Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse
Barbara Solomon, Vice Provost for Faculty
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
- a performance gap in academic achievement so
that fewer underrepresented minority graduates are eligible for admission to
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.