USC Academic Senate
Winter 2002/2003 Edition 

Volume 4, Number 1, 2002-2003


 In This Edition

  A Letter from the President
  Open Letter to Senators and Other Colleagues
  Health Care Costs, Preferences, Risks and Equity
  Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Faculty
  Non-tenure-track Faculty at USC
  Marshall Online Teaching Evaluation System
  Concerning Terminations of Tenured Faculty
  The University After 9/11

Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Faculty
Barbara Solomon,
Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity

In the academic year 2001-2002, USC had 1314 tenure-track faculty. Of those faculty, 31 (2.3%) were African American and 31 (2.3%) were Hispanic American. It has been estimated that 2% to 4% of full-time faculty at private doctoral universities are African Americans and even smaller percentages are Hispanic American. USC, like most of its peer institutions, has not done well in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority faculty.

I returned to the Provost's office in Fall, 2001 as Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity with a special assignment. I was charged by the Provost to establish and chair a Faculty Diversity Committee to develop both short range and long-range plans for achieving faculty diversity. Although we have done reasonably well in enrolling a more diverse student body, our ability to recruit a more diverse faculty is sharply constrained by the fact that there has been almost no increase in the pool of potential underrepresented faculty in most disciplines. The most frequently identified reasons given for the small pool are:

  • a performance gap in academic achievement so that fewer underrepresented minority graduates are eligible for admission to Ph.D. programs;
  • lack of interest in Ph.D. programs; i.e. minority undergraduates who are eligible to go on to Ph.D. programs are more likely to choose careers in medicine, law or business.

However, recent research points to more complex contributing factors such as Claude Steele's concept of "stereotype threat" and Robert Ibarra's thesis that our universities undervalue "multicontextuality."

In his book, Beyond Affirmative Action: Reframing The Context of Higher Education, Ibarra contends that the major obstacle to achieving faculty diversity is an academic culture that rewards research and teaching within established boundaries that separate the natural sciences and technology, the social sciences, and the humanities. These categories may be considered as "contexts." It is the "low context" disciplines and learning styles that are most highly valued in our current academic culture. Yet, "high context" learning styles and ways of problem-solving are preferred more often by underrepresented minority students. A "critical mass" of faculty whose teaching and research reflect a value placed on multiple learning styles and multiple approaches to problem-solving can increase the interest of underrepresented minority students in faculty careers.

The Provost's Retreat for Academic Leaders last Spring introduced these ideas to Deans, department chairs, members of university wide APT and UCAR committees. A Faculty Diversity Committee participated in the planning of the Provost's Retreat and considered its recommendations. The Committee is seeking external funding for projects that will allow us to explore more systematically some of Ibarra's hypotheses about the relationship between multicontextuality and faculty diversity. The Committee has also proposed university-wide guidelines for faculty recruitment. These include the following:

  • A systematic plan for faculty recruitment should be incorporated into the strategic plan of every School and department
  • Faculty excellence and faculty diversity should be inextricable goals guiding every School or department's plan for faculty recruitment.
  • Recruiting excellent faculty is an on-going process. If faculty recruitment only occurs when there is a search for a specific faculty position, achieving the most excellent and diverse faculty possible is unlikely.
  • The School or department should encourage faculty to develop a network of excellent faculty colleagues, particularly those in peer institutions, with whom there is on-going communication.
  • New faculty in a school or department, particularly underrepresented minority faculty, should be mentored to facilitate their membership in a network of colleagues, both internal and external.
  • Faculty excellence is related to facilitative environments, both external and internal, and "facilitative environment" may be defined differently by diverse faculty.
  • The School or department and a successful faculty candidate should reach agreement on what constitutes an excellent faculty profile of research and teaching and what constitutes a facilitative environment for producing it.
  • We should be interested in recruiting faculty who have been recognized as excellent researchers but who also (1) have developed innovative teaching strategies which reflect a value placed on multiple learning styles and multiple approaches to problem-solving; (2) are comfortable and effective in teaching students with different learning styles, and (3) are comfortable and effective in teaching courses in their discipline to students who major in other disciplines where different learning styles predominate.

I have been asked: What does diversity have to do with excellence in research or teaching? My response is that it may expand the universe of ideas in the academy and make our teaching, particularly of underrepresented minority students more effective. Professor Katherine Okikiolu, a faculty member at UC San Diego, reflects a multicontextual perspective in her research and teaching that enriches her discipline, her university community and the broader community as well.. She received her Ph.D. in Mathematics from UCLA, did postdoctoral work at Princeton, has taught at Princeton and MIT and is a tenure-track faculty member at UC San Diego. She has drawn from her African heritage to study the linear distortion of drum notes and other types of signals that have important implications for the study of quantum physics. She also uses music to connect inner-city students to mathematical concepts and help them to become interested in mathematics.

Another question frequently asked is how can we achieve faculty diversity and increase department rankings simultaneously? Although highly critical of the U.S. News and World Reports rankings, key university administrators believe the National Research Council rankings to be more appropriate and more influential. Our Schools and departments have been encouraged to make every effort to improve on their previous National Research Council's rankings. Since the National Research Council only publishes its rankings every 10 years and will be publishing again in 2004, the pressures on Schools and departments have been keenly felt. It has been pointed out that factors taken into consideration in computing the rankings include the number of faculty in National Academies, grants made to faculty from prominent grant and fellowship programs, faculty productivity and citations but not faculty diversity. There is no reason, however, that we should not also seek and find faculty who rate highly on those measures but who also do research that utilizes multiple methodologies, is collaborative and cross contextual or addresses critical social problems that require interdisciplinary solutions. There is no reason to believe either that faculty who are comfortable and effective in teaching students with different learning styles or effective in teaching students who major in other disciplines where different learning styles predominate are not likely to be excellent researchers. Moreover, if those skills were actually highly valued in our academic culture, even more of our excellent researchers would develop those skills as well.

There is some anecdotal evidence that underrepresented minority faculty are more likely to be faculty whose teaching and research reflect a value placed on multiple learning styles and multiple approaches to problem-solving. More important is the evidence that suggests that a critical mass of faculty with this value orientation will help to increase retention of underrepresented minority students in undergraduate and graduate programs, to increase the number of these underrepresented minority students who plan to enroll in a Ph.D. program after graduation and, ultimately, to increase the number of underrepresented minority faculty appointed throughout the university.

The commitment to faculty diversity is nothing less than the commitment to an even more excellent faculty than is possible without it. As the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences moves forward with the $100,000,000 plan to recruit senior faculty, I have been assured that this commitment will be strongly reflected in the outcome. Hopefully, other Schools within USC will similarly commit to making faculty diversity a major objective in their strategic plans.