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We recently wrote a piece for Inside Higher Ed that described how the University of California, San Diego, has introduced a new program of hiring in clusters academics whose teaching and scholarship emphasize the experiences of underrepresented communities in order to improve the equity, diversity, inclusion and overall culture of our institution. In that piece, we outlined the objectives and basic structure of the program. In this article, we will detail how the process has actually worked and its initial results, with hopes that what we’ve learned will be insightful for other colleges and universities.

Our new Advancing Faculty Diversity program is central to our objective of shifting the university’s culture. We have endeavored to center the voices of minoritized faculty, promote convergence among stakeholders, set clear expectations for onboarding the new hires and provide institutional infrastructure for sustaining inclusive practices. While the details of how we’re implementing each of our clusters differ slightly, some essentials are common to them all.

Faculty engagement. The success of any cluster hire initiative depends on faculty engagement, as faculty members are the ones who conduct the searches, nominate the candidates for appointment and create the departmental context in which their new colleagues will work. We have generated faculty enthusiasm for the program’s initiatives by: 1) selecting those initiatives from competitive proposals written and led by faculty members themselves, 2) focusing them on social justice values that reflect faculty concerns and 3) framing them around intellectual topics that are timely enough to be compelling yet broad enough to welcome participation by faculty from many disciplines.

Also, because our cluster hires are dedicated to advancing the success of historically minoritized faculty and students on our campus, an important element of our participative design is that we have intentionally invited minoritized faculty to join the leadership team to inform and guide our efforts through all phases, including the proposal and its implementation and assessment. Guided by the wisdom of the axiom “nothing about us without us,” in each case we have also included the leaders of the equity-focused academic program related to each cluster. Such stakeholder alignment is essential for maintaining the coherence of the effort, especially for interdisciplinary clusters or those where multiple programs are involved in each hire—and the clusters have both characteristics.

First and foremost, we have structured each cluster’s searches to involve direct participation by our project’s steering committee. That helps keep the process on track across multiple units in a consistent way, ensuring that faculty lines are deployed as intended. It also establishes communication channels through which we can identify and resolve misunderstandings between stakeholders.

We have also accorded searches a two-year timetable, so the partners can take the necessary time to learn how to work together and find a candidate with the right talents and experience for the role. And we have publicized the initiative, its searches and its outcomes widely across campus and beyond to build excitement about its overall objectives and the new hires.

Transparency of expectations and written agreements. To set the stage within departments, the positions being hired as part of the cluster are counted in the university’s overall multiyear hiring plan. That ensures that deans and chairs understand that the positions must support the unit’s overall research and teaching strategies and help meet ongoing objectives. In other words, by integrating these positions, they can be acknowledged for the educational and cultural value they add.

As searches reach the hiring phase, the department and the program’s steering committee must agree upon who will receive the offer. As a result, new hires will have two groups of colleagues motivated to mentor them and support their work. A memorandum of understanding is written between the hiring department and the cluster’s central academic program to establish long-term expectations for the position—including for future incumbents over time. That will minimize challenges that might otherwise arise due to leadership turnover in either unit.

The home department, the central academic program and the new hire also write a separate MOU to memorialize their research, teaching and service responsibilities, just as is done on our campus for any joint hire. That provides useful clarity to all concerned as the candidate eventually undergoes academic review for tenure, promotion and advancement.

Institutional infrastructure to promote sustainability. Our university provides that infrastructure through our Center for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion. The center has played a key role in identifying the leadership for each cluster initiative, building trust and rapport within the leadership team, and establishing how members will be acknowledged and rewarded for their participation. It has also helped draft proposals and budgets and performed other administrative tasks.

During the searches, the center has created and delivered training to all participants in the process and worked with the home departments to ensure the new faculty are being hired into a supportive environment. In the longer term, it will offer cross-disciplinary networking opportunities to the new faculty member and convene regular meetings of each cluster to keep building a cohesive intellectual community. This supportive infrastructure will both limit the responsibilities falling upon individual faculty members in participating departments and ensure continuity over time.

Initial Outcomes

The results thus far are highly encouraging. We have hired a number of spectacular new colleagues, and more searches are ongoing. We’ve also received broad interest in further cluster search opportunities—both in terms of writing new proposals and recruiting additional departments to participate.

A couple of searches took time to jell or had to be repeated after an initial failure. This is no surprise, given that the clusters are seeding new collaborations to transform organizational culture among disparate units. In a sense, the imperfections confirm that we are reaching beyond the “usual suspects” to involve units without deep experience in this kind of inclusive joint hiring.

That is exactly what is required if we are to instill new liberatory practices throughout the entire institution. We are acknowledging the complexity of the challenge, allowing the intervention to be guided by faculty who are closest to the challenge, building trust and generating organizational learning throughout the process.

We also have continued to hire into other positions—not connected with our program’s initiatives—faculty members who are demographically diverse and whose work focuses on the experiences of minoritized populations. In other words, our searches have not replaced existing search mechanisms, such as our department-based “excellence searches” that give initial strong weight to the contributions-to-diversity statements in candidate portfolios. Nor have those searches created a misperception that the clusters are our sole mechanism for recruiting faculty from backgrounds historically underrepresented in academe. Rather, the program’s cluster hires are complementing other inclusive search mechanisms that do not involve special affiliation with an academic program focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

That is crucial, since potential future faculty members have a broad spectrum of research and teaching interests, and the structure of the program’s positions will not appeal to everyone. Instead, adding the hiring mechanism of this program to our array of recruitment strategies has broadened the range of faculty whom we are able to attract, by better addressing the preferences of some faculty who wish to formally link their disciplinary and social justice work.

Next Steps

We are looking forward to applying lessons from the first two clusters—Bridging Black Studies and STEM and the Latinx Cluster Hire Initiativeas we launch the third cluster, Designing Just Futures, this fall. For instance, we’ve identified opportunities to fine-tune the interactions between the program’s steering committee and the participating departments to produce quicker convergence among stakeholders during searches.

We are also tailoring engagement and retention efforts to help make sure the new hires have satisfying and productive careers at our institution. Those efforts include:

  • Providing educational opportunities for deans and chairs to better understand their roles in the retention of underrepresented faculty;
  • Encouraging greater transparency and attention to potential “cultural taxation” frequently associated with historically minoritized faculty, such as demands for higher levels of advising and service; and
  • Connecting new colleagues to existing networks, such as our Women’s Faculty Network and our Faculty of Color Network, which provide informal mentoring and community cohesion.

As we complete more new cluster hires, we will also start shifting our focus toward culturally responsive evaluation and assessment. We will employ a participatory approach to evaluation—one that includes both faculty leaders and new hires in the assessment, analysis and interpretation of results. This liberatory practice expands power, increases ownership and promotes equity. Each cluster proposal has included a specific set of metrics, tailored to its disciplinary and equity, diversity and inclusion focus, such as:

  • The creation of novel courses and research programs to support innovative solutions addressing systemic and structural inequities;
  • Strengthened community engagement;
  • Increased interdisciplinary and collaborative projects;
  • Sustained implementation of strategies that result in greater diversity in faculty candidate pools; and
  • Increased student engagement.

In addition, we will co-create metrics that evaluate overall universitywide success for the set of clusters, one of which will certainly encompass long-term retention of these new hires.

We look forward to seeing the Advancing Faculty Diversity clusters help us make progress on our key objectives of diversifying our university at scale and across disciplines—transforming our institutional culture to be more deeply inclusive, as well as rewarding and uplifting the individuals and units that focus on this important work. And we welcome the chance to help colleagues at other institutions imagine how this approach might help them reach their own goals.

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