Despite the increasing number of students from underrepresented populations enrolling in higher education in recent decades, the makeup of those instructing these young minds has remained fairly homogeneous. As of 2015, there were reportedly 1.6 million faculty members at postsecondary degree-granting institutions in the U.S., but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 1.4 million of those were white; only about 200,000 were minorities — specifically, Asian or Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic, or Native American.
This is notable because numerous findings document the benefits and importance of diversity. As student bodies become more diverse, faculty members from underrepresented groups should reflect this change as well, providing role models that underrepresented students can better relate to. Additionally, various data show that diverse groups are more innovative and therefore often produce greater outcomes.
“Having a diverse faculty is incredibly important,” argues Regina Dixon-Reeves, PhD, assistant vice provost for diversity and inclusion at the University of Chicago (UC). “For our [higher education] institutions to be truly excellent, they need to be diverse in every way. You cannot truly have excellence without diversity of thought, experience, culture, curriculum, teaching styles, expression, and so forth.”
Despite widespread consensus on the benefits of a diverse faculty, a three-year study of 21 colleges and universities by the Council of Graduate Schools found that less than half of those institutions engaged in targeted recruitment of underrepresented minorities for doctoral programs. Yet that specific recruitment focus — creating in-house pipeline programs for future faculty — is a key component for diversifying the professoriate.
“To attract and retain diverse faculty … our systems of identifying, recruiting, supporting, and advancing talented scholars … must be more inclusive of [their] perspectives and circumstances,” says Liza Cariaga-Lo, EdD, senior adviser to the provost for academic development, diversity, and inclusion at Brown University. “This starts with identifying and nurturing promising diverse scholars through a set of initiatives that create conditions to ensure the broadest participation of these talented scholars at every level — undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, initial tenure track, and tenured.”
Brown University has initiated several programs to identify talented scholars early on and to support their development. The Presidential Diversity Postdoctoral Fellows Program for recent PhD recipients allows the university to identify and hire postdoctoral fellows into tenure-track faculty positions at Brown. However, Cariaga-Lo notes that the program has also supported those who have gone into tenure-track faculty positions at institutions other than Brown.
Diversity pipeline initiatives like this are becoming more common at colleges and universities that recognize the importance and benefits of a diverse faculty. For example, UC recently revamped its Provost Postdoctoral Fellows Program, which is designed to help bring the university’s goal of increasing faculty diversity to fruition. The program provides funding to individual university departments to support scholars from underrepresented groups. Fellows can be appointed as instructors for up to two years — with the intention that they eventually be promoted to assistant professor on the tenure track.
“The program’s professional development sessions are primarily focused around research, writing, and teaching. [However, it] also includes sessions on grant writing and striving for work-life balance, as well as social events that introduce the fellows to the community of scholars of color on campus,” Dixon-Reeves explains. “In addition to their own professional development series, the [fellows] are exposed to the professional development offered to all new faculty.”
“We are extremely proud of the Postdoctoral Fellows Program,” she adds. “It will allow our [fellows] to be integrated into their department and the campus at large from the time they arrive [at UC].”
In addition to assisting junior faculty through its fellows program, Brown University has supported advanced graduate students through its Young Scholars Conferences. “We invite cohorts of graduate students from different institutions for professional networking and hands-on skills building to prepare them for the academic job market,” says Cariaga-Lo.
[Photo above: Graduate students at Brown University’s Young Scholars Conference, an event that exposes them to professional networking and hands-on skills building to prepare them for jobs in academia]
Brown also continues to expand varied pipeline initiatives in partnership with the Leadership Alliance Consortium, a group of 29 leading U.S. research and academic institutions, as well as efforts funded by the National Institutes of Health. One such program is the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), which provides research-training support for up to 20 doctoral students from underrepresented groups. According to the university, IMSD has significantly increased the diversity of doctoral students in the life sciences.
With a focus on encouraging diverse undergraduate students to pursue academic careers, Brown implemented the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships (MMUF) program. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, it provides four to six sophomores with two years of financial assistance to conduct research and participate in other activities as part of a community of scholars. The program’s focus on mentored research and financial support is designed to increase the number of individuals from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups pursuing a PhD in certain fields — from anthropology and archaeology to theater. UC offers a similar program in partnership with the Mellon Foundation.
Pipeline programs like those at Brown and UC, however, are just one piece of the faculty diversity puzzle. Cariaga-Lo points to the importance of higher education institutions having formal and comprehensive diversity and inclusion plans as well, to ensure the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups.
“Adopted in 2016, Brown’s university-wide Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan has [provided] a road map and a set of intentional goals that drive [our] systemic efforts,” she says. “[The plan helps] to ensure that we have the processes, conditions, and resources in place to identify, hire, support, and advance diverse, highly talented scholars.”
Although the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan is in its infancy, Brown — in its 2017 annual report on diversity and inclusion — cited a “sharp increase in the proportion of newly hired faculty from historically underrepresented groups as an area of notable success.”
In terms of future goals, Brown has vowed to double its faculty diversity by 2025. Likewise, UC’s Diversity Council has recently recommended that the university double the number of its underrepresented faculty by 2026.
Although pipeline initiatives and related goals are important, Cariaga-Lo understands that effectively addressing the lack of faculty diversity in higher education must transcend numbers. “Diversifying our faculty requires attention not just to who enters the various disciplinary fields; it also requires a focus on how we ensure that they will thrive and be valued for their contributions to those fields,” she says. “That takes systemic and fundamental change in our higher education processes, policies, and structures for conducting outreach and recruitment, hiring, mentoring, and promotions.”●
Kelley R. Taylor is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.