Diversifying the Pathway to the Professoriate

Through the organization C3, liberal arts colleges and research institutions work together to transform higher education

For many higher education institutions, the job of diversifying their faculty can be difficult — especially for small liberal arts colleges, which struggle to attract underrepresented candidates because of factors such as geographic location and a candidate pool that reflects an already homogeneous faculty. However, one organization is working to change this situation by providing role models and mentors underrepresented students can relate to.

C3, or Creating Connections Consortium, seeks to transform the pathway to the professoriate and increase minority representation, specifically for students of color and first-generation college students. With an emphasis on supporting and encouraging these individuals at all levels — undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral — C3 takes a multifaceted approach.

Shirley Collado, co-principal investigator of C3 and executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at Rutgers University–Newark in New Jersey
Shirley Collado, co-principal investigator of C3 and executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at Rutgers University–Newark in New Jersey

“We feel very strongly that in order to actively and intentionally diversify the pathway to the professoriate and have faculty from all walks of life represented across that continuum, it’s going to take some commitment to changing our current model of hiring and retaining faculty,” says Co-principal Investigator of C3 Shirley Collado, who is also executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at Rutgers University–Newark in New Jersey.

C3 began nearly a decade ago with an idea had by Collado, then the vice president for student affairs and dean of the College at Middlebury at Middlebury College in Vermont, and Michael E. Reed, then the vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity at Williams College in Massachusetts. They discovered through another group they had co-founded, called Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO), that many liberal arts colleges faced the same challenges with diversifying faculty.

“One of the greatest barriers for students of color in particular is that they often do not have faculty at their institutions who reflect their life experience in any obvious way,” says Collado. “Many of these institutions are in locations where many [job] candidates of color in particular will feel very isolated and will often be the only person of color in their department.”

So in 2009, Collado and Reed began partnering with the University of California (UC), Berkeley to build awareness about careers at liberal arts colleges and encourage more underrepresented students to consider careers at those institutions.

Through this LADO initiative, called “The Berkeley Project,” faculty and administrators from Middlebury, Williams, and Connecticut College visited UC Berkeley to share with students what it’s like to teach at a liberal arts college and to encourage them to pursue faculty positions at those institutions. In addition, UC Berkeley faculty and administrators met with undergraduate students at the liberal arts colleges to discuss the benefits of attending graduate programs at research institutions like UC Berkeley.

“The basic premise was that we knew the Middelburys and the Williams of the world could not solve the issue [of underrepresentation] alone,” Collado says. “It doesn’t matter how big an endowment is, it doesn’t matter what your strategic plan looks like; those things are important, but I fundamentally believe that the future of higher education will require cross-sector collaboration and innovation, the sharing of knowledge and resources, and applying pressure across a system — which doesn’t really happen when you’re one little school in an isolated town.”

In order to expand the project and address the larger issue of underrepresentation in academia, Collado, along with her Middlebury colleague Susan Baldridge, current provost of the college, developed and submitted a grant proposal to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2013, the foundation awarded them $4.7 million for three years, and C3 was born.

Full Participation
The consortium presently includes four liberal arts colleges — Middlebury, Williams, Connecticut, and Bates College in Maine, which joined the consortium this year — and two Research I (R-I) universities, UC Berkeley and Columbia University. These schools collaborate to ensure the “full participation” of underrepresented groups through the pathway, as well as to address and overcome barriers faced by these students. They also work to evaluate their own efforts, policies, practices, and institutional climates to determine areas for improvement and share best practices.

With a budget of $5.3 million — the lead liberal arts colleges cover the additional $700,000 — C3 delivers support, mentorship, and guidance through several key programs.

At the college level, C3 offers an undergraduate research fellowship to students interested in getting hands-on experience at a research institution. Participants are typically paired with both a faculty and graduate student mentor with whom they do research for several weeks during the summer; afterwards, students present their research at their home campus. Each R-I hosts four fellows, and students from any of the 24 LADO member schools can apply.

