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How to Improve Faculty Diversity Through Inclusive Hiring and Retention Practices

Episode 33

November 3, 2020 35 minutes


Every year the student population across college campuses grows more diverse while the faculty ranks remain overwhelmingly white. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education Executive Editor, David Pluviose joins EAB’s Rachel Tanner to examine the problem and offer concrete steps university leaders can take to change things for the better.

While achieving diversity in faculty hiring has always been the morally right thing to do, Mr. Pluviose also explores the business case for inclusive hiring and retention practices. He also explains why current hiring freezes do not have to be an impediment to progress-and shares the importance of supporting students of color and preparing them for careers in higher education.



0:00:12.3 Matt Pellish: From EAB, I’m Matt Pellish and this is Office Hours. In 2014, for the first time, the population in American public schools became majority minority and this shift has led to college university campuses also growing more diverse but at the exact same time, faculty diversity has barely moved in the last 20 years. On today’s episode, we’re joined by Executive Editor of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, David Pluviose, who sits down with EAB’s Rachel Tanner to talk faculty diversity and offer some concrete steps that universities can take to change things for the better.

0:00:44.4 MP: It’s easy to argue that achieving diversity and hiring for faculty is the morally right thing to do but David’s also gonna talk us through the business case and why current hiring freezes, which are a universal way to save money in the midst of COVID and economic downturn, they don’t have to be a barrier to success and finally, Rachel and Dave will talk about the importance of grooming students of color for careers in higher education and of supporting them along their journey. Thanks for listening and welcome to Office Hours with EAB.


0:01:18.1 Rachel Tanner: Well, hello out there Office Hours listeners. This is Rachel Tanner, I’m a Director in EAB’s Research Department and I am recording today from my home in beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the sun just came out and is shining upon me, which makes me very happy and I’m really excited to be here with you today because as anyone who’s ever met me knows, I’m a huge podcast and radio nerd and have always harbored a not-so secret dream of being a radio host so they get to start my new career today, don’t tell my manager and I’m actually really excited too that I am joined by David Pluviose today who is the Executive Editor for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. It’s a publication that focuses on news and information about diversity and multiculturalism in American higher education. So David, thank you for dropping by our office hours and helping me realize my radio dreams.

0:02:19.6 David Pluviose: Thank you so much Rachel.

0:02:21.7 RT: So David, for those of our listeners who don’t have Diverse as a bookmark on their browser tab yet, why don’t you tell us a couple of the stories or trends that you guys have been tracking that have been particularly interesting to you recently?

0:02:38.5 DP: Thanks so much, Rachel. It’s so good to be here with all of you. Some of the issues that we have been tracking, I think one of the most important stories out there in higher education right now is with regards to who is not coming back to college. We know that privileged students, even in the pandemic, even though they were told to go home, by and large, their homes were large enough, they had dedicated study spaces at home, they didn’t have an issue with internet access, they didn’t have an issue with technology, of course. The disruption was universal but for privileged students, my sense is, by and large, they were able to make the necessary accommodations to continue along their college path but one of the most interesting and important stories is, who is being left behind amid this initial rush to go online.

0:03:56.3 DP: If I’m a student, I’m a first-generation student, I’m first in my family to go to college and have overcome a number of barriers and if I am going into school in a pandemic, I might be the first to be left behind. So I think that that’s one of the most important stories, who’s being left behind and what can be done to allow underprivileged students the opportunity to come back. So I think that’s one of the most important stories.

0:04:37.8 DP: Another one that I think that we all need to look at is, what happens to diversity initiatives when budgets get cut? Over the years, of course, when institutions have had a financial difficulty of various kinds, we’re always tracking. Alright, do you come for the chief diversity officer and their staff? Is diversity a luxury or a necessity? And so I think that that’s another story that we’re tracking to see. Alright, in lean times, we get to see what institutions believe when it comes to diversity. Is it a necessity or a luxury? And so just looking to see what importance institutions place on diversity as they’re cutting some budget. So this is a couple of stories, Rachel, that I see that are important these days.

0:05:37.8 RT: Yeah, and I think that this is a moment where we are having a lot of reflection across the entire country on these big questions of diversity and equity and they often do, as they should, revolve around students and who’s getting left behind, as you mentioned. One of the parts of those discussions though that I find often get ignored and one of the reasons why we asked you to come and have this conversation today is the way that it relates to faculty on campus though.

