Higher education: Employment discrimination referrals between education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could be improved

What the GAO found

The percentage of black or African American (Black) and Hispanic or Latino (Hispanic) college faculty increased from fiscal years 2003 to 2021. However, there were lower percentages of black and Hispanic college faculty compared to black and Hispanic workers. with advanced degrees (eg, master’s and doctorate) and professional workers (eg, lawyers and engineers), according to GAO’s analysis of Education Department and Census Bureau data. Black and Hispanic individuals were also less represented among college faculty than among students, according to the GAO’s analysis of Education data. For example, in fiscal year 2021, 8 percent of faculty were black compared to 12 percent of students, and 7 percent of faculty were Hispanic compared to 19 percent of students.

College Faculty and Students by Race and Ethnicity, Fiscal Year 2021

College Faculty and Students by Race and Ethnicity, Fiscal Year 2021

Notes: Black refers to blacks or African Americans. Hispanic refers to Hispanic or Latino. An individual who self-identifies as Hispanic only, or as both Hispanic and any race category, would be classified as Hispanic. The Other category includes individuals such as those who identify as Native American, Pacific Islander, multiple races, or unknown race.

The GAO literature search identified strategies used by colleges to recruit and retain diverse faculty, given the potential benefits to their students. Colleges have improved their job search processes, developed mentoring programs, and improved campus climates to recruit and retain a diverse faculty.

Education refers some employment discrimination complaints against colleges to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for review, but has been consistently late in doing so. In fiscal year 2022, Education processed and referred to the EEOC 99 complaints alleging discrimination in college employment based on race, color, national origin, or sex. The GAO found that Education referred complaints in an average of 71 days, although Education policy requires it to do so in 30 days. However, Education does not follow the timing of these referrals. Without doing so, Education may miss an opportunity to learn from offices that are more timely than others and apply those learnings across the agency to reduce delays. Individuals with delayed complaints may suffer negative effects, such as continued discrimination or lower pay. In fiscal year 2021, the EEOC processed 1,342 complaints alleging discrimination in college employment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability, some of which were referred by Education. However, the EEOC does not have a protocol for consistently tracking and accounting for complaint referrals. More recently, such a referral was not initially received by the EEOC until the individual filing the complaint followed up. Without a protocol to ensure that the EEOC receives and processes all education complaint referrals, some may be missed or resolution may be delayed.

Why did the GAO do this study?

As the US population has become increasingly diverse, college faculty may not reflect the same levels of diversity. Little is known nationally about the relationship between faculty diversity and student outcomes. Separately, faculty have reported experiencing discrimination in colleges.

The GAO was asked to review faculty diversity and employment discrimination at colleges. This report examines (1) selected aspects of diversity among faculty, (2) colleges’ efforts to recruit and retain diverse faculty, and (3) how Education and the EEOC process college employment discrimination complaints. GAO analyzed education data for faculty and students from fiscal years 2003–2021, national workforce data from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics ranging from calendar years 2014–2021, education complaint data from fiscal years 2011–2022 and EEOC complaint data from fiscal years 2011–2021 (each set was the most recent available). GAO also conducted literature reviews; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and policies; and interviewed agency officials and selected higher education experts.

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