You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Pomona College's faculty has voted to change the criteria for tenure to specifically require candidates to be "attentive to diversity in the student body."

While many colleges and universities encourage faculty members to support diversity efforts, and a few have encouraged tenure candidates to reference such work, Pomona's requirement may go farther in that it applies to all who come up for tenure. The faculty voted overwhelmingly this month to approve the change. At Pomona, the faculty controls the tenure criteria, so the vote is final, although there is a grandfather clause exempting those already in the tenure-review process.

The key changes in how faculty members are evaluated can be seen in this part of the Pomona policy, with bold indicating the additions made this month:

Intellectual leadership at the college includes, most particularly, but not exclusively, good teaching that is attentive to diversity in the student body, meaning competence in all, and excellence in at least one, of these teaching activities as measured by the high standards that prevail at Pomona College:

  1. Lecturing;

  2. Leading seminars and discussions;

  3. Guiding laboratories, independent studies, theses, tutorials, studios, performances/exhibitions, rehearsals, student research, coaching or any other modes of individual or collaborative learning, whether or not explicitly offered for course credit.
  4. Fostering an inclusive classroom where all students are encouraged to participate in discussions, studios, rehearsals, performances, activities and other course exercises.

Further, the Pomona policy outlining the preparation of a tenure portfolio by a candidate says that the faculty members should "specifically address their efforts to create and maintain an inclusive classroom. This may include describing classroom practices used to encourage the participation of a diverse student body, or to cultivate an awareness of differing backgrounds, focuses, and needs among the student body and broader community. Techniques such as communities of learning and community partnerships are relevant here, as are the inclusion of scholarly and other works emerging from the perspectives of underrepresented groups, or any other classroom practices that support inclusivity and diversity."

The changes were similar to one demand of students at Pomona in campus protests in the fall. Students organized a petition drive -- signed by hundreds -- and a few dozen students brought the petitions to the faculty meeting where the vote took place. The petition stated that the changes in the tenure criteria were "a crucial step towards recognizing that an essential component of exceptional teaching and service is meeting the needs of a diverse student body."

Eric A. Hurley, associate professor of psychology and Africana studies, is among the professors who worked on the policy changes. He said that the idea has been under consideration for three years, well before last fall's protests. He said that Pomona routinely asks candidates for new faculty positions about their vision for teaching a diverse student body, and he and others questioned why that wouldn't be examined at the point of tenure review.

"This is already part of our job but as the student body has changed, what it means to do that job, with close mentoring as what we do, is also starting to change," Hurley said.

With regard to the student protests at Pomona and elsewhere, Hurley said it was important to realize that students want "structural change," not just short-term adjustments. A college could, for instance, hire more minority counselors, a worthy thing to do, but they might leave in a few years. Changing the considerations for tenure, in contrast, is a permanent change of the type students want and faculty members at Pomona agree is needed.

Different Approaches to Diversity Considerations

A number of universities have in recent years adopted policies that have sought to encourage faculty members to consider diversity issues in their teaching and research. Oregon State University in 2015 changed its guidelines for tenure and promotion to state the following: "Oregon State University is committed to maintaining and enhancing its collaborative and inclusive community that strives for equity and equal opportunity. All faculty members are responsible for helping to ensure that these goals are achieved. Stipulated contributions to equity, inclusion and diversity should be clearly identified in the position description so that they can be evaluated in promotion and tenure decisions. Such contributions can be part of teaching, advising, research, extension and/or service. They can be, but do not have to be, part of scholarly work. Outputs and impacts of these faculty members’ efforts to promote equity, inclusion and diversity should be included in promotion and tenure dossiers."

That policy leaves open the possibility that stipulations about diversity may vary from position to position.

Virginia Tech has for a longer time had a policy that encourages those up for tenure and promotion to describe their work on diversity. When -- as happens from time to time -- the university is criticized for allegedly imposing certain political stances on tenure candidates, officials have said that the diversity issue is optional, and that tenure candidates are not required to believe or report anything specific in their tenure portfolios.

Last year, the then-provost of Virginia Tech, Mark G. McNamee, wrote a letter to the editor of The Richmond Times-Dispatch taking issue with such criticism.

"The suggestion that contributions to inclusion and diversity are a litmus test for promotion are patently false," McNamee wrote. "A close reading of the university’s P&T guidelines reveals, time and again, that a candidate 'may' include examples responsive to the criteria. It says may -- not must."

Hurley said that Pomona wanted a policy that clearly applied to all departments, and that said diversity wasn't just a plus, but a requirement. "The college is now asking you to think about who your students are," he said.

Many faculty members, he said, already do so. But he said the change was important to them as well.

"For the people who already do this as a perceived responsibility anyway, this officially acknowledges that as contributing to your promotion," he said. "Before it was ambiguously a nice thing to do, but others would say you are doing this when you should have been doing X and Y."

'Litmus Tests'?

Leaders of the National Association of Scholars have written numerous critiques of Virginia Tech's policy and similar ones, arguing that references to diversity and inclusivity become political "litmus tests" for tenure candidates. Ashley Thorne, executive director of the group, said via email that she opposed the Pomona policy.

"While it is appropriate to evaluate faculty members' contributions to the university by way of service (in addition to teaching and research), it is inappropriate to make these expectations into ideological litmus tests," Thorne said via email. "Pomona's new requirement not only discriminates against faculty members who put academic excellence first, but it also can undercut the value of the education students will receive. And it may subvert faculty members' academic freedom to teach a subject according to their best judgment and field of expertise. A college should be encouraging its faculty members to prioritize books and ideas that are intrinsically good, true and important, regardless of whether they count as 'underrepresented.' Students deserve an education that is guided by intellectual worth, not topics that merely fulfill a diversity requirement."

Hurley of Pomona said that the new Pomona policy would in no way limit faculty members in terms of their political views or expressing them -- even if students disagree with those views.

"Inclusion doesn't meant students aren't meant to be challenged in their views. It doesn't mean anyone has to edit their academically grounded perspectives," he said. "It's not about protecting people's feelings by not saying anything anyone could disagree with. That's how learning happens."

But he said that, regardless of the ideas a professor might share, "there is a way that one might frame such a thing that is appropriate and a way that is not appropriate."

Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said he did not see problems inherent in the language of Pomona's new policy. But he said via email that what will be key is how the policy is used.

"What is practically meant by 'attentive to diversity' will have to be established in practice before one could really judge," Reichman said. "After all, people who hate diversity are in a sense 'attentive' to it, and 'diversity' has multiple meanings -- cultural, ethnic, religious, gender and, of course, diversity of viewpoints. But I seen nothing wrong with the wording itself."

Next Story

Written By

More from Diversity