0:06:09.7 RT: We’re always very interested in making sure students have clear pathways to a college degree or equitable pathways to making sure they feel a sense of belonging on our campuses but it’s also really important in that work to make sure that we have a diverse faculty body that they also feel a sense of belonging on campuses and just as you’re talking about with diversity initiatives, often those kinds of initiatives are the first to go when budgets get tight so we know that hiring diverse faculty is the moral thing to do, we know it’s the ethical thing to do but what do you tell to administrators who are looking at their bottom lines and wondering if there’s a business case for making sure that your faculty is diverse and feels included on campus?

0:07:05.2 DP: Thanks Rachel. Great question and I think that it has been proven, there’s all kinds of research that proves that diverse organizations perform better than homogeneous organizations. There is a business case to be made that across the board organizations of all kinds have better returns, have better results, better outcomes when the participants come from various backgrounds. They bring different strengths at the table, they bring different experiences to the table and so when it comes to serving their customers, no matter who they are because their team is diverse, their team is better equipped to provide that service and that’s just across the board but certainly in the business world so much literature has been written about…

0:08:08.7 DP: Even if you do not want diversity, even if you’re not comfortable with diversity, if you would like to see more profits, then do it for your pocketbook, do it for your pocket book. Field a diverse team and the same goes for higher education. The same goes for higher education. Rachel, the fact of the matter is, is that the student population is not gonna become more homogeneous as we progress. Its becoming more diverse. America is becoming more… If you look at the census, the majority-minority prospect is going to be real, at institutions across the board.

0:09:00.3 DP: We know the students are more diverse. What we also know Rachel, is that diverse students perform better when they have professors that look like them so it behooves institutions, institutions that want to see higher graduation rates, well, you’re gonna help your diverse students graduate at a better rate if you have diverse faculty teaching them and so Rachel, it’s been proven, you know it’s the right thing to do but if you look at even historically black colleges for instance and we talk about the HBCU experience and we know that statistics have proven that HBCU graduates are over-represented among judges and doctors and lawyers and all kinds of professionals why, because the culture is built to invest in the minority student, right? They have the platform for success and so when they come out into the world they are advantaged.

0:10:09.7 DP: It’s not only HBCUs that can provide that culture and climate of nurture for minority students. Majority of schools can do that as well but if their faculty is homogenous, then that’s just not gonna happen, Rachel. In fact, I saw a statistic, this was from Pew. Pew did an article on tracking diversity trends, faculty relative to students from 1997 to 2007. It showed a marked increase in terms of students becoming more and more diverse in those 10 years but faculty trends are just flattened so across the board, Rachel, students are becoming more diverse but across the board faculty numbers are more stagnant and I believe that beyond the fact that it’s the right thing to do, if institutions want better outcomes, want higher graduation rates, want alums that are making good salaries and are gonna come and give back to the institutions, want alums that care about their institution, that think fondly about their experience at their institutions, it behooves them to make sure that the increasing diversity in their student body is matched in faculty ranks.

0:11:42.5 DP: So Rachel, I think it’s just clear on a number of levels. It’s the right thing to do but should the institution want to improve its metrics? Should the institution want to have graduates who think fondly of their experience and are giving back it’s gonna help their bottom line to keep a focus on diversity.

0:12:03.9 RT: Now, wow, you really covered every element there from outcomes to success, to alumni giving so obviously it’s clear across the board. It’s the right thing to make sure that your faculty is as representative as possible of your student body so let’s talk for a little bit about the house. We know we need to be making some movement, some change here but there’s a big question of how particularly right now at a time when I think as they say, we’re not in hiring freezes but we’re definitely seeing some hiring chills, fewer faculty hires to be made than we would have liked at this moment. What can schools be doing to make sure that they are developing a pool of diverse candidates for openings, faculty openings right now and in the future as we move forward?

0:13:05.2 DP: Well, we did an article recently. In fact, a couple of articles that offered some tips and I think that one of the most important elements when it comes to diverse faculty hiring is having diversity ingrained at the departmental level, at the level at which decisions are made with regards to hiring faculty. We talk a lot about chief diversity officers that look at an institution holistically and a lot of fanfare is sometimes given. We’ve hired this chief diversity officer but the real work of diversity happens at the departmental level, happens in those faculty searches.

