How do we recruit, support, and retain diverse faculty? Reflections from our discussion series

Patricia Marsteller
Emory University
Pat Marsteller, co-leader of working group 5, Professor of Practice in Biology Emeritus, Emory University

Author Profile
published Aug 2, 2021 9:07am

Equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice are foundational in effective higher education settings, including STEM disciplines. Our ASCN working group brings together communities whose work focuses on justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity (JEDI) in higher education. In spring 2021, we focused on a series of informal conversations centered on recruiting diverse faculty. In the series we discussed:

  • Why recruiting diverse faculty is important.
  • Promising practices for department leaders, such as creating detailed and inclusive recruitment plans, utilizing cluster hires, broadening searches, using faculty search advocates, and providing JEDI education for faculty and for search committees.
  • Working with other institutional actors (e.g., data analysts, deans) for institutional and departmental reflections, hiring plans, and data needs.

We also developed a series of resources that are available in our ASCN working group Google Drive.

What did we learn?

Some of the highlights of the conversations included the realization that student diversity in many institutions is growing much faster than faculty diversity, leaving students with few role models and increasing the burden on Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) faculty for mentoring, leading diversity initiatives, and performing other service tasks. We emphasized as a group that JEDI is everyone's responsibility, from faculty and staff, through department leaders, deans, provosts, presidents, and Board of Trustee members. Although there was some distrust of administrative leaderships' words and mission statements, we decided that support from the top was essential to lasting change in policy and practice. We had many discussions about how creating institutional change might require changing hearts and minds and using language and strategies that address deficit ideologies. For instance, we articulated various ways to address comments such as "there are no qualified applicants" or the candidates are not "a fit". We also discussed many ways of increasing awareness about JEDI through reading groups, invited speakers, and inviting people to the SABER series.

Additionally, we talked about strategies to build relationships and connect with postdocs, whether from an opportunity like the UC system's fellowship program, networks from local and regional institutions, or sending personalized invitations to faculty to participate in departmental seminar series. We also shared lists of places to announce job advertisements. The need for careful consideration to language used in the advertisements, and transparency in all the search and interviewing processes was also mentioned. The ideas about requesting a JEDI statement from all candidates and developing a rubric for evaluating such a statement provoked many discussions. Some institutions already do this, but some of the participants were skeptical about how people might only tell you what they thought you wanted to hear. Some participants also suggested that JEDI statements should be included in job packets and evaluations for promotion and annual raises.

Who was there?

The participants came from all institution types: community colleges, small private and state institutions, and larger research-intensive institutions. The diversity of participants was critical to obtaining varied perspectives and considering possible constraints on various strategies identified in our discussions. We learned of shared challenges and successes, but also agreed that context matters. For example, a large institution with many colleges might have many subcultures with different challenges. Some institutions suggested there would be resistance to interdisciplinary searches or faculty advocates from outside the hiring department. Other challenges included inadequate data sharing and small institutional data staff. Several participants suggested that they really benefitted from the diverse perspectives and were happy that there are many more people and institutions thinking through these issues.

We sincerely thank the presenters who helped us make this series possible.

  • Dr. Jennifer Manilay, Professor, University of California, Merced was one of the founding faculty in 2005. She is a research scientist, educator, mentor, administrative chair and advisor to undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. She organized the presentation on the UC Postdoctoral program.
  • Dr. Kara Thoemke, Associate Professor of Biology College of Saint Scholastica organized and presented the Faculty Advocates program.
  • Dr. Karena Ha Nguyen, is a FIRST/IRACDA Post-doctoral Fellow, and Kyle Thomas, a Biomedical Engineering (BME) Graduate Student, joined us to talk about their roles on a diversity search committee and their work on a new DEI statement rubric.
  • The other two coleaders of our working group, Dr. Ruthmae Sears and Dr. Holly Cho, provided valuable advice and facilitated breakout sessions.
  • Special thanks to Dr. Search and Dr. Rachel Renbarger for edits and suggestions that made this piece stronger. Special thanks to Dr. Rachel Renbarger who became the Research Director for ASCN in January 2021. Without her help and organizational skills, we might not have made this all happen.

Now what?

Several participants indicated that the next steps might include making the resources of those who've already paved the ground more available (i.e., effective department and lab DEI statements, effective mentoring programs, etc.). We encouraged them to review the available materials on our Google Drive that is a collection of the various resources discussed as well as those shared by participants. Additionally, some participants reflected on what they learned about the challenges and successes at their institutions and considered how they could engage in systemic change initiatives to further catalyze positive changes to address JEDI. Others suggested that the next step include thinking about contingent faculty, developing materials for new faculty orientation, and improving faculty support and development programs.

Participants in the final session also discussed plans for upcoming semester activities. Some of the activities included: volunteering to assist in drafting a department DEI statement, volunteering to help set up a formal faculty mentoring program (especially with contingent faculty), or planning a new faculty orientation program that emphasizes transparency and belonging (i.e. inclusion and equity). A dean who attended suggested that they would help organize, facilitate, and lead faculty development during the transition from hiring through their first few years on their campus. A participant also noted that they are engaged in helping the department develop a departmental code of conduct, in which students will be involved in the writing and review of the code.

Overall, the conversations were productive for the participants. At the end of the series, faculty were able to identify appropriate resources that could be utilized for recruiting BIPOC faculty members. They also gained access to a network they can leverage to support their efforts to attend to JEDI within their settings.

As this work is required of all of us, we hope to continue this work through the actions of all of you. We have provided a recommended reading/viewing list below and would love to hear your feedback in the comments on this post. Additional resources are available in our resource folder. Our working group will continue to work toward equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Please join us at our events and/or as a working group member.

Recommended resources:

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