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Mission Possible: Three disparate institutions raise the bar nationwide for recruiting and retaining an ethnically diverse faculty

Mission PossibleThree disparate institutions raise the bar nationwide for recruiting and retaining an ethnically diverse facultyBy Kendra HamiltonIncreases in faculty diversity tend to come slowly and incrementally — a few percentage points here, a few percentage points there. But aggressive moves by three quite disparate institutions are raising eyebrows — and raising the bar for schools nationwide as they struggle to jump-start their recruitment and retention programs.
In New York state, they’re starting to call it “the RIT model.” For two years running, at least 30 percent of Rochester Institute of Technology’s new faculty hires have been from underrepresented minority groups.
Of course, robust percentages can mask numbers that are far more anemic, but RIT’s numbers are by no means insignificant: Out of 86 faculty appointments in 2002-2003, 26, or 31 percent, were African American, Latino American or American Indian —”AALANA” groups, as RIT designates them. Faculty hires went down a bit for 2003-2004 — to 57 — but again 17, or 30 percent, were from underrepresented groups, says Renee Baker, manager of faculty recruitment. Underrepresented minorities are now 7.1 percent of the roughly 900 full-time faculty at RIT, up from 4.1 percent in 2001-2002.
Considering the changes in RIT’s student body and the competition for diverse faculty, it is no small wonder that people are trying to figure out what’s going on at RIT. The school raised its admissions standards while still managing to attract freshman classes that are 10 percent AALANA. As well, in the fields from which RIT recruits faculty, no more than 6 percent of the Ph.D.s go to underrepresented groups, says Dr. Albert Simone, RIT’s president.
But RIT’s formula is, in fact, pretty simple, Simone says. “It requires committed and dedicated leadership operating in a reasoned way, but willing to take strong measures. And you have to start at the top — with the president, yes, but also with the vice presidents as leaders of their divisions, the deans as leaders of their colleges, the chairs as leaders of their departments. There has to be committed leadership up and down the organization.”
Officials at two other national diversity standouts — California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) — wholeheartedly agree.
“At CSULA we’re lucky to have the leadership of (President) Jim Rosser,” says Dr. Herman Lujan, the provost and vice president of academic affairs. Rosser’s 25-year tenure makes him the longest serving African American president of a traditionally White land-grant institution.
But the school’s diversity commitment does not begin and end at the top. Lujan is quick to point out that people of color are central to the leadership cadre at CSULA. Hispanics serve at the key vice presidential posts of academic affairs and finance, and the vice president for communications is an Asian-Pacific Islander, Lujan adds.
Indeed, while a recent survey lashed the CSU system as a whole — noting that there are 14 campuses in which the White faculty outnumber the Whites in the service population by 20 percent and eight campuses with a 30 percent gap between the Latinos on the faculty and those in the service population — it also pointed out that Cal State-LA is in a class by itself.
With a student body that’s 84.4 percent minority, it’s already one of the most diverse institutions in the nation: 51.3 percent Hispanic, 24.3 percent Asian-Pacific Islander, 8.4 percent African American and .4 percent American Indian. The school also has the highest percentage of minority faculty in the CSU system. In 2002, 50.9 percent of new faculty appointments went to people of color.
“For the system as a whole, the number is around 28 percent, so we’re almost double. And in some ways that’s understandable in that we are located in the heart of Los Angeles. You know, nearly 100 languages are spoken on this campus in a given day. That’s how diverse we are,” Lujan explains. “But for us, it’s a matter of internal commitment and external opportunity. And it’s also a matter of a sustained approach in hiring year in, year out.”
Dr. Walter V. Wendler, chancellor of SIU-Carbondale, is determined to build that sustained approach in hiring at his institution. That’s why he opened the 2003-2004 school year by announcing a $1 million initiative to attract and retain a more ethnically diverse faculty.
Wendler says he’s hearing the question: Why now? “And it’s a good question. We’ve laid people off here at SIUC — it’s been a very tough time for us financially. But we feel now is exactly the right time to take this initiative.”
Diversity is an important part of SIUC’s institutional heritage. “We’re proud to tell the world that James Rosser is a three-time graduate of SIUC. He got each of his degrees here,” Wendler notes.
Not only were there African Americans in the school’s first graduating class — way back in the 1870s — but the school has had a longstanding commitment to the disabled. “By 1960, we were essentially (American Disabilities Act)-compliant, and there was no ADA,” Wendler says.
As of last year, minorities held 183, or 12 percent, of SIUC’s 1,513 faculty positions, a figure that compares quite favorably to national averages. The 2002 Digest of Education statistics says the number of minorities among full-time instructional faculty was 14.4 percent — 7.6 percent for underrepresented faculty. Preparing for the Long Term
But officials stress that “comparing favorably” is just not good enough if one wants to be prepared for the long-term demographic shifts that are the objective factors in determining whether an institution will fail or thrive.
Currently, people of color are around 28 percent of the nation’s population. But looking at long-term Census projections, “around the year 2016, Caucasians will start to decline, and by 2050 the majority of people in this country will be people of color,”
Simone explains.