“It introduces them to aspects of conducting research, writing good research proposals, and engaging in research projects, so they’ll have a leg up,” says Reed, who is now vice president for institutional initiatives at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. “And they’ll have to learn how to support their idea. It is a wonderful introduction to life as a graduate student while you’re in undergrad.”

Another important aspect of C3 is outreach visits to UC Berkeley and Columbia by faculty members and administrators from the liberal arts colleges.

“[Graduate students] spend two full days with faculty and administrators from all of these liberal arts colleges who get to tell them the real deal: What’s it like? What does it mean to teach at a liberal arts college? How do people deal with race on your campus? What’s it like to be in a small town? How would you interview for a job at a place like Connecticut College?” Collado says. “It creates an amazing space for students to explore teaching and scholarship at a liberal arts college and talk openly about issues of identity, like race and class, in ways they don’t normally get to.”

A large part of these two full-day workshops, Reed says, is sharing with graduate students the benefits and joys of teaching and researching at small institutions. This often involves dispelling stereotypes and myths about liberal arts colleges.

“What I would say to people is if you’re really interested in engaging young, bright, exceptionally talented minds at an intimate level of learning, you should come and teach here,” he says. “These aren’t large seminar classes [with] hundreds of students. This is sitting down and engaging in real conversations.

“The other thing that we would let them know is that a number of liberal arts colleges, particularly those that are in LADO, are places that are resource-rich. … There is money available to conduct research, there is money available to travel, and there are nice salary packages that can be offered.”

Strategic Hiring
One of the most critical components of C3’s pathway is its postdoctoral fellowship. Through this program, recent PhD graduates from UC Berkeley and Columbia assume a two-year postdoc position at one of the four liberal arts institutions.

“They will have some teaching responsibilities, they will be interacting with students, they will be interacting with their departmental colleagues, giving talks on campus, and certainly getting their scholarly work up and running,” says Baldridge, who also serves on the C3 executive committee. “It is in many ways a transition into an academic position. … It’s also intentionally an opportunity for these folks to learn about what an academic position at a liberal arts college is like and to see what opportunities it presents for them.”

Participants engage in a research presentation at the first C3 Summit, held at Connecticut College in March 2014: (from left to right) Peter Uvin, Amherst University provost; Sasha-Mae Eccleston, a UC Berkeley graduate student; Edgar Mejia, a C3 fellow from Middlebury; Kristin Murphy, a Columbia graduate student; and Gabrielle Williams, a UC Berkeley graduate student and C3 mentor. (Photo by Lee Wexler, imagesforinnovation.org)
Participants engage in a research presentation at the first C3 Summit, held at Connecticut College in March 2014: (from left to right) Peter Uvin, Amherst University provost; Sasha-Mae Eccleston, a UC Berkeley graduate student; Edgar Mejia, a C3 fellow from Middlebury; Kristin Murphy, a Columbia graduate
student; and Gabrielle Williams, a UC Berkeley graduate student and C3 mentor. (Photo by Lee Wexler, imagesforinnovation.org)

The first cohort of postdocs began in 2014 at C3’s three original liberal arts colleges — Middlebury, Williams, and Connecticut; every year through 2018, each college will welcome three new postdocs. Bates College will begin hosting its first cohort in fall 2016.

In addition to postdocs getting firsthand experience through the fellowship, the program is intended to lead to full-time faculty positions — if not at the institution where they serve as a fellow, at least at another liberal arts college. C3 works with LADO to provide postdocs with a list of faculty openings at LADO member schools, which usually exceeds 100 positions.

According to Reed, one goal of the fellowship is to get liberal arts colleges to anticipate where they might have tenure-track openings in the future and then create postdoc positions in those departments.

“If we’re really addressing the issue of diversity, it can’t be a tactical approach. It has to be long term; it has to be strategic,” he says. “We should have our institutions looking down the road at where we think opportunities might occur and then start planning how we can build relationships to help us have a diverse pool [of candidates].”

