While many institutions of higher learning discuss the importance of diversity and encourage efforts at inclusion and equity, Kenyon College faculty have taken the unusual next step of writing the concepts into their tenure and promotion guidelines.
The revisions, adopted in an overwhelmingly favorable faculty vote in October, are tantamount to a change in employment terms and take on added significance because they will allow teachers engaged in diversity initiatives to see their efforts benefit them as employees in a way they did not before.
“All we did was put down in writing what all of us wanted to do, anyway. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t controversial. It was really a wonderful thing to experience,” says Dr. Tom Giblin, who helped draft the guideline changes and is an associate professor of physics and chair of the department.
“You don’t get the opportunity to rethink these things a lot. What are our values now and where do we want our classrooms and scholarship to be?”
The changes to evaluation criteria, the first amendments since March 1999, take effect July 1, 2019. Among the explicit ways diversity has been interwoven in the three-page document:
• Affirms teaching excellence as “the sine qua non” for retention and advancement, plus achievement in collegiate citizenship and scholarly or artistic engagement as strong complements: “Woven into each of these criteria is a commitment to fostering an open, respectful, supportive, accessible, and inclusive community of learners.”
• In teaching excellence, cites among seven essential areas “promotion of an inclusive classroom environment that values diversity, takes into consideration students from a broad variety of backgrounds and learning styles, and challenges students to their best efforts.”
• In evaluation of collegiate citizenship, cites “contribution to programs that strengthen inclusivity, diversity or access to liberal education.”
The revisions were the culmination of conversation and work over a protracted period of time.
Prior to the yearlong process of work groups creating changes to recommend for faculty approval, some faculty already were engaged with diversity and equity initiatives and having discussions about how to remove barriers to such faculty endeavors and add incentives, says Dr. Patrick Ewell, an assistant professor of psychology and tenure-track junior faculty member who chaired the action group that developed the language for the new tenure and promotion criteria.
The natural sciences department, with leadership from chemistry professor Dr. John Hofferberth, was an early leader in discussions that soon spread across the college.
The natural sciences division won a 2017 Inclusive Excellence grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an award under the direction of Hofferberth that includes support for a faculty incentive program. The funds supported the creation of action groups to look at ways to promote inclusivity among underrepresented populations in science fields.
Several committees comprised of faculty worked jointly, meeting regularly for about a year to systematically review, research and recommend new language for the updated guidelines.
“What we saw in the old guidelines was a lot of ambiguity about what it means to be an excellent teacher,” says Giblin. “We know what excellent teaching means, but the guidelines were not specific about those things and not reflecting the values of what it means to be an excellent teacher. Being explicit really helps to let the world know what we mean by excellent teaching. It moves us in a direction we were headed, and it shows that the priorities of the institution reflect the priorities of the instructors.”
The changes encourage faculty to continue or begin efforts to promote diversity and inclusion that could be rewarded, from being intentional about including underrepresented groups in research to making lecture styles and class structures more inclusive, says Ewell.
“I think the main way it is going to help is recognize and incentivize those who are already doing these types of things,” he adds. “There were already many people here doing good diversity and inclusion work, but nowhere in the guidelines to specifically reward them. The grant is giving rewards, stipend and research money, to help us incentivize faculty to want to get rewards. We are being incentivized to find out how to incentivize.”
Kenyon president Dr. Sean Decatur says the changes and intentional inclusion of diversity are “critical as a demonstration of our institutional commitment to diversity and inclusion, and also the recognition that this should be work that is embraced as a part of faculty work and responsibilities. As such, it should be something that is recognized as a part of our evaluation process.”
Decatur and others suggest that linking diversity and inclusion efforts to job performance indicates that such important work can no longer be discounted as incidental or inconsequential.
“Too often,” Decatur says, “this is the kind of work that falls in the category of something that is extra or unrecognized. And that had the impact of putting an added burden on those faculty who find it really important and rewarding work. If it’s an institutional priority, we need to find ways to recognize that type of work.”
That’s a refrain being sounded nationally as more voices join the chorus calling for greater recognition and institutionalization of diversity work that matches institutional rhetoric. Conversations about how to increase diversity, inclusion and equity on campuses appear to be reaching a crescendo at many schools and higher ed conferences and among professional organizations, policymakers and other stakeholders.
Dr. Walter Allen, the Allan Murray Cartter Professor of Higher Education and Distinguished Professor of Education, Sociology and African-American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, expressed thoughts similar to Decatur’s when he discussed the issue at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.
During a question-and-answer period following his presentation about the chronic underrepresentation of Black students on college campuses, Allen noted that diversity work championed by some faculty not only tends to be a nonfactor during tenure or promotion evaluation, but sometimes works “to the detriment of their career.”
With no diversity-related boxes to check at review time and some faculty actively working to scuttle effective diversity initiatives, many schools essentially remove any incentive for diversity efforts, Allen told conference attendees.
Another diversity champion at Kenyon, physics professor Dr. Paula Turner, says she hopes the revised tenure and promotion guidelines will motivate more faculty to proactively engage and mentor women and underrepresented students earlier in their undergraduate years and help those groups embrace diversity and inclusion in their research, particularly in science fields.
“I think the real benefit is that now it becomes clearer to people who want to work on diversity that it won’t be missed when they apply for tenure or promotion,” says Turner. “For years, people have done the work and it has been viewed as important. For those unsure of whether to invest the time in doing it, this is a way of saying, ‘This counts.’ And that positive affirmation of the work that some are doing to broaden access to new-majority students is a powerful statement as an institution.”
Decatur says the updated guidelines inspire optimism as the college seeks to make progress on diversity and other priorities, adding that he is pleased that the effort “came from the ground up as a faculty initiative” and enjoys critical college-wide support.
The results ultimately will benefit students, who may not know much about faculty evaluation and tenure processes but desire an inclusive and equitable campus climate, predicts Decatur.
“What I think it symbolizes is the institution is embracing, and embracing in a deep and thorough way with the faculty as leaders, the principles and value of diversity and inclusion in the mission of the institution,” he says. “For students who are interested in an institution committed to diversity and inclusion, it’s important to look for signs that the institution is truly living up to those priorities and expectations in all aspects of its work. That’s a sign of how deep the commitment is.”
LaMont Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones.
This article appeared in the December 27, 2018 edition of Diverse.