College's 'diversity in astronomy' push is out of this world

The chair will be tasked with 'embody[ing] the spirit of diversity' in a department where women already make 50 percent of the students.

The school contributed $500,000 and the remaining funds were gathered from a professor and her husband, as well as private donors.

The University of California Santa Cruz announced a $1.5 million privately-funded endowment for a new chair position created to bolster “diversity in astronomy,” with another $500,000 contributed to the program by the university. 

The Vera Rubin Presidential Chair for Diversity in Astronomy “was created to advance the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence in astronomy,” UC Santa Cruz said. The chair bears the name of late astronomer Vera Rubin, whom the school describes as “a champion of inclusivity in science.”

The chair will be expected to “embody the spirit of diversity in one of a variety of ways, such as their proven ability to attract and train new astronomers from all walks of life.”

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The position “will be a  bridge of support across cultural, ethnic, and economic hurdles to engage the brightest minds in astronomy,” UC Santa Cruz professor and chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz said.

UC Santa Cruz points out that, even before the creation of such a position, women made up half of its astronomy Ph.D. students for more than a decade. Nearly a third of the school’s graduate students are historically underrepresented identities. UC Santa Cruz boasts that its astronomy and astrophysics department’s six female professors make up “the largest tenured cohort of female astronomers in the nation.”

A large portion of the funding for the chair position was gifted by UC Santa Cruz professor emerita of astronomy and astrophysics Sandra Faber and her husband Andrew Faber.  The couple launched the campaign to create the chair with their initial gift of $250,000. The university reported that it contributed $500,000, in addition to contributions gifted by the Heising-Simons Foundation and other private donors.

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“I am pleased to tell you that zero of the proceeds from the Rubin Chair are going for [sic] the incumbent’s salary or office space,” Sandra Faber told Campus Reform. “One hundred percent of the proceeds are going to support a more diverse graduate student program in Astronomy, such as fellowships, research support, travel for grads, and special needs.”

“This is a unique chair, the first of its kind, as far as we are aware,” Faber added.

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