College leaders often project the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, but are they actually driving equitable outcomes when it comes to hiring—especially in key academic and faculty roles?
Often, it is the proactive procedural work done by provosts, deans and DEI leaders that can make the difference in whether their campuses are really bringing in and employing diverse pools of candidates. And it’s the culture they create and cultivate that will keep them there.
Leaders from four universities—California State Fullerton, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler and Cincinnati—shared how the processes they’ve implemented have worked to create a foundation of success through the hiring stages during a session at the American Association of Colleges and Universities annual meeting. A common theme among all was that it takes a lot of hard work, planning and buy-in across departments to truly reach goals. But when done right, they can meet or surpass intended targets.
Bey-Ling Sha, Dean of the College of Communications at CSU Fullerton, said a good starting point for any university struggling with implementation is to remember three key strategies: setting expectations through words that outline what the composition of those hiring pools should look like; being accountable as a leader with public examples of their own work that fosters equitable practices; and the authority to cut off a search when the diversity candidates aren’t there.
“Not all searches are going to be successful,” Sha said. “I’ve seen some institutions where people feel like they have to hire somebody even if it’s not who they really wanted because they think they’re going to lose the [position]. But it’s about hiring the best people. Hiring faculty who are on the tenure track is the most important investment that any institution will make. Administrators and deans come and go. But a tenured faculty member is a 25- to 30-year investment that a community or an institution makes in an individual.”
At most colleges that have strong plans and procedures in place, that doesn’t happen because there is an embedded set of interventions to prevent candidate pools from leaning too heavily on a certain group of hires.
“I have the authority to halt searches, but I’m pleased that I’ve not had to,” said Littisha Bates, Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Community Partnerships at the University of Cincinnati. “And the reason is because people believe that I will do it. So they do the right thing to avoid it. If we do the right thing on the front end, no search will ever have to be halted. Sometimes they don’t bear fruit, but can you document your good-faith efforts?”
The tools for success
At CSU Fullerton, they create a set of tools to help ensure that those hiring pools are well-represented. They build a template for job descriptions using the latest high-impact equity practices. They offer up an advertising plan to search committees and then require them to create evaluation tools. And then the series of checks and balances kicks in.
“As the chief diversity officer, my first stop is with the dean,” said Bobbie Porter, Assistant Vice President for DEI at Cal State Fullerton. “I’m asking them about their strategy, the direction they want to go with the college, how they’re working with the departments thinking about the future of the discipline, and identifying the gaps based on that. It’s a lot of conversation before we even post the position.”
Once those benchmarks are established and followed—and data on candidates are cross-checked thoroughly to ensure those pools are solid—bringing them to campus and selling them on the university is crucial. And it isn’t just selling them on rankings or mottos but ensuring that they feel welcomed, both during the process and when they are hired.
Keisha Love, the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and Academic Inclusion at the University of Cincinnati, said they weren’t having trouble getting quality candidates because of a Strategic Hiring Opportunity Program it launched in 2015 which offered financial help to departments that boosted diversity. The problem was that many were leaving after only a few years. So it then created a plan for success, where department heads and deans were charged with ensuring retention.
“What are the supports and the resources that should be in place for this hire coming in?” Love said. “Are we being equitable in the resources that we’re providing? Can you assign that faculty member a mentor? We have some units that will put together a tenure committee and these are senior faculty who work with that faculty member to make sure that they’re on track in terms of their research or clinical work. How can you make sure you’re creating an environment that’s going to support all of your faculty?”
Cincinnati has seen its retention of staff rise from 70% to 95% under the program. They are fairly intentional about letting candidates know about minority faculty associations on campus that they can connect with, for example, because Love said many of them want to know “if I come here, is there a community for me?”
During the hiring process or campus visit, colleges should let candidates know about potential resources that can help them succeed and tailor documents that can serve them well. “As you invite a candidate to visit your campus, you set the stage for what that experience will be like,” said Brooke Barnett, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Butler University. “Establish your values and commitments. At Butler, we state that we are an institution founded by an abolitionist, so DEI is central to what we do. We can arrange opportunities for you to interact with a particular group of students, faculty or staff to gain an additional understanding of our campus.”
Colleges can create all sorts of information-friendly guides for potential hires. Jennifer Malat, Dean at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she would give candidates a handout outlining all the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Barnett says colleges can provide similar resources as well as key connections to faculty leaders who are receptive to talk but cautions pursuing any initiatives half-heartedly, “Don’t do this if you aren’t prepared to do it well.”