Why the political science department lacks diverse faculty HOLD


According to Steffen Schmidt, there are many obstacles limiting the opportunities for diverse faculty hires at Iowa State. 

Payne Blazevich

Steffen Schmidt, a former professor of political science at Iowa State, spent 50 years working to increase diversity among faculty within the department, but realized early on the various challenges in attracting potential hires.

Schmidt was born and raised in Colombia. He was hired by Iowa State in 1970 for a Latin American politics position and was told he was one of the first Latino professors at the university. As the political science department grew, Schmidt actively worked to recruit a diverse pool of candidates, but found it more difficult than he anticipated.

“One of the great obstacles to success was the realization that the number of Blacks, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics with degrees required for a research one level university, normally a [doctorate], was small,” said Schmidt.

According to Schmidt, a lack of qualified diverse candidates has made it difficult to form a “deep bench” of potential hires. Attractive candidates may also choose to accept other jobs for a variety of reasons, further limiting the pool of candidates for Iowa State Schmidt said.

“A lot of people think we just have neglected, and didn’t want diverse faculty. I think that’s not correct. It’s a supply and demand problem. There’s a lot of demand, but a limited supply,” Schmidt said.

According to Iowa College Aid’s March 2022 Student and Faculty Diversity Report, only 13 percent of faculty from Iowa college and universities were from minority groups. Schmidt said the larger issue of inequity in school systems is a main factor in lack of diversity within the candidate pool.

He said the focus for the department has turned to developing potential candidates from high school all the way to graduate school and working harder to get diverse students on the right path to achieve at the highest levels of education.

“The biggest problem is socioeconomic inequality and racial inequality in the United States that persists to this day in public school education and undergraduate education,” said Amy Erica Smith, an associate professor in the political science department.

Because of this inequality in education, the pool of candidates is less diverse than the U.S. population, according to Smith.

Although education inequality plays a big role in the limited number of qualified diverse candidates, other factors prevent Iowa State from obtaining or retaining diverse faculty members, according to Mack Shelley, the chair of the political science department. According to Shelley, among the various causes of a diverse faculty deficit for Iowa State, a key reason why Iowa State has struggled to hire and retain diverse faculty is a general feeling of isolation.

Shelley described one instance where a diverse faculty member said that the lack of a good barber shop in Ames contributed to his desire to find a position elsewhere. Although this complaint was not the deal-breaker, this instance was an example of how Iowa State has struggled to make diverse faculty feel comfortable and accepted Shelley said.

“It’s really kind of hard to kind of punch all the right buttons, you know, to attract and keep somebody who would feel a little bit out of place here for various reasons,” Shelley said.

Action has been taken to open up a dialogue for the needs of diverse faculty and students on Iowa State’s campus. One of these channels is the newly formed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee. Smith, who helped establish the committee, said that it is important to provide education about diversity and inclusion to all students.

Smith said the committee’s main focus for the next year is to diversify the curriculum and ensure courses cover diversity, equity and inclusion related issues. DEI aims to collect a variety of viewpoints from both faculty and students in order to create a more inclusive learning environment, according to Smith.

“Ultimately, of course, it would be great to hire more diverse faculty, but that’s subject to budgets and things like that,” Smith said.