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Where DEI Work Is Faculty Work

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will soon require diversity-contribution statements from all faculty members for tenure and promotion.

April 1, 2022
 
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The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will soon require all faculty members to submit a diversity statement to be considered for tenure or promotion.

Andreas C. Cangellaris, UIUC’s provost, announced the change this week, saying that in order to meet the goals of its current strategic plan, the university must “catalyze innovation and discovery, find novel and proactive ways to educate students from all walks of life, and develop ever-deeper connections with the public we serve.”

All of that requires that UIUC “recognize and support a wider range of contributions to the excellence of our institution,” Cangellaris added.

Numerous institutions or specific departments now require faculty job applicants to submit a diversity statement. Others encourage professors to include their diversity, equity and inclusion work in their tenure and promotion portfolios. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis even approved a new DEI-related track to tenure and promotion last year. But few institutions of UIUC’s size and research profile have considered requiring diversity statements—and, effectively, DEI work—from all professors who hope to be tenured or promoted.

William Bernhard, executive vice provost for academic affairs, said UIUC began working to update its tenure and promotion policy more than two years ago, to better align it with the strategic plan. The policy update also carves out a clear place for DEI contributions in the tenure and promotion process, he said, as individual faculty members or departments had long been “squeezing” this work into the service criterion of their faculty reviews.

The provost’s office describes the new DEI requirement as a one-page-maximum personal statement detailing “specific individual and/or collaborative activities aimed at supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as access.” Candidates should “include a discussion of the context, importance, and impact of their contributions along with their future plans for contributions. The candidate may choose to organize the statement by topic, activity, domain (e.g., research, teaching, and service), or in another manner.”

The policy says that the departments’ evaluations of teaching, service and research and future potential “must, where appropriate, consider the candidate’s diversity, equity, and inclusion activities and their impact.”

UIUC will accept diversity statements from promotion and tenure candidates on a voluntary basis only through the 2024–25 academic year. After that they’ll be mandatory.

‘A Really Strong Signal’

Bernhard said this adjustment period is designed to give all faculty members time to think about how DEI fits into their work.

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“There are many different ways to make contributions, and you can make contributions in research or teaching or service. And the centrality of those contributions is going to vary enormously,” he said. “For some candidates whose research centers on these topics, it’s going to be very important and very central to their case. For others, maybe it’s not going to be as central, but there are still things that they can do. Maybe it’s changing when the lab group meets to be at a more family-friendly time. That’s a contribution.”

Bernhard continued, “We really want to underscore we’re not expecting anyone to change their research focus to say that they’ve done a DEI activity. Research is research and you’re guided by your disciplinary challenges and your interests and funding availability and all of those things.”

Nicholas Burbules, Gutgsell Professor of Education and chair of the General University Policy Committee of UIUC’s Senate (and an opinion contributor to Inside Higher Ed), was among a group of faculty members who worked closely with the provost’s office to help shape the new guidelines—including by suggesting examples of what DEI contributions might look like in different fields; across research, teaching and service; and at the individual, program or institutional level. Some examples written into the policy update are:

  • A labor and employment relations professor establishes a campuswide gender-in-higher-education research initiative
  • A medical school professor attends a workshop on culturally responsive approaches to recruit groups underrepresented in medical research
  • A history professor creates a student advisory panel to provide input into the representation of diverse perspectives in courses departmentwide
  • A media professor includes a module in their course on the history of media coverage of issues that impact LGBTQ+ communities in the Midwest
  • A chemistry professor organizes seminars, workshops or informal discussions about supporting the growing number of nontraditional students who are enrolling in undergraduate courses in the department

Noting that academics don’t always agree on what DEI means or entails, Burbules said he and his colleagues “tried really hard to imagine examples where somebody would say, ‘I don’t really deal with DEI issues,’ because they think about that definition in a very narrow way.”

Similar to Bernhard, Burbules said this is “going to look different for different people. It’ll be less central for some people than for others. But the intention here—the headline is—everybody is expected to contribute to this campus value in some way.”

Along with the DEI statement, UIUC has also updated its tenure and promotion policy to include new guidelines for evaluating interdisciplinary and team research and public engagement. The policy now includes an expanded definition of excellence in teaching, as well, describing it as well designed and delivered, inclusive and ethical, and reflective and evolving.

Hava Rachel Gordon, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver who has argued for making DEI contributions more “visible” in tenure, promotion and reappointment decisions, said that while there are different models for crediting DEI work, UIUC’s new across-the-board policy “sends a really strong signal to other universities that that DEI work should be part of the core competency of what a faculty member should be doing. That it’s not just work that should be done by minoritized faculty groups but really is everyone’s responsibility. It’s central.”

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