Institutions Adjust Faculty Diversity Strategies Amid COVID-19 Pandemic


Although budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19 have resulted in hiring freezes at some institutions, faculty diversity initiatives continue.

In the pandemic academia, many institutions are struggling to keep enrollment and costs low, but there is still a clear awareness that steps must be taken to bring faculty diversity closer to student diversity. Data released in the fall of 2020 by the American Association of University Teachers (AAUP) shows that while underrepresented minorities make up 32.6 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 12.9 percent of full-time teachers.

Irene MulveyEfforts to recruit and retain faculty from under-represented populations are underway, but COVID-19 has hampered some of the efforts. The pandemic has impacted research and delayed the completion of some doctorates, says Dr Irene Mulvey, AAUP president and math professor at Fairfield University. Many college conferences have been canceled, scaled down, or held virtually, impacting graduate students who traditionally present their research and use the conferences to network, discover job opportunities, and connect with potential career mentors.

He also created opportunities.

“I know there have been a lot of teachers who have retired,” says Mulvey. “If we can rebuild higher education better than it was before the pandemic, we may have the opportunity… to have more people on the path to tenure. ”

The need to be diverse

“Beyond the graduation of increasingly diverse student classes, institutions have the opportunity to really walk in stride. As employers of 3.9 million people, they can be leaders in fair hiring, ”says Eleanor Eckerson Peters, associate director of research and policy at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) .

“How you communicate and demonstrate diversity from top to bottom is crucial,” says Dr Daniel E. Lemons, Acting Executive Vice Chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) and past president of Lehman College (CUNY institution). “You can look at senior management and see the diversity there. To me, that sets the stage for all the practical things you do.

Daniel LemonsDaniel LemonsLemons says it needs to be clear to departments that diversity is their job when managing research for faculty positions. When he was president of Lehman, a group of students from the Latinx alliance wrote a letter to the English department, and one of their points was about the diversity of the faculty. In a meeting, students explained how the learning environment is affected by the presence or absence of a diverse faculty.

“In subsequent recruitments made by the English department, this was reflected,” explains Lemons. “There is a big effort at the departmental level. We provide support through human resources, tools and continuous training.

Lemons says that the Chancellor of CUNY since May 2019, Dr Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, has made diversity a priority given the demographics of students in the system. African American students make up 23.4% of CUNY four-year college students and 29.1% at community colleges. Latinx students are 27.3% at four years and 37.5% at two-year colleges. Asian American students are 24.9% in four-year colleges and 17.6% within two years.

“Recruitment and retention requires institutions to thoroughly review their institutional policies and practices for racial issues and factors that may prevent racial equity,” says Mulvey. “Higher education is not immune to the systemic racism that affects all aspects of American society.”

Face the obstacles

Eleanor Eckerson PetersEleanor Eckerson PetersIn an IHEP report co-authored by Eckerson Peters, “Ensuring a More Equitable Future: Colleges as Models for Equitable Employment”, and published in May 2021, the authors pointed out that the disproportionate health and financial toll of the pandemic on minority communities means that faculty of color – especially black female faculty – are more likely to face family illnesses and deaths as well as family job losses, while needing to provide more great support for students.

Latinx individuals make up 17.5% of the US population aged 24 to 64, but only 5.2% of full-time faculty according to the AAUP. African Americans make up 12.7% of the population, but only 6% of full-time faculty.

California Competes, a research and advocacy organization, focuses on racial equity issues in the state’s higher education and says fairness can lead to a stronger California economy. The executive director, Dr. Su Jin Gatlin Jez, was previously an associate professor of public policy and administration at California State University, Sacramento. As a faculty member, she has served on several research committees. She heard talk about diversity as soon as she started working in higher education, but hasn’t seen any intentional action until recently.

“Now I see a lot more pressure and attention to the real results – are we getting the candidates, are we hiring the right people, are we holding the people,” Jez said. “In connection with this, there has been a real political movement around this work.

“That said, I’m not sure we have real action, even with more attention and pressure … more results beyond a few more innovative or equity-focused institutions or departments,” he adds. -she.

Su Jin Gatlin JezSu Jin Gatlin JezThe pandemic has had an impact on diversity work, Jez says. “Most colleges are facing budgetary pressures from COVID, and university leadership and faculty are on the verge of breath due to the high demands of the pandemic and the uncertainty,” Jez said. “It is incredibly difficult to be intentional, thoughtful, and engaged in this very difficult work. “

The bureaucratic structure of higher education makes it difficult to implement true diversity. It’s possible with restructuring, Jez says, but right now people are just trying to keep their heads above water.

Among Jez’s suggestions is to work with professors and researchers to determine what institutional data should be collected. Not only should hiring be considered, but also tenure and promotions. Track the number of departures and interview those who do.

“The other practice that is getting more attention is ‘stay’ interviews – not waiting for people to leave to see what happened,” says Jez, who, reflecting on his career in academia , is grateful for the mentor she had, but wishes she had received more mentorship. .

“All professors should be assigned a mentor within the department and a mentor outside the department,” says Mulvey. “Mentorship is essential and can help individuals, but ultimately it’s about policies and practices to change the system. ”

Ongoing efforts

“Right now, it feels like a time to me… when student leaders are given opportunities and a real seat at the table, and for their own development and for what will happen to them next, which is really important,” says Lemons. .

California is launching Cradle-to-Career Data System, which will connect existing early childhood data systems with career and workforce data. This will include information on Kindergarten to Grade 12 and higher education.

Torie JohnsonTorie Johnson“Now that we’re going to have better data, we can better understand what’s going on with students and better understand their connection to faculty,” says Jez. “As we make more data available, we will have better evidence for this work. ”

The IHEP report suggests making data on faculty salaries and diversity more transparent by releasing annual reports that include salary data by race / ethnicity and gender and the percentages of each demographic group in various academic positions. professor.

Over the past 10 years, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), a sports conference that is part of the Power Five, has intentionally provided educational, research and service supports for its member institutions. The SEC Emerging Scholars Program was announced earlier this year, and on September 29-30, the SEC Emerging Scholars Career Preparation Workshop was hosted by Louisiana State University. It has been designed to provide professional development and networking opportunities for current doctoral and post-doctoral students who are considering a career in higher education.

“The workshop aims to encourage top academics, with particular attention to those from historically under-represented groups, to seek employment and mentorship within SEC member universities,” said Dr Torie Johnson, Commissioner SEC associate for academic relations. “Each university selects up to 10 academics and they will participate in a two-day virtual workshop that includes keynote presentations, commentary on pre-workshop work, and opportunities to meet with representatives from at least three SEC universities from their choice.”

The vision is to encourage universities to host their own researchers and provide them with mentorship and career development. Johnson says progress won’t be instantaneous, but the hope is that over time it will fill the pipeline and even lead to more opportunities for people already working in academia.

In terms of recruiting, Mulvey says it’s important to make job descriptions for open positions as broad as possible. “A narrow description can lead to self-selection which results in a less diverse pool,” she says. “You have to have the best possible pool, and I think as broad a description as possible is essential. … Research committees must center racial equity in their processes.

This article originally appeared in the October 14, 2021 edition of Divers. Read it here.

About Hector Hedgepeth

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