Regional and City Planning Assistant Professor Awarded Grant to Explore Systemic Racial and Gender Disparities in the Academic Research Enterprise

Gibbs College of Architecture assistant professor Dr. C. Aujean Lee recently received a grant from the University of Oklahoma’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships (VPRP) to fund the project “Systemic Racial and Gender Disparities in the Academic Research Enterprise and Hiring Networks in an Applied Field: A Case Study of Urban Planning.” The grant is part of the VPRP’s Inequities in the Academic Research and Creative Activity Enterprise Rapid Response Seed Grant program. 

Existing studies on the academic enterprise have typically focused on traditional areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), business and history. However, the social sciences are growing faster than the average for all occupations. Within the social sciences, Lee’s research will focus on demographics, hiring networks and faculty recruitment in urban planning.  

Through this analysis, she hopes to identify transferrable lessons from the applied social sciences that can help “plug the pipeline,” and improve recruitment and hiring of faculty from these underrepresented backgrounds.  

While there are efforts to strengthen the training and hiring of underrepresented faculty exist, issues within this system are contributing to and reinforcing continued underrepresentation.  It’s this type of issue that Lee’s research aims to help correct. 

Urban planning practitioners play a critical role in shaping how cities function, look and engage residents, and that can have a lasting impact on socioeconomic equity.  

For several reasons, urban planning may offer unique insights to help correct these inequalities. First, because accredited programs are primarily offered as graduate programs, urban planning students can come from a wide variety of disciplines, as they will not be expected to have a bachelor’s degree in urban planning.  

Second, urban planning students often come from non-traditional educational backgrounds, as there are lower barriers to entry into the field.  

Third, a majority of the 80 North American universities that have accredited urban planning programs are public universities.  

Altogether, this means that the field may be more welcoming to professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds and educational experience, which allows for a larger pool of students to recruit from, particularly those who are currently underrepresented. 

As a result, Dr. Lee wants to test whether urban planning, as an applied social science, can provide methods for other disciplines to repair the issues with inequality in their fields. 

C. Aujean Lee is faculty in Gibbs College’s Division of Regional and City Planning. She earned her PhD from UCLA in the Department of Urban Planning, where she was also a research associate for the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. Her research focuses on residential segregation and racial disparities in homeownership, wealth, and community institutions. She also examines nonprofits in providing social protections to vulnerable communities in uncertain policy circumstances. 

Dr. Lee’s research proposal was one of 11 proposals chosen to receive a seed grant by a 10-member review team, who made their recommendations to Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, Vice President for Research and Partnerships. Another proposal from Gibbs College faculty Deborah Richards and Vanessa Morrison, entitled “Community Led Policy and Design: A Multidisciplinary Think Tank,” was also funded as part of the program.