“At the same time, the leadership class of this country, the people retiring from the professions, will be Caucasians, and the people replacing them will be people of color. So what that means is that if we want our grandkids to have the same quality of life that we do, or an improved quality of life, we as educators and as a nation have got to make sure that (underrepresented minorities) are being educated at the same rate as the White population.”
For Simone, this is the critical link in the “reasoned” case that he’s been building at his institution in support of diversity.
“Here at RIT, we are a technologically driven, career-focused institution whose job is preparing kids to excel in the work force. What that means is that, more and more, they’ll be working with people of color as peers, reporting to them, hiring them, partnering with them in joint ventures not just here in the United States but all around the world. If we’re going to prepare our students for success, they have to be comfortable with other cultures,” Simone adds.
But talk won’t turn the trick. What’s required is a plan to move the organization forward: one that includes building commitment at all levels of leadership, putting procedures in place and money on the table to fund them, and last, but certainly not least, demanding accountability.
At RIT, Simone says, he talked about diversity for 11 years — starting with his very first opening day speech. Nothing changed until he made it clear to leaders in his organization that “one of the two most important things they had to do was increase the AALANA hiring — and if they couldn’t do that, I let them know I was going to have to find someone who was capable of doing the job.”
But Simone made sure that his team had all the tools they needed to get the job done first. He got his board of trustees to lead a “diversity day” for 300 top institutional leaders, with keynote addresses by the chairman of Eastman Kodak and Dr. John Brooks Slaughter of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME). He followed that up by funding a diversity survey whose results are expected in the spring. And he also set aside $1 million to allow departments and deans to go after top candidates.
“So we made it clear we had the commitment at the highest levels of the institution. We gave them the reasoned argument backed by the threat of the hammer to convey a sense of urgency and timing,” Simone says.
The results tend to speak for themselves. But RIT has no intention of resting on its laurels. In an effort to “grow their own” future faculty, they’ve created two innovative programs.
The first program RIT calls the Future Faculty Career Exploration Program, says Baker, manager of faculty recruitment, and it involves bringing students who are nearing completion of their doctoral training to Rochester to receive “the RIT treatment.”
Early in October, for example, RIT hosted 13 students hailing from top programs at Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Nebraska, among others, for a weekend of campus and community tours and meetings with deans, department heads and, of course, Simone.
In addition, RIT has created a faculty exchange partnership with historically Black Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. RIT’s renowned finance guru, Dr. Bob Manning, is currently down in Nashville teaching his popular courses on credit card debt and financial literacy.
“It’s a good fit. They’re small; we’re big. They need diversity, too. They don’t have many White folks, so we’re going to give them some of those,” Simone says. The Cost of Innovation
The need is not quite as urgent at CSULA, in part because the school has certain natural advantages over others just by virtue of its location.
“If you enjoy what the world is evolving into, then Cal State-LA is one of the centers of that globally. So what that means is that the amenities of life that people require when they’re not on campus are available in a very attractive way. And there’s support in the external community — you feel ‘connected.’ That’s something we can offer that other schools have a hard time offering,” Lujan says.
But there’s still the need to compete with other California schools. So last year CSULA began targeting “startup funds” — in other words, the labs, office space and equipment purchases that permit new hires to “hit the ground running” on a new assignment.
“Seven or eight years ago, we weren’t even paying startup funds,” Lujan says. “And now we do — particularly for the underrepresented groups because that’s how we attract them.”
But the costs, he adds, can be considerable. Sometimes the issue is simply needing another $20,000 to hire, say, an outstanding candidate in chemistry. “And the dean is out of money and the person that left was making two-thirds of that,” Lujan says.
And then there are the equipment purchases. “We just had to buy a new spectrometer for the campus,” Lujan notes. “It cost us $600,000 bucks, but we needed that to facilitate the research of our young faculty — a number of whom are persons of color, including the chief professor who got the grant” that necessitated the purchase.
The $1 million set aside at SIUC, meanwhile, has a specific purpose, Wendler says. “We’re going to use it as a rotating loan fund to encourage our deans and department heads to seek the deepest and broadest pools of potential candidates,” he explains. “This traditional approach of putting out ads and waiting for the CVs to flow in — that’s not enough. We’re going to look at some innovative approaches. We’re really going to beat the bushes.”
Sometimes the money will be used to “spice up a line,” add perks or meet a salary demand for a particularly desirable candidate. Other times, the funds will target “opportunity hires”— candidates for whom there’s not yet a line available, hired against the day a vacancy appears in the department.
“The bottom line is, this place is about reaching out. If you look around, you won’t see a lot of BMWs. This is a lunch-pail crowd. We have historically and we still have a high percentage of people who are the first in their families to attend college,” Wendler says.
Just as SIUC has reached out to the people of southern Illinois, giving them the tools to better their lives, it is reaching out to minorities.
“As it happens, top candidates are now in very high demand, and so we’ve sent the message out that we have to compete for them the same way we compete for quarterbacks on the football team,” Wendler says. “We’re going to work hard to get them here and support them once they get here. That’s my goal and the goal of the provost.” 

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