Diversity proposals offered

Mindy Hagen

Two major proposals aimed at improving faculty diversity have been submitted to Provost Lawrence Dumas after a critical report showed Northwestern’s need to recruit and retain more female, black and Latino faculty members, administrators said Monday.

The report, researched by the Faculty Diversity Committee and released at the end of September, urged search committees to “seek out women and members of minority groups for faculty appointment,” although NU ranked near or above the national average in most minority categories. Administrators then pledged $1 million to bring about a hiring increase.

“We are going to be spending some money on (working to increase faculty diversity),” Dumas said. “We’d like to be out ahead of the pack. Our goal is to be winners in a very competitive environment among other universities.”

Dumas said the first proposal asks the university to invest more money in bringing minority students to NU doctoral programs. The second encourages greater allocation of funding for faculty candidates to develop scholarly work before they are hired. This would serve as a test run, gauging candidates’ interest in academia.

Both proposals would enlarge the limited pool of minority doctoral students interested in becoming faculty members at the university, Dumas said.

Dumas said he would decide how much of the $1 million to give to each proposal in the coming weeks. Calling the evaluation of the proposals a “rolling system,” he said he hopes to receive more ideas from faculty members.

“There’s no particular deadline because this isn’t a highly formalized process,” he said. “I’d love to be challenged even more by faculty or searching committees out there who have ideas to make use of these funds to increase diversity.”

William Harvey, director of the American Council on Education’s Office of Minorities, said NU’s focus on improving faculty diversity shows that officials have taken the findings in September’s report seriously.

“A number of institutions have different kinds of studies and reports, but the degree to which they make significant recommendations varies,” Harvey said. “The real manifestation of it comes in seeing the proposals carried through with action taken.”

NU’s first plan would take action to increase the pool of minority doctoral students who could become faculty candidates. The proposal, similar to a process already employed by the Graduate School, would use greater resources to improve recruitment.

Graduate School faculty already visit students and faculty at select schools with substantial minority enrollments, including Howard University, Alcorn State University, Xavier University and Morehouse College.

Dumas said the proposal would make the Graduate School’s recruitment system a universitywide effort.

“Clearly, the long-term challenge in increasing faculty diversity at American universities is finding a way to increase the pool of candidates,” Dumas said.

The second proposal would fund minority candidates’ research before they are hired as regular faculty members, a common process in science and engineering departments but almost nonexistent in the humanities and liberal arts.

Civil engineering Prof. Joseph Schofer, a member of the Faculty Diversity Committee, said the idea could give prospective minority candidates a taste of being a faculty member without competitive pressure.

“You would be giving them more experience and more tools before you turn on the tenure clock,” Schofer said. “It’s hard to attract this small stream of minority candidates since everyone is competing for them. If you give people a test drive, some of them will be drawn to it.”

NU would be able to invest in the professional development of minority scholars while hoping to reap the rewards of their research and eventually hire the candidates as faculty, he said.

“One could say it’s an expensive contribution to solving the problem, but it is a way we can step up,” Schofer said. “This institution ought to be setting standards. It might have a small effect, but it’s the right thing to do.”

With the proposals on the table, other faculty members said it is now up to the entire NU community to determine whether faculty diversity is a priority.

History Prof. Adam Green said other schools have generated larger amounts of money and identified quality faculty candidates in their efforts to improve diversity. NU needs to decide what path it wants to take, he said.

“The fact that faculty diversity has been put in the public eye means it is now available as a topic of discussion, but people need to decide how much of an issue it is to the campus community,” Green said.