This is the second of three articles by the Minority Student Advisory Board.

In continuing the conversation that was begun last week about the challenges to diversifying and making this institution more inclusive, I’d like to closely examine the faculty diversity initiative that the University is currently undergoing. Again, while we applaud the efforts of the institution, we also must hold it accountable for its actual success in diversifying the faculty at UR. In examining the ways in which other institutions are addressing faculty diversity, a notable difference between the approaches of very successful schools and ours is that others have had substantially more funds dedicated from within the institution. Also, many of those institutions have centralized the effort to diversify faculty, and many have acknowledged the difference between family-friendly policies and policies that are geared toward underrepresented minorities. All of this is to say that, for this effort to be successful, some adjustments may be needed.

When the faculty diversity initiatives were presented publicly by the Task Force appointed by UR President Joel Seligman, there was acknowledgment from within the report that, while the marketplace for underrepresented minorities was competitive, there was no fund to help assist departments in attracting new faculty from that pool. Following the announcement, it was agreed that, in 2007, the special opportunities fund, then $200,000, would be used to help support faculty. This low number was certainly odd, and many faculty members proposed that this amount would not have a major impact on the hiring of new faculty. This fund has since been increased to $400,000 for 2008 and is projected to help support 12 faculty members throughout the University, in which eight are new commitments. However, this fund is minimal compared to many of our peer institutions, several of which the Task Force used to examine our success and goals. Institutions such as Columbia University, Harvard University and Vanderbilt University have committed several millions of dollars to addressing faculty diversity. It should also be noted that greater financial commitments enabled many of our peer institutions to hire experts in the field of diversity to help train faculty search committees to ultimately hire faculty members. Eventually, without increased financial commitment to faculty diversity, we are not confident that this issue will be addressed.

Certainly, many faculty members like and appreciate a decentralized institution, and we will not argue that there aren’t many benefits to one. However, many other institutions realize that some initiatives and efforts work better when there is more centralization. An example would be that a centralized institution could create consistency and enable stronger accountability for ensuring that the institution meets its goals of actually diversifying faculty. The current structure of our initiative doesn’t clearly hold one person responsible because, in addition to the University faculty diversity officer, there is an officer in each school.

And what’s the role of the vice provost for faculty development and diversity, when President Seligman also calls himself the chief diversity officer? Not to mention there was a whole committee of diversity officers for the college, which has since been eliminated, for now there is only one diversity officer. Who is responsible for training the search committees, the faculty diversity officers or the vice provost? How is the money dispersed and who decides how is it allocated? And is $400,000 divided amongst all the officers? These questions may be seen as silly to some. However, they are critical, and one must recognize that there are many great benefits to centralizing some efforts.

The last problems in UR’s approach to addressing faculty diversity are the combination of the family-friendly policies that tend to benefit women and the significant problems in regards to the hiring of underrepresented minorities. Although an address on both of these matters is long overdue, it is clear when examining family-friendly policies and the low representation of underrepresented minority faculty members that many of the problems are ignored and hurt by the policy evaluation process. For example, most of the progress made on the 31 recommendations was because of the fast response of the faculty senate to pass the family-friendly policies. Additionally, in reviewing the numbers of faculty members that are being supported by the special opportunities fund, 12 looks like a very high number, but that might mislead people to think that there will be more minorities on staff when it simply may be supporting the hiring of a spouse of a faculty member that was made an offer here.

In looking at our many challenges in regards to addressing diversity on campus, we will need to truly assess the progress of the faculty diversity initiative. We are not confident that we will see the changes we want in a timely manner unless we revisit some of the steps we have taken thus far. Meliora!

Harrison is a Take Five Scholar.



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