The first cohort of postdocs will be entering the job market at the end of this academic year, and Collado says that one student has already accepted a full-time faculty position at a liberal arts college.

Common Experiences
Part of C3’s commitment to transforming the cycle of hiring within higher education involves collaboration and support — among individuals and schools.

From personal experience, Collado recognizes the value of cohorts and mentors. The daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student, she was in the Posse Foundation’s first cohort in 1989 (the Posse Foundation is a renowned college access and youth leadership development program). She attended Vanderbilt University — the first institution to support the program — and was the first Posse scholar to receive a PhD.

For Collado, none of these achievements would have been possible if it weren’t for the support she received.

“There are multiple times in my college experience when I knew I would have gone home if I did not have the structure of that support, and it had nothing to do with my academic ability,” Collado says.

Because of her background, she recognized the need to create cohorts within C3 programming and to have mentors to offer support and guidance along the pathway, especially for underrepresented students.

“We really believe that cohorts matter and that building strong mentoring models matters,” Collado says. “They really are in a group, and they are part of a greater community — and they have mentors for each cohort. They are intentionally in a group having a common experience.”C3

C3 is made up of several cohorts, including not only undergraduates in the summer fellowship program and postdoctoral fellows, but also C3 member schools. By collaborating and sharing best practices, the liberal arts institutions and the research universities are working together to increase the impact of C3 programming.

“There’s a lot of possibility for cross-fertilization, because the liberal arts colleges have things they can help the research universities with regarding how to integrate teaching more fully into their curriculum; the research universities have ways of connecting liberal arts colleges that may not have the same resources [with what they need] to do research-intensive work,” says Susan Sturm, a member of the C3 executive committee and director of the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia. “So I think there are all kinds of possibilities for both removing and reducing barriers, increasing the flow of information, and increasing relationships that are really important for transitions [along the pathway].”

This fall, all three cohorts will come together for the second C3 Summit — the first one took place in 2014 at Connecticut College and had more than 250 attendees — hosted by Bates College Nov. 13 through 15. The event brings together faculty, administrators, and undergraduate students from C3 liberal arts schools and research institutions, and LADO schools, as well as postdocs from the R-Is.

“The summit really gets at all of the goals of C3, which is to bring all of the people on that pathway together to learn, to get excited, to see people like them, to feel affirmed, and to see the possibilities,” Collado says. “What’s so beautiful about the summit for me is you get to see these undergraduates sitting alongside graduate students, all sharing their research interests and work.”

Expanding the Pathway
In order to expand upon the meaningful work that it is doing and to create more impact, C3 is in the process of selecting another R-I institution to partner with; the deadline to be considered was Oct. 1. Collado says that while many universities expressed an interest, the executive committee is looking for aspects of diversity.

“We are interested in geographic diversity in the third R-I, and we want a university that is different than UC Berkeley and Columbia. We also deliberately want to pick partners that will stretch us so that we’re not just creating more of the same,” she says. “I think that’s a very powerful piece of why we need to have different people at the table solving this issue. It can’t just be the private, elite liberal arts colleges; that’s just not going to get us there.”

As C3 continues its work and more data becomes available about the effect it is having, the executive committee will begin to better assess and evaluate its efforts to determine areas for improvement and growth.

Collado is grateful for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s willingness to “take a chance on an organization with no track record” and hopes C3 will be able to secure more funding in the future. But regardless, she is confident the initiative will have a positive impact on higher education.

“We’re hoping that C3 will serve as a model above and beyond what we’re doing,” she says, “a model to ignite interest, not just from foundations and other institutions, but to really encourage cross-sector work to solve some of the biggest problems that we’re facing in higher education.”●

Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information about C3, or if you are a liberal arts college or research institution interested in partnering with C3, email Shirley Collado at shirley@c3transforminghighered.org