of female students in the computer, mathematics and natural sciences college has dropped to 36 percent from 43 percent in 2008. Its faculty is 25 percent female, a slight increase from 24 percent in 2008.

Jayanth Banavar, the college’s dean, attributes the decrease to a near-doubling of computer science majors, who are mostly men. Meanwhile, the life sciences became limited-enrollment programs in 2010, and women tended to enroll in these majors in greater numbers, Banavar said.

Last fall, there were 2,167 undergraduate computer science majors, compared with 894 in 2008. Eighty-five percent of students pursuing the major are male. The biological sciences program, which is 56 percent female, shrank to 1,726 undergraduates from 2,143 in 2008.

Since 2008, 73 men in the college have been promoted from assistant to associate professor or associate to full professor. During that same time, 22 women were promoted, Banavar said.

“Without a huge representation of women, at least 50 percent, we are losing on tremendous brainpower and talent, and that’s what we’re trying to remedy,” Banavar said.

Jan Plane is the director of the Maryland Center for Women in Computing, which supports female students at the university and reaches out to female K-12 students in the community to foster interest in the field.

“Right now, we can’t produce enough people trained in computer science with current projections to fulfill the jobs that are going to be available,” Plane said. “We can’t do that because a good portion of the population is not participating at the same level — as in women and the underrepresented minorities.”

Female students would feel more comfortable with female professors, but there aren’t enough in the pipeline, Plane said. The center’s outreach programs aim to fix this problem and encourage young girls to pursue careers in the sciences.

“Women should be empowered and free to choose whatever field they want,” Plane said. “The fields that right now have the highest salaries and things like that are places that women don’t always feel welcome in. The closer we get to gender parity, the more welcoming an environment it can be.”

Ran Cui, a graduate exchange student studying pure mathematics, serves as vice president of the university’s Women in Mathematics student group. Oftentimes in her seminars, Cui said she is the only woman in the room and therefore feels a need to represent her gender.

“I would feel maybe if there’s more women, [then] I would feel more comfortable asking questions,” Cui said. “I sometimes would feel embarrassed if I asked something stupid. … You are basically the only representative of women in this room … so I’m more hesitant asking questions that I would otherwise had.”

The Women in Math group meet in the Mathematics Building.
The Women in Mathematics group meets in the Mathematics Building. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

While she was growing up in China, Cui’s parents encouraged her to study mathematics and become a teacher. While at this university, Cui said, she noticed it isn’t “mainstream” for women to pursue math, so she wants to be a professor to serve as a role model for women who might feel excluded from the field.

“I want to have other women see that you can do this,” Cui said. “You can go through this process. Even though there’s some difficulties, but you can.”

Kelly Yancey, a research associate in the mathematics department who teaches MATH140H: Calculus I, serves as the Women in Mathematics faculty sponsor. The group meets throughout the semester and brings in female speakers from the field.

“We need more women, and we need a support network,” Yancey said. “A lot of it’s still a boys’ club.”

While female representation in the computer, mathematics and natural sciences college isn’t making much progress, the engineering school has increased its representation of women over the past five years.

The number of female tenured or tenure-track faculty has doubled, and female undergraduate enrollment increased, said Darryll Pines, the engineering college’s dean. The graduation rate for women has increased to 91 percent from 84 percent in 2009.

“Engineers are problem-solvers at one level, so we want to bring all ideas and all creativity to the space,” Pines said. “When you’re only working with a fraction of the population, you’re not bringing everyone to the table.”

The business school has also increased its female representation to 43 percent of its students, up from 37 percent in 2008. The female representation among the school’s faculty has increased even more during that time, now representing 32 percent of its faculty, up from 23 percent in 2008.

The business school also introduced a new initiative in February to increase the percentage of female MBA students to 50 percent by 2020.

Taylor Myers, a senior marketing major, said business classes were intimidating at first because the school seemed to be male-dominated. Increasing gender diversity in the school would help students work with different perspectives and see how gender can affect people’s decision-making, she said.

Myers’ involvement with the Smith School Women’s Society helped her find a spot where she felt like she belonged. The society brings in female speakers from companies to help women in the society feel more confident in the corporate world.

“It really makes you a better businessperson in general, having both of those perspectives,” said Myers, who is the Smith School Women’s Society president. “Getting more women professors in those classes will definitely help. … The women who are in those classes would feel a little more comfortable.”

