Faculty diversity rising
Search committees required to have EOP training
By Anne Bromley
Photo by Dan Addison
Hiring a professor touches hundreds of faculty lives and has an enormous impact on students, departments, schools and the entire University for years to come.
To improve the hiring process for search committees and help diversify the faculty, Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement, is devoting new efforts to strengthen recruiting and hiring practices.
Fraser is disseminating new, practical guidelines, offering workshops and consultation, and compiling a faculty recruitment manual. In addition, she and project coordinator Dawn Elizabeth Hunt have created an online tutorial that is being phased in this fall.
Implementing one of the recommendations from the Commission on Diversity and Equity, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III just mandated completion of the online tutorial for faculty on tenured/tenure-track search committees, as well as training from the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs.
The president’s memo also specifies that equal opportunity training is required for all other academic and administrative faculty hiring.
Employees hiring classified staff should receive similar training through Human Resources’ management and supervisory development program.
With an average of 90 searches for tenure-track or tenured faculty positions conducted each year, the importance of how new faculty are selected may seem obvious. But the process has been studied only recently with the same kind of attention scholars give to work in their disciplines.
“This is a vital part of an academic institution and one that has not gotten systematic attention in the literature and in practice,” Fraser said. “Faculty selection is as important as research and teaching.”
Making Progress So Far
The 2004-2005 school year brings a larger group of diverse faculty to U.Va. Although some offers were still pending as of July, the year brings 27 out of 37 new female faculty members offered tenure-track positions. That’s a 73 percent acceptance rate, compared to 54 percent last year. Eleven of 15 African Americans accepted positions, also 73 percent, compared to 31 percent in 2003-2004. Five of 12 Asians or Asian Americans who were offered jobs had been hired. For Hispanic/Latino professors, two of six had accepted jobs.
With efforts to improve recruitment just beginning, the results are mostly positive, and Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement, said she thinks the synergy of commitments and efforts from the provost’s office, human resources department, administrators and the Board of Visitors and search committees themselves is behind this early success. Deans, associate deans and department chairs also are getting more actively engaged in the effort. In other words, the commitment and effort to diversify the faculty is coming from not only the top down, but also from the grassroots level, she said.
Stimulated by interest in faculty diversity, researchers around the country are developing better recruiting and hiring practices. They’ve collected data that support and guide a more thoughtful, equitable process leading to successful hiring.
Another factor often overlooked is the cost of conducting faculty searches. Emerging research estimates the process equals as much as a new faculty member’s salary.
Faculty members serve on search committees because they know it’s important, Fraser said, but procedures have been informal and inconsistent over the years.
“Faculty know their academic disciplines extremely well. However, different skills and knowledge are needed for work on recruitment and advancement.”
Academic employees need to value the work of search committees, identify what works, look at what methods get passed on and understand the goals behind hiring a more diverse faculty, she said.
They also need reassurance and clarity about what is acceptable legally and administratively. Increasing the diversity of the applicant pool “is fast becoming the gold-standard for faculty search committees across the country,” Fraser said.
Several U.Va. schools and departments adopted new procedures last year as they embarked on filling vacancies. For the Curry School of Education, the results were striking. Of eight new faculty members, five are African American, two men and three women.
“We took a radically new approach to recruiting. From soup to nuts, we did things differently,” said associate dean Rebecca Kneedler, who oversaw the eight searches. The search committees expanded advertising, targeting more journals and Web sites. The Curry School’s goal of being “committed to building a culturally diverse educational environment” and its interest in candidates working with underrepresented groups were included in the job descriptions. Working closely with Fraser and equal opportunity officer Robbie Greenlee, the members of the Curry search commitees held more discussions and received better training. They involved more faculty in candidate visits, inviting them to the candidates’ presentations and providing an anonymous Web-based system for their input.
As Fraser says in the tutorial introduction: “We have discovered from conversations with colleagues around Grounds that the more willing committee members are to put issues of process, hidden biases and the like on the table before the search gets under way, the better the search will work. These issues will come up, so if search committees have a shared understanding of the issues and mutual agreement on how to deal with them, they can focus their energy on the candidates rather than on the decision-making process.”
The tutorial, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, has 14 multiple-choice questions, with explanations and references following each one, that are designed to provide information, introduce the breadth of topics related to diversifying applicant pools and stimulate discussion.
Another important part of the search process is the role of support staff in the schools and departments. Staff members often take care of communicating with applicants, supplying information to the committee and making arrangements for top-candidate visits.
“They put in a lot of work and have a powerful impact on the search process,” Fraser said. “Search committees come together and dissolve, but staff have the institutional knowledge and are the threads sustained over time.”
One observation in the tutorial points out that “the reputation of U.Va. as an equitable and welcoming institution rests in large part in the hands of search committee members.”
Search Committee Tips
• Start the search process earlier — in the fall rather than the spring for the next year.
• Think of recruiting as a year-round process: explore and develop networks and contacts for potential job candidates.
• Establish clear criteria for candidate selection before the job is even posted.
• Include an emphasis on commitment to diversity in the job description.
• Advertise in journals and Web sites that are likely to reach significant numbers of members in underrepresented groups for that academic discipline.
• Establish procedures and steps in the search process when the search committee begins meeting.
• Consult with the vice provost for faculty advancement and equal opportunity officers.
• Use comprehensive evaluations rather than rankings of final candidates.
• Address spouse or partner job placement.
To find out more: See http://www.virginia.edu/eop/hiring.html or call 924-3200; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Kathy White, assistant to the vice provost, at 924-6865, about the online tutorial or other consultation.