0:14:02.0 DP: One of the problems that we have is that a search process can be insular. It can have outcomes that are homogeneous and so much we know that we have a problem with faculty diversity but if those searches are not intentionally diverse, both in terms of who is conducting them and in terms of desired outcomes, not much is going to change.

0:14:27.0 DP: So there’s a piece recently that said, “Hey listen, at the department level, we need to have faculty equity advisors involved in every single search” because if the search is comprised of faculty, the reality is gonna be majority, right? Because if most of your faculty are majority, most of your faculty are white, if you are looking for a search committee, that’s what is going to happen and so the problem that we see is gonna continue to perpetuate itself.

0:14:58.4 DP: One of the most important things that has to happen is at the departmental level and you might have to go outside the department. You need what our cause called a faculty equity advisor. Intentionally, somebody who is involved in every search, somebody who is in tune to implicit bias and how that can affect searches and a lot of times it’s not intentional, Rachel, that’s why we call it an implicit bias, right? You don’t think that there is bias but the reality is, if your search, the people who are involved in your search look the same with the same backgrounds, by and large, they will prefer in hiring someone who’s just like them.

0:15:47.3 DP: So recognizing that implicit bias. Having an equity advisor, even if you have to pull from another department and every search tuned in through a bias. I think that that’s one of the most important steps that has to be taken at the department level should we wanna see progress in terms of diverse hiring for faculty.

0:16:09.2 RT: Yeah, I love that idea. Almost like providing an ombuds for your search committee, somebody who is paying attention to not just who you’re hiring but how you’re hiring as well. Do you have any other tips for search committees when it comes to making sure that hiring practices are equitable so that all of those diverse candidates you have in your pool have an easy or an equitable shot at the short…

0:16:43.6 DP: It’s interesting and you made me think of the pandemic. What we all know, the difficulties with regards to the pandemic, financially and otherwise but what are the opportunities? One of the opportunities is no travel expenses, is you can interview anybody at any time, anywhere. One of the historical we talk about in football, the Rooney Rule. If you’re looking for NFL coach that’s diverse, you need to have… It’s just codified. You’ve gotta have a diverse candidate in the pool and of course that has to happen. A lot of people involved in search will say “Hey listen, we can’t find a diverse scholar in this discipline.” But I think that that Rooney Rule needs to be in place because now Rachel, it doesn’t matter where. They could be in Alaska, they could be overseas, they could be in any country in the world. You can have anybody come in via Zoom or some other platform on to be on the interview.

0:18:09.5 DP: The other, I think, important step that could be taken is a Rooney Rule, make it intentional. Make it intentional. If your search, it has seven people, people from majority background and you say you can’t find… You need to pause the search. You need to pause the search and make a requirement, Rachel. I think that it requires that level of intentionality, should we wanna see progress.

0:18:41.1 RT: Interesting. So you advocate not just diversity goal in your application pool but even as you’re moving through the process and shortening the list of potential candidates to continue to set diversity goals for yourself and your committee.

0:18:57.3 DP: Absolutely. Hold yourself accountable and we know that yes, any other day it might not be but holding yourself accountable in that way I think will produce results and has, I believe, as well.

0:19:12.3 RT: Yeah, interesting. So once you put all of that effort and time and reflection into your search process and you hire someone who is excellent and from a diverse background, you have to also make sure that you can keep them. So this sort of looks at the other side of the DEI triangle when it comes to faculty so not just hiring and making sure you have a representative faculty body but ensuring that those folks feel a sense of belonging on campus. So when we think about inclusiveness or inclusion and faculty, what are some of the tips that you give to higher ed leaders for ensuring that they are able to keep the smart, talented and diverse folks that they hire?

0:20:04.3 DP: One is just recognition of the challenge, Rachel. One issue that happens often is that the minority scholar is lonely many times, in many departments. They are one of a handful and so a lot of fanfare can be exhibited once a hire is made, we have found somebody, we’ve hired them but one of the challenges I think is, for many institutions, they may think their job is done but the reality is there has to be a recognition of the challenges unique to the minority faculty member.

