PhD Program Aims to Increase Faculty Diversity in Hospitality Management

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Students connected with program directors and other industry professionals at the POC PhD Pathway Program in Hospitality and Tourism Conference at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration in April. Photo courtesy of David Fox Photography

Like many fields in academia, hospitality management faces a severe lack of diverse faculty, which is compounded by the fact that few people of color pursue the advanced degrees necessary for a faculty career in this area of study.

Photo of Arun Upneja
Arun Upneja

In a recent survey of more than 200 hospitality programs across the country, Arun Upneja, PhD, dean of Boston University’s (BU) School of Hospitality Administration, found that less than 10 percent of faculty are people of color. A separate study he conducted reveals few students from underrepresented populations are entering hospitality management PhD programs.

“I did a very quick survey of all the PhD programs in the nation, and I found that out of 180 students, only five belong to underrepresented groups,” Upneja says. “Since PhD programs are generally three or four years, that means, on average, we are graduating one per year.”

After learning just how significant the lack of representation is, Upneja created a program designed to educate students on the process of obtaining a doctorate in hospitality management. 

In 2020, with the help of his peers at some of the nation’s top hospitality programs — including those at Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, and the University of South Carolina.— Upneja launched the People of Color (POC) PhD Pathway Program in Hospitality and Tourism at BU. 

The goal is to provide undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups with the knowledge and support they need to enter a PhD track and work toward a tenured faculty position in the hospitality field. Upneja and his colleagues suggest that an increased number of diverse faculty may also result in greater recruitment of students.

One way the program hopes to reach students is through its PhD Pathway Conference. An inaugural conference was held virtually in 2021; the first in-person gathering took place in April this year. Twenty-four underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students connected with 15 faculty, deans, and PhD program directors. Students were selected for attendance based in part on academic performance, Upneja says.

Session topics included how to conduct academic research in hospitality management, the process of achieving tenure, obtaining financial assistance, and specifics about various academic programs so students could better determine their particular interests.

“My ultimate goal is to have a tenfold increase in the number of underrepresented minority students entering PhD programs,” says Upneja.

It is important that the hospitality industry take some responsibility for increasing diversity in the field, Upneja says. For example, he suggests providing funding to support initiatives like the conference and conducting outreach events with underrepresented high schoolers.

“This issue has to be tackled in many different ways. The big lift has to be done by the industry,” says Upneja. “I think having faculty that students can look at and identify with and have as role models and mentors is also an important part of the puzzle. But unless we tackle each of these issues, we are not going to get to the solution.”

Lisa O’Malley is the assistant editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. 

This article was published in our October 2022 issue.