Diversity in Higher Ed Hiring

I began to explore the topic of diversity in higher education as I journaled my way through the semester, but I wanted to learn more about diversity in faculty hiring and the steps universities/colleges are taking to diversify their staff. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), racial and ethnic diversity has increased in higher education faculty over the past two decades (NCES, 2017).  However, this increase still falls short of balancing the percentage of nonwhite and white faculty so that the makeup matches with the demographic of the student bodies. Below is a graphic from the NCES highlighting the racial and ethnic makeup of undergraduates and faculty.

They found these gaps exist across disciplines and differing levels of faculty rank. Studies have shown that minority students who are taught by teachers of the same race or ethnicity are more likely to report those teachers are good role models, greater effort and higher academic goals (Egalite & Kisida, 2017). This same effect could extend to higher education, and universities/colleges are starting to prioritize this more and more.

An article from Inside Higher Ed agrees that universities prioritize diversity symbolically but often fail to act on their goals because their desire to increase their diversity clashes with their need for highly specialized professors (Newman, 2020). The author then goes onto discuss how UMASS Boston, which is a majority-minority public university, has employed a strategy to address both goals.

“When departments are filling academic openings that require a highly specialized professor, we allow and encourage them to propose a second position that a scholar with related but not necessarily identical expertise can fill, as long as the second candidate is from an underrepresented group. For example, if a history department is looking specifically to fill an opening for a Civil War scholar, it could hire in that field and present another scholar whose focus is Reconstruction.”

The University has allocated a fifth of their faculty hiring budget for this process. If the “diverse scholar” leaves the institution, their salary then goes into a diversity bank to be used by another department. The author acknowledges that this approach takes time to see a change, but over the past year, UMASS hired 8 African American, 4 Latinx, 3 Asian American, 2 Native American and 3 women in STEM fields from the 23 faculty they hired (Newman, 2020). The author identified their key to success as how they envision the barrier to hiring diverse faculty, “instead of assuming academic leaders are uninterested, uncommitted or biased, we recognize their legitimate interests in hiring specialized scholars, but we remove the constraints created by tight definitions.”

This contrasts with other institutions’ approaches to hiring diverse faculty that I have heard about, such as including search advocates on the hiring committee. Search advocates are trained in the problems of implicit bias, legal environment and enhanced recruiting and screening practices, so they can help the faculty hiring committees test their thinking about potential hires. They ask questions like, “why do you value those qualifications or skills?” Search advocates are usually placed on committees in departments outside their field, so they end up asking more questions than a committee member might who is already very aware of the field. But this approach assumes that faculty can be capricious and biased, with group think, power dynamics and conflicts of interest influencing the search process. While this process has also worked to diversify faculty at places like Oregon State, my little knowledge about faculty hiring leads me to believe that the UMASS Boston incentivizing approach would work better in most situations. If a department can hire two professors instead of one, why not? Money talks and allocating funds specifically for diversifying faculty makeup seems like it could prove effective. The big question is where does that money come from? I don’t have an answer to that, but maybe this could involve shifting money from collegiate sports to shift priorities? I wasn’t impressed by VT’s web page about hiring and diversity, but maybe this could be an option in the future if the school’s priorities shift.

References

Egalite, A. J., & Kisida, B. (2018). The effects of teacher match on students’ academic perceptions and attitudes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(1), 59-81.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/2018menu_tables.asp

Newman, K. (2020). Incentivizing Faculty Diversity. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2020/01/20/how-one-university-has-diversified-its-faculty-opinion