In 2021, approximately 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. worked as higher education faculty — positions predominantly held by White educators, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Black and Latino faculty were severely underrepresented at a majority of public, four-year institutions, despite research that overwhelmingly shows students who identify as Black and Latino are more likely to graduate when they have faculty members who look like them and serve as mentors and role models.

These findings are confirmed in a report by The Education Trust, “Faculty Diversity and Student Success Go Hand in Hand, So Why Are University Faculties So White?” published in 2022. 

Gabriel Montague, a higher education research analyst at The Education Trust and a co-author of the report, was quoted in a press release about the imperative for faculty diversity.

“University leadership must prioritize faculty diversity because they owe it to all students to provide a college experience that is enriching academically and culturally, and they owe it to faculty to provide equitable opportunities for growth and stability in their careers so they can increase their capacity to support the students,” Montague said.

In addition to focusing on attracting diverse faculty, HEED schools understand that retention is also critically important. Reasons often cited by underrepresented employees who leave their positions include overwhelming workloads, inequitable pay, lack of leadership and advancement opportunities, and lack of recognition.

All HEED Award-winning schools prioritize the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and staff as a best practice in alignment with their DEI strategic goals. These initiatives take many forms but often include support systems, recognition for those who embrace and exemplify an institution’s DEI values, and leadership programs designed to create pathways for career growth. Supporting diverse faculty and staff also means ensuring they have the resources, tools, and pathways needed to move into advanced leadership roles. 

No one program meets the needs of all faculty and staff who seek career advancement, however, so HEED schools often create multipronged approaches. The Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine hired an associate dean for faculty affairs to work with junior faculty to ensure they meet important milestones toward promotion. Junior faculty are also paired with senior faculty to help them navigate the early career process. In addition, as part of the school’s five-year Strategy for Tomorrow plan, initiatives planned to recruit and retain diverse faculty and staff include training search committees to address bias in the process. 

For departmental cluster hiring of diverse faculty, the new RAISE (Race, Inclusion and Social Equity) initiative at The Ohio State University (OSU) seeks to recruit 50 tenure-track faculty who can engage in research interdepartmentally. The program’s impact extends to faculty diversity at the OSU College of Optometry, College of Public Health, College of Medicine, and College of Nursing. The goal of the initiative is to increase the number of scholars committed to research that can help narrow social disparities in educational attainment, health outcomes, rates of incarceration, political representation, environmental impacts, and economic well-being. 

Instituting an award or other public accolade that recognizes employees who go above and beyond to ensure an inclusive, equitable, and diverse campus is a meaningful way to honor such individuals and their work as well as foster a greater sense of belonging. 

To that end, the Office of Diversity and Community Relations at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine sponsors the Employee Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award to honor faculty and staff who make outstanding efforts to advance the college’s DEI efforts. 

With the hiring of an associate dean for inclusive excellence at Loyola University of Chicago, the faculty hiring process was revised to ensure inclusion and equity across the process. All members of the faculty search committee at the institution’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing (MNSON) were the first to complete the required training. As part of the new process, candidates who progress to an on-campus interview must meet with the associate dean for inclusive excellence to discuss the culture of inclusion being fostered at MNSON. The school also created Diversifying Faculty in Nursing Education, a postdoctoral fellowship program designed to increase the number of scholars from historically marginalized and underrepresented groups in nursing. The program provides participants with a mentored postdoctoral experience to support the transition to a tenure-track assistant professor position.

This article was published in our November/December 2023 issue.

Top photo: The Ohio State College of Optometry offers opportunities for students to learn and grow, both in the clinic and in the classroom.