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Are You Serious About Diversifying Your Faculty and Staff?

If so, then Robert T. Palmer offers some concrete advice.

October 21, 2019
 
 
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Colleges and universities have long articulated the value of diversity, especially racial and ethnic diversity specifically. While the diversification of the student body of higher education institutions has received considerable attention over the years, diversifying the faculty has received much less and more sporadic attention.

According to a 2019 report from the American Council on Education that examined trends in race and ethnicities in higher education, the student population of America’s colleges and universities is more diverse than ever. But faculty members and administrators remain predominantly white, with nearly 73.2 percent of full-time faculty being white. That is deeply problematic.

While many institutional leaders often cite the leaky pipeline as an excuse for the dearth of faculty of color on their campuses, resources and guides abound to help colleges and universities increase the number of such faculty at their institutions. And as the racial demography of this country continues to change, with people from minority groups expected to become the majority, students of color need to see faculty members, administrators and other institutional leaders who reflect their background and culture.

To institutions interested in going beyond lip service to diversify their faculty and administration, I would like to offer the following recommendations.

Conduct a campus climate survey. While it is best if a college or university brings in a consultant to help devise the survey, a diverse constituency -- including students, faculty members and administrators -- should work with the consultant. Of course, this committee should include underrepresented populations, and it should pilot test the survey before its actual release.

Colleges and universities should also be careful to avoid the pitfalls that often accompany a survey of this nature. Such pitfalls include a lack of transparency with the campus community about the results of the survey and not implementing a plan of action to respond to the concerns that the survey reveals. Being transparent and working earnestly to improve the campus climate based upon the findings of the survey are crucial, because they signal to faculty of color and other underrepresented communities that the institution truly cares about fostering an inclusive campus environment.

Encourage and incentivize implicit bias training. Such training would be immensely beneficial to all faculty members and administrators, and especially to those who serve on search committees -- which tend to recruit and hire candidates that reflect their own backgrounds in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and academic pedigree. Ideally, implicit bias training would enable campus officials to be more conscious of any predispositions or prejudices they might hold, which would hopefully manifest in the selection of a more diverse applicant pool.

Conduct cluster hiring. The process of hiring faculty members in one or more departments who share commonalities -- such as race, ethnicity or research interest -- has been shown to be in effective helping to diversify an institution’s faculty. Such cluster hiring will allow faculty of color in particular to establish a community of support that can help to combat loneliness. Moreover, this supportive community will also give them a safe, cathartic space to discuss and process any racialized experiences they may have at the college or university.

It’s also important to note that conducting a campus climate survey and acting intentionally on its results are vital for the cluster-hiring process to be successful. Cluster hiring may help faculty of color to foster a community on a campus, but the institution must take steps to understand and improve the experiences of faculty of color as a whole.

Partner with historically black colleges and universities. Although HBCUs make up only 3 percent of America’s higher education institutions, they graduate a disproportionate number of black students who receive Ph.D.s and professional degrees. Given that, institutions interested in recruiting faculty of color should consider proactively reaching out to HBCUs. Doing so would be particularly important for institutions that attribute the myth of a leaky pipeline to their lack of faculty diversity.

Look for models. Finally, colleges and universities should seek out and learn from other institutions that have implemented a plan of action to help diversify their faculty. Ohio State University is a good example. Specifically, Donald Pope-Davis, the dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State, recently recruited several prominent black faculty members to various departments in the university. According to an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Pope-Davis has pursued an aggressive process of targeted hires and has been committed to doing what colleges and universities said could not be done. His approach has been seen as bold but necessary. Other colleges and universities can certainly learn from, and strive to emulate, his proactive stance in order to help promote the diversification of their faculty.

These recommendations are merely starting points. Most colleges and universities invest money, time and effort to recruit faculty of color, but they do not support them once they arrive. If institutions are going to be successful in not only recruiting scholars of color but also retaining them, they need to validate their racialized experiences on their campuses, encourage them to be their authentic selves and clearly demonstrate that they -- like their white faculty colleagues -- matter.

Bio

Robert T. Palmer is chair and associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the School of Education at Howard University.

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