As vice president for diversity and inclusion at Adelphi University, a midsize liberal arts university in New York, I am sometimes asked, “What exactly does a diversity officer do?”
Working at an institution with an increasingly diverse student body, often drawn from the extraordinarily diverse New York City borough of Queens, I am tasked with initiatives for first-generation students, Latinx students, students of color, veteran students, students with disabilities, international students and LGBTQ+ students. I have a staff of three.
But I realized early on that one of my main initiatives is on the faculty side: to help our university find faculty who reflect this increasingly diverse student body. As a result, my staff, others throughout Adelphi and I have worked to diversify the faculty members at the institution. The percentage of newly hired faculty of color for 2016-17 reached around 45 percent, compared to 27 percent in 2013-2014.
Most academics will agree that you’ll find a lack of diversity in the faculty ranks at predominantly white institutions. When, year after year, the representation of diverse candidates continues to be sparse, many universities engage in the familiar hand-wringing claim that diverse candidates are “just not out there.” Yet the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Diversifying the Faculty guide points out that, “In fact, only 11 percent of scholars of color were actively sought after by several institutions simultaneously.”
The key term in this statement is “actively.” Such results suggest that faculty search committees may benefit from a facilitated, mindful approach to strategies for conducting active, instead of passive, searches. Indeed, that may make all the difference in the world.
A chief diversity officer in higher education can play a key role in helping the institution remain committed to diversity in word and deed. Here are two tips for conducting an active search for diverse faculty and for keeping them once they are hired.
The faculty search process requires intentionality. A sincere institutional commitment to diversity and inclusivity requires engagement and collaboration with others on and off campus, including unit-level search committees, the provost’s office, the office of human resources, professional associations and doctoral programs. For instance, I work closely with the associate provost for faculty advancement and research at my university to conduct orientation sessions for all faculty searches in which we share best practices and strategies for recruiting diverse faculty members. As part of those orientations, we ask all committee members to take at least two Harvard Implicit Bias tests as a strategy for self-reflection. The fact is that we all have implicit biases. A search committee member can’t screen for biases in the selection process if they don’t know they have them.
The committees are also asked in the orientation to be fair and consistent, and to avoid the myths of inaccessibility that often make diverse candidates seem out of reach. The committees are asked to reassess definitions of quality and rigor, so as not to close out diverse candidates who may be quite qualified and an asset to the institution -- but who may have different experiences and areas of expertise. And most of all, they are reminded not to equate more diversity with lesser quality.
Search committees benefit from hearing from colleagues other than those in their own departments. We encourage them to seek people from other disciplines in order to hear and share fresh perspectives, particularly those that may diversify the candidate pool.
We also ask faculty search committees to develop intentional, presearch recruitment strategies for finding a diverse pool of candidates. Those strategies may include reaching out to diverse chapters or caucuses in relevant professional associations in their disciplines. Or they may involve developing relationships with doctoral programs that serve greater numbers of students of color, such as those at historically black colleges and universities. A recruitment plan to attract diverse candidates may also call for the consideration of “cluster” hires of candidates across disciplines or dual-career couples, particularly those early in their careers.
Recruiting and retaining requires engagement. It makes little sense to recruit diverse faculty of color if they leave after only a few years (or even months). As a person of color, and having served in the faculty ranks, it is my experience that faculty of color often leave predominantly white institutions due to a lack of support and engagement with the institution. That can take many forms, including undesirable course assignments, a devaluing of their scholarship, poor support and collaboration on research efforts, and microaggressions in the work environment.
Several years ago, a committee composed of faculty, staff and administrators (including me) from across the university set out to address head-on the issue of recruitment and retention of faculty of color. Through a series of dialogues, town halls and forums, our initiative -- called Conversations on Race -- has helped the university community better grapple with issues of race as it relates to hiring and retaining faculty of color.
In addition, my office has created the Faculty of Color Network. This multiracial network is led by the faculty director for diversity and inclusion, and it strives to fully engage faculty of color, particularly new ones, with the broader academic life of the campus. It realizes that no one wants to stay at a place where they don’t feel they belong. Members of the network meet socially over the course of the academic year, but more important, they collaborate on research, provide peer mentoring and hold intensive research writing workshops.
Providing a rich, collaborative work environment that appeals to diverse candidates goes far beyond race and ethnicity. We have also created an LGBTQ task force to deal with the policy concerns of the LGBTQ community, as well as a LGBTQ and Allies Committee to develop programming initiatives. The work of those groups has earned Adelphi University a “premier” status on the National Pride Index, as well as a 4.5 (out of 5) on its rating scale.
One of the first initiatives of these groups was to hang a permanent pride banner outside the university center. At an onboarding session, a newly hired and openly gay faculty member told the group that this is what convinced them to come to Adelphi. These and several other efforts at intentional engagement are also in place for international constituents, veterans, people with disabilities and others.
We want more diverse faculty members, and we want them to stay. The challenges of conducting active searches will vary at each college and university. But at most institutions, many of the barriers involved in promoting diversity and inclusivity can be overcome by a collaborative strategy that involves intentionality and engagement. By following these suggestions, you won’t have to keep falling back on the old bromides “Diverse candidates are just not out there” or “We can hire them, but they won’t stay.”