0:20:51.4 DP: One wrote a column for us recently and he said, “Yeah, yeah, they bring us in. They brought me in. I was excited. I was giving my ideas but when it came to having a seat at a table in the department, I felt isolated. When it came to dealing with students, they will look at me and say “Wow, is this my professor”?” And so the experience can be very isolating and to the extent that institutions feel that once they had a cluster of hire and half were minorities and they are done, that is half the battle, Rachel. The other half is to create a climate where minority scholars feel value, they feel like they have mobility because if they come in, Rachel and they believe that they were window dressing, they believe that there was some tokenism happening. They’re not getting mentored.

0:22:01.2 DP: The reality is that if we talk about our tenure promotion process, I always say I most think that it’s intentionally vague in so much you have to be in the club, you have to have the right mentor, you have to have the right relationship so somebody can… He tells you, “Hey, here’s the secret sauce. This is how you get tenure… ” and so that is still there. That climate is still there and so I think that that’s just… It’s important, the whole mentoring piece.

0:22:35.3 DP: Be intentional, you already know that they’re by themselves, they’re gonna be lonely, they’re gonna have issues so I think institutions need to be intentional with mentoring programs for junior minority faculty and you also have to be intentional in terms of giving these minority faculty the sensation that they have a future. An article we wrote recently said “Hey, one of the things that could be helpful, early career named professorships.” Give the junior minority faculty the sense that they have a future at that institution and make it clear. Tenure promotion does not need to be as intentionally opaque as it is. Get somebody, intentionally say, “Hey, we wanna invest in you. We want you, to see you succeed in this department. We are looking for you in five years to achieve tenure and here are some of the things that we want to see.” Alright?

0:23:36.9 DP: And so I think that professional development opportunities; be intentional, be intentional with regards to named professorships, opportunities. Be intentional in terms of the mentoring, understanding the unique challenge and the loneliness, Rachel, that the minority faculty can experience once the cameras are turned off and they get to the nitty-gritty, it can be a lonely road and retention is a problem.

0:24:10.1 DP: They will get out as soon as they can. So I think that we just have… There has to be an understanding that hiring them is half the battle but supporting them, nurturing them, mentoring them, making them feel like they are part of the family, making them feel like they have a future. You’ve got to have programs that are intentional along these lines, should institutions want their young minority faculty to stay.

0:24:36.2 RT: Yeah, I think that point that you make about the named professorships is a really important one and a tactic or strategy that often schools don’t think of, that there’s one school I remember talking to who they had a target of opportunity higher and named the professorship and instantly saw more competitive applications for it and so it’s important. I think that’s a helpful tactic for both hiring and for making the candidates who end up in the position feel more valued within the community.

0:25:09.8 RT: I wanna go back to this mentorship topic though ’cause I think it’s really important and I think that it’s very easy to stay sort of abstract about what good mentorship looks like and how to set up good mentorship that helps folks from very diverse backgrounds feel comfortable and belong and feel like they’re being developed for a long-term tenure at the institution. What are some of the, I guess hallmarks of a good mentoring relationship? What are some of the things that schools can do to make sure when they’re being intentional, that their mentorship relationships with young faculty are going to work?

0:25:56.8 DP: The right people, Rachel, the right people. When you are… Not everybody is gifted that way in terms of being able to mentor for various reasons, for various reasons. I think institutions need to identify in every department, those who are gifted as mentors, those who have a track record of bringing along young faculty of many stripes, it isn’t… Not even diverse faculty. Mentors who have shown a track record of bringing junior faculty through the tenure process, getting them promoted. So I think identifying the right people is vital. People who have shown the ability and have the gift in this to mentor young faculty.

0:27:00.1 DP: Now, of course, there’s another step to that because we’ve talked about some of the challenges that minority faculty have: The unique, the loneliness, the burdens of service. We haven’t even discussed that was a huge issue. The young minority faculty has asked many times to sit on every diversity council, at every committee that they’re seeing “Oh man, we have this Hispanic. We need to get her on this tip.” and so… And of course, they’re young.

