UW News

September 27, 2016

UW works to boost faculty diversity through recruitment and retention efforts

News and Information

New faculty members at training session

New UW faculty members attend a training session in early September.Mark Stone

Like post-secondary schools across the country, the University of Washington has struggled to attract and retain a talented, diverse faculty.

But efforts that have been quietly underway for a few years are starting to pay off, attracting top-level candidates to the UW even over schools that are able to offer bigger salaries and more perks. That work involves not simply convincing excellent candidates to come to the UW, but creating a supportive and inclusive environment that prompts them to stay, said Chadwick Allen, the UW’s associate vice provost for faculty advancement, who was hired in 2015 to help increase faculty diversity on campus.

“The money helps. We know that,” Allen said. “But after a certain threshold, we still need to compete in other ways. It’s not just about the money.”

Over the last four years, the UW’s Office for Faculty Advancement has helped recruit close to 50 faculty members whose work contributes to campus diversity and inclusion — many of these from historically underrepresented groups — including 18 starting this fall, through a multipronged approach that considers everything from how positions are advertised to helping faculty members balance competing demands for their time.

That starts with appealing to highly skilled candidates. To that end, faculty representatives attend academic conferences to scout for potential candidates, introduce themselves and talk up the university. The university has started jointly advertising positions in multiple departments focused on areas of study involving minority populations to signal to applicants that they would have potential allies on campus.

Faculty from various departments and schools also serve on each other’s search committees and meet with candidates. Last year, for example, the university brought four African-American female candidates to campus to interview for a position in black feminism in the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies and coordinated their visits with the Department of American Ethnic Studies, which was hiring for a position focused on African-American history.

‘A network of people’

When applicants come for interviews, Allen encourages the hiring unit to arrange for them to meet with faculty members or graduate students from other departments whose work intersects with theirs. It can also be helpful to provide opportunities for candidates to meet other people from underrepresented backgrounds on campus and to let them know about social and cultural aspects of Seattle that might interest them. Knowing they will become part of a larger diverse community can make a critical difference for minority candidates who might otherwise feel isolated, Allen said.

“Everyone wants a community,” he said. “And that doesn’t have to be in the same department, but you want to know there’s a network of people who understand your work, who you can collaborate with, an intellectual community as well as a social community.”

Rickey Hall, the UW’s new vice president for the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity and chief diversity officer, sees recruiting a diverse faculty as the purview not only of administrators, but also of faculty and staff. He encourages faculty members who meet promising candidates at meetings or other events to let them know about the UW or even ask them to send their CV.

“Diversity and inclusion is everybody’s everyday responsibility,” said Hall, who started his position in August. “The type of faculty we want to have here at the University of Washington — top-notch, top-tier researchers — everybody’s going to be going after those folks. We need to be recruiting all the time.”

For Hall, those efforts start with building a pipeline of minority students who can become the next generation of UW faculty. That means exposing undergraduates to research early with the goal of sparking their interest in academic careers, he said, and informing them about the appeal of life as a faculty member.

“We need to do a better job of talking about that, to undergraduate students and certainly to graduate students,” he said.

‘Everyone comes knocking’

But hiring a diverse and inclusive faculty is only half the challenge. Keeping people long-term is perhaps even more difficult.

The UW’s hiring and retention efforts are bolstered by $1 million in funding this academic year, including a first-time allocation of $500,000 earmarked for retention. The UW has traditionally done a good job of hiring and supporting junior faculty members, Allen said, but as their careers ascend through major grants, book publishing or high-profile research, they are at risk of being hired away by other universities.

“People from underrepresented backgrounds, if they’re at all good — and anyone who’s gotten a job here is good — have many, many options,” Allen said. “We often hire really well at the junior level, we mentor these colleagues well, we nurture their careers, and the minute they get national attention, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, everyone comes knocking.”

A cornerstone of the UW’s retention effort is its membership in the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, a Detroit-based company that provides workshops and intensive mentoring to help all faculty, but especially women and people from underrepresented backgrounds, move forward in their careers while balancing competing demands. That balance can be particularly challenging for underrepresented faculty members, who are often sought out for committees that would otherwise lack diversity. Additionally, minority graduate and professional students frequently request women and faculty of color as advisers, Allen said.

“If there’s a department with nine white men and one woman of color, who gets asked to be on every committee?” he said. “It’s hard to say no when you get asked.”

Efforts to boost faculty diversity dovetail with the university’s Race and Equity Initiative launched in 2015.

Efforts to boost faculty diversity dovetail with the university’s Race and Equity Initiative launched in 2015.Mark Stone

Last year, the UW paid for 20 faculty members across its three campuses to go through the center’s 12-week Faculty Success Program, also known as its “boot camp,” at a cost of $3,250 each. In a follow-up survey, 91 percent of participants said their work-life balance had improved after participating in the program and 100 percent reported increased productivity.

University leaders are also focused on the need to create an inclusive and diverse culture at the departmental level. With approximately 2,200 tenured and tenure-track faculty members across 16 colleges and schools, that’s no easy task, said Norma Rodriguez, director of the UW Office for Faculty Advancement.

“These are complex issues, because departments have their own localized culture, and then the college has a culture, and the university has a culture,” she said. “We want departments and units to think about culture at the local level and how they can positively affect that to contribute to retention.”

Efforts to increase faculty diversity at the UW dovetail with the university’s Race and Equity Initiative, launched by President Ana Mari Cauce in April 2015 to combat institutional bias by actively encouraging dialogue and engaging the community. Hall said the commitment of Cauce and other university leaders to make meaningful changes around diversity — along with the UW’s “cutting-edge” programs to support academic achievement among underrepresented students — were significant factors in his decision to take the job.

“The University of Washington has a long and storied history in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion. It hasn’t always been good, but the leadership is really committed to struggling with some difficult issues,” he said.

“There are people here who are committed to making this a place that is welcoming, inclusive and affirming of all our students, faculty and staff.”

Allen said faculty diversity is both a local and national challenge that requires a multigenerational approach.

“Our success has to be measured in more than one way,” he said. “How fair and effective are our processes for recruitment and retention? How inclusive are we able to make our colleges and schools? How well does our faculty support the needs of our diverse student body and of our diverse communities?

“And, perhaps most important, we need to think about what we are doing to help produce a larger cohort of diverse graduate and professional students who can become the faculty of the future.”