‘Drowning, myself included’

ABOVE & BELOW: When Radcliffe Adler, a senior theatre major, asked to be referred to as “Rad,” “he” or “him,” hir professor didn’t take it seriously. (Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

While Radcliffe Adler was transitioning last semester, hir¹ professor continually referred to Adler by the wrong pronouns and name.

When Adler asked to be referred to as “Rad,” “he” or “him,” the professor laughed in hir face.

¹A gender-neutral possessive determiner
²A transgender person’s birth name

“I had a class where they continually misgendered me and dead-named² me, and I took it to several administrators and they didn’t do anything, so I stopped taking that class and failed it,” said Adler, a senior theatre major. “Almost all of the trans people that I know that are not even at this university or school in general are drowning, myself included.”

(Tom Hausman/The Diamondback)

While female students are underrepresented in STEM majors and female faculty often face more difficulty in maintaining a work-life balance than their male peers, officials don’t know what academic problems the transgender, agender and genderqueer populations face.

This problem is not unique to this university. No Big Ten institution collects comprehensive data on its transgender population.

Luke Jensen, LGBT Equity Center director, said he would want sexual identity and expression to be part of the student application process to address potential problems.

“I couldn’t tell you what the graduation rates and retention rates are, and that’s a serious problem because I can’t tell you how well we’re doing or not,” Jensen said.

Officials do know that this community struggles with some aspects of everyday life that most other students take for granted, such as deciding which bathrooms to use and being referred to using correct pronouns.

Most of the time, the burden is on transgender students, faculty or staff to identify themselves as transgender — whether that’s finding a gender-inclusive bathroom or correcting colleagues who use incorrect pronouns, said JV Sapinoso, assistant director and undergraduate adviser in the women’s studies department, who identifies as transgender.

“I get a lot of students who don’t know how to deal with instructors who don’t ask about preferred names and pronouns,” Sapinoso said. “As a student in a classroom, there’s a power dynamic, and not all students feel comfortable speaking up to power and challenging power.”

The University Senate is reviewing a bill that would allow university employees and students to change their name or gender on certain school documents. The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee is scheduled to complete its review of the bill, which is sponsored by Jensen, by the end of this semester.

While the University System of Maryland added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policies in June 2012, Jensen said the university still needs to do more to accommodate transgender students.

On the first day of classes, Sapinoso said he would always ask students what their preferred name and pronouns were. This question relieved pressure from students who otherwise might have needed to correct how others referred to them.

“To me, it seemed really normal,” Sapinoso said. “Instead of asking ‘What’s your major?’ I would ask ‘What pronouns do you use?’ So that was really easy.”

Having gender-inclusive restrooms on the campus is one step toward creating a more inclusive environment, Jensen said, but the university needs to build more.

There are 140 gender-inclusive restrooms in various buildings across the campus, said Terry Brenner, the assistant director for facilities asset inventory. Students can find these restrooms on the university’s Web map by turning on the gender-inclusive restroom layer under the building amenities category.


Facilities Management requires the installation of a gender-inclusive restroom in new buildings and any building undergoing a major renovation, said Bill Olen, the university’s capital projects director. Cole Field House, the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation, A. James Clark Hall and Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center are included in this requirement, Olen said.

“There are whole areas of campus that don’t have appropriate restrooms that anyone can use,” Jensen said. “We’ve had students who have basically been kicked out of both restrooms and it’s kind of like, ‘OK, what do you want me to do?’”

The university should also raise awareness of different gender identities and expressions throughout the campus, including teaching professors and students how to use inclusive language and support those undergoing transitions, Adler said.

“I lost every single one of my friends when I came out and started transitioning. … A lot of teachers and a lot of faculty turned their back on me,” Adler said. “It comes from a very simple thing: They don’t understand. No one understands. When you don’t understand something, it’s like the floodgates opening.”


Ellie Silverman is an assistant news editor and senior staff writer covering administrative affairs. You can reach her at and on Twitter at @esilverman11.

Editor’s picks

Only one in the room

Diversity is a selling point for the University of Maryland, but the data show black representation has declined since 2008

University Senate committee debates allowing preferred pronouns

The review of preferred pronouns is part of a larger senate bill evaluation that would allow students and employees to change their legal name to a “preferred/primary” name, change honorifics such as “Mr.” or Ms.”


Powered by

About the series

The University of Maryland touts diversity as one of its selling points. But how well does it really score in the classroom on race, gender and spending?