0:27:35.4 DP: They wanna prove themselves, they’ll say yes every time but saying yes every time will not help them in terms of being able to write the books and produce the book chapters and do that research. They’re saying yes every time but a lot of times, regrettably is at their detriment when it comes to tenure because they will look and say, “Hey man, when I stack you as a minority faculty up against somebody else, I see your scholarly output has not been as a stellar.” And then the minority faculty will say, “Well, listen, look at my service. You asked me to do all these things?” But at the same time… And so there’s a penalty when it comes to tenure but I think that faculty have to be identified who are mentors, who are gifted mentors, who have a track record of producing young scholars and taking them through the process.

0:28:37.7 DP: Once you identify the right people, hold them accountable, hold them accountable and say “Listen, we’ve just hired, we’ve cluster hired five diverse faculty. We see you’ve been able to do this. We’re expecting you to do this again with these minority faculty.” So the right people to be mentors and hold them accountable for outcomes and I think that to the extent that institutions focus on that issue, they can see some success.

0:29:11.8 RT: So it’s about identifying and equipping mentors and also, as you said, holding them accountable but it also sounds like then also rewarding them by taking into account how those mentorship, those service activities are going to fit into the overall picture of the work that they’re doing for the department and maybe adjusting your tenure requirements.

0:29:40.4 RT: I really appreciate all of your time today, David and walking us through these big challenges and also some of the paths toward success and progress that you and your colleagues at Diverse have been tracking lately. As you think about that question of progress, what are some things that are giving you hope, that are lighting up your day when it comes to, particularly to seeing more representation and better development in faculty?

0:30:15.6 DP: Thanks so much, Rachel. I have to say, what’s giving me hope, specifically, is the response to Black Lives Matter. Of course, in my time, I’ve seen various flashpoints of outrage. An African-American student is unjustly treated on campus and a tenure case that’s so blatant that we could see that there was blatant discrimination against the scholar but a lot of that activity… A lot of those incidents that I have observed in the past are just flashpoints but it seems to me that the climate is different, perhaps the pandemic, perhaps it’s the fact that we’re all home and we’re all zoned in.

0:31:08.8 DP: There seems to me, to be a sustained emphasis on going beyond the slogans and the sayings but to be intentionally diverse. We talked about this whole issue of Ibram Kendi. As you know, he’s a scholar, he’s at BU right now and this whole issue of being anti-racist. The fact that it’s not just enough to say, “I’m not racist. I’m okay with all different races.” No, you have to work at it because since there’s been so much discrimination, we have the structure of discrimination, now you have to work actively to dismantle it.

0:31:54.7 DP: So what’s giving me hope, Rachel, is that across the board, higher education business, there has been a response that’s been unprecedented, Rachel, with regards to understanding that it’s not enough simply to say that I’m not a racist or I’m not biased but there’s been an intentional focus on anti-racist work, working to say “You know what, this construct of bias and discrimination, we have to work to bring it down, Rachel.” So what gives me hope is that given the response to Black Lives Matter across higher education, across society, what gives me hope is that this is not a flash in the pan. There is gonna be a sustained focus on not just saying, “I am not biased.” but working to root it out wherever I find it. So that gives me hope, Rachel. That gives me hope that it looks like we are gonna sustain some progress rather than it being just a flash in the pan.

0:33:04.9 DP: I gotta mention this, Rachel, before we close. One key example and this is outside of higher education, but I find it instructive. I’m here in the Washington DC metropolitan area and for years, for years, we’ve kept hearing, Rachel, that the Washington Redskins are gonna change their name and the owner said, “Never, never.” But something changed, Rachel, something changed in the culture and we said “You know what? No, this is no longer acceptable. We need to work actively to make people feel more included. So let’s remove that name.” And to the extent that in higher education, we have the same attitude that it’s not enough simply to say that we are not biased, we need to work to root it out, work to dismantle bias to the extent that, Rachel, this is not a flash in the pan, it is sustainable. I think that I have hope that we can get somewhere with regards to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

0:34:07.9 RT: Well, David Pluviose, thank you so much for all of the work that you and your colleagues at Diverse do everyday actively helping us make progress on diversity and equity and inclusion and thank you for your time and for this wonderful conversation today.

0:34:24.6 DP: Thank you so much, Rachel.


0:34:32.5 MP: Thanks again for listening. Join us again next week when we explore the good, the bad and the ugly of campus re-population efforts as EAB’s Tess Frenzel and Michael Fischer examine what worked and what didn’t this fall. Until then, for Office Hours of EAB, I’m Matt Pellish.

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