UW News

October 10, 2023

Fostering a more diverse faculty: How the new Vice Provost for Academic Personnel aims to build an office of ‘Faculty Success’

UW News

man wearing business suit

Fred Muyia Nafukho joined the UW earlier this year as the vice provost for academic personnel and a professor of management and organization.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

In 1996, two Kenyan scholars were awarded Fulbright Scholarships — honors the U.S. Department of State grants to promising young academics worldwide.

Fred Muyia Nafukho, who joined the University of Washington earlier this year as the vice provost for academic personnel, vividly remembers the day he was called to the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.

Nafukho learned he would attend Louisiana State University, but his colleague, the other Kenyan awardee that year, was going to “the finest and best university in the United States,” Nafukho remembers an attaché saying.

“She said, ‘The University of Washington, not in D.C., but in Seattle.’ That’s the first time I heard about the University of Washington,” Nafukho recalled in a recent interview.

Decades later, his colleague has returned to Kenya and is a preeminent scientist there. Nafukho stayed in the U.S., where he’s built a reputation of advancing equity and inclusion, most recently as the senior associate dean for faculty affairs at Texas A&M University.

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Since February, Nafukho has been on a tour of the UW, listening, observing and learning.

“I have seen the mission threads of inclusive excellence, including diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, not only emphasized by the leadership at the UW, but also practiced,” Nafukho said.

According to a report by the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel, the UW had more than 4,800 professorial faculty members in 2022. Of those members,3,092 whose race was reported were white and 2,592 were male, roughly 54%. Of the remaining faculty, 881 were Asian, 247 were Hispanic, 137 were Black, 23 were American Indian, and seven were Pacific Islander.

While more work remains, Nafukho said the success in hiring diverse faculty is a result of multiple programs the UW has in place and of a comprehensive approach from university leaders, what he calls “Shared Equity Leadership.”

“It requires all of us leaders across the university in our tri-campus system to work together,” Nafukho said.

While encouraging, faculty-hiring figures fluctuate year to year and are dependent on a variety of factors, including retirements. As a result, Nafukho said, the UW instead should measure success by focusing on a supportive learning and working environment that builds a sense of belonging. In that way, he aims to transform the Office of Academic Personnel into what he calls the office of “Faculty Success.”

That begins with intentional faculty recruitment, development, and retention, Nafukho said, and by scaling existing successful programs.

Chadwick Allen, the associate vice provost for faculty advancement, works with hiring teams across the university to implement practices that interrupt bias.

“Everyone thinks they know how to do this well, and then they really start doing it and realize the complexity,” he said. “Particularly if people are trying to diversify their hiring pools of applicants.”

Allen said much of his work is about intentionally changing the culture and redefining how various fields define excellence.

Because various disciplines have different entrenched cultures, no one approach to diversification is effective across the board.

The UW’s ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change has been advocating for women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields since 2001. Originally funded by the National Science Foundation, the center’s work today is supported by academic units including the College of Engineering, the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of the Environment, and the Office of the Provost.

In 2004, more than a decade before ascending to her role as UW President, Ana Mari Cauce was a principal investigator for ADVANCE. Today, Joyce Yen is the center’s full-time director.

“We can see over the course of those 20-plus years increases in not only the number of women faculty, but also the diversity of those women faculty in terms of race and ethnicity,” Yen said.

It’s more than just hiring. It’s also about creating a professional development ecosystem that supports faculty at different stages throughout their career, she said. Because the UW must compete with well-resourced industry jobs and higher salaries at private universities, fostering community on campus is key to retention.

“Multiple people have told me that part of the reason they stay at the UW is because of the community that they found through our resources,” Yen said. “We’re not the only thing, but we’re part of the equation that contributes to their sense of belonging, their sense of connection, and feeling valued at the university.”

Different efforts have taken shape across the UW, including the Faculty Development Program, led by Alexes Harris, a UW Faculty Regent and a professor of sociology.

At UW Medicine, creating an environment where all professionals can thrive is vital to the success of delivering quality health care, said Paula Houston, UW Medicine’s chief equity officer and an affiliate professor of family medicine.

That includes a variety of opportunities for early career faculty, such as the Success for Underrepresented Faculty (SURF) Program. Now run by Dr. Michelle Terry, a clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the assistant dean for Underrepresented in Medicine and Science (URMS) Career Development, SURF creates community and help foster skills to succeed in academia.

Another program, Rising Leaders, is a cohort of mid-career professionals, many of whom identify as URMS, with the aim of diversifying leadership.

People on the outside of the organization can peer in and see faculty who represent the communities we serve who are successful and being tapped for senior roles, Houston said.

“As they get into leadership positions, they have the opportunity to create pathways for other underrepresented or systemically marginalized people to come into the organization,” she said.

While UW Medicine has made strides forward in the past several years, it’s important to continue to reach out to young people from diverse communities to pursue higher education and medicine. The Office of Healthcare Equity, led by Houston, does this through the programs in the the Center for Workforce Inclusion and Health System Equity (WIHSE). Through focused community outreach and advocacy, these programs develop the ecosystem from which we can engage young people to pursue careers in healthcare and thus become our future leaders.

Across the university, too, there’s more work that needs to be done, Nafukho said. He’s hopeful that academic departments will use their discretionary budgets to fund collaborative efforts that build camaraderie.

In 2021, then-Provost Mark Richards announced a multimillion-dollar effort to diversify UW’s faculty. This year, Tricia Serio begins her work as provost, including an intentional effort to build on the programs Richards initiated.

For now, Nafukho said he’s confirmed what he heard many years ago at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.

“The UW is one of the finest and best universities in the United States,” he said. “So in the Office of Academic Personnel we are committed to becoming the office of faculty success.”

He called for ongoing cooperation, working across academic units, colleges, schools and campuses.

“We have to work collaboratively with others across the university. Working in silos cannot take us far,” Nafukho said. “I strongly believe that when our faculty are successful, they in turn ensure that our students are successful.”