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Use the faculty interview to demonstrate an institutional commitment to diversity

Most universities are working hard to reinforce a climate of inclusivity on campus and commitment to diversity, but one area that has been hard to inflect is ensuring increasingly diverse student bodies see themselves represented in the faculty that teach them.

Unfortunately, recruiting and retaining diverse faculty members is easier said than done. Regardless of the central initiatives in place to attract candidates to campus, it is ultimately difficult to convince candidates from underrepresented backgrounds that a university’s dedication to diversity is sincere, especially if there are few underrepresented faculty already on campus.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Increase Faculty Diversity and Inclusivity on Campus Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Prepare faculty to answer candidate questions

The members of the faculty search committee bear the burden of demonstrating the institution’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, but they might not be aware of the wide variety of resources available at the university and in the larger local community. To ensure faculty have up to date information on any resource that might be of interest to candidates, staff in the office of the provost or diversity and inclusion can centrally compile information on resources for new faculty, especially those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. From their central perspective these staff are likely to locate a greater range of resources often dispersed across a number of offices from the Center for Teaching and Learning to Human Resources, and the Office of Research, among others.

Metropolitan State University of Denver has done exactly this in building their “Stealth Recruitment Portal,” which not only helps search committee members remain aware of resources, but allows candidates themselves to peruse resources on topics such as life in Denver, the university’s commitment to diversity, and professional development. Notably, it also contains a portal to submit resumes for future consideration regardless of existing open lines, allowing deans to quickly identify opportunities for the use of Target of Opportunity hires.

Offer confidential space for candidate questions

Still, there are some questions candidates may be hesitant to ask the faculty interviewing them. As the interviewer can influence any ultimate hiring decision, candidates are often wary of biasing an interviewer’s impression with questions about issues like parental leave policies, extended tenure timelines, or dual career hires.

Sadly, fears that impede candidates from asking these questions are not unfounded. One recent study showed that female faculty candidates who revealed in the interview process that they had male partners were at a disadvantage in searches, as committees considered them less likely to move if an offer were extended. And yet, institutions are more likely to be able to recruit strong faculty candidates if those candidates feel able to get answers to the important questions they have about life on campus.

To ensure that candidates have an opportunity to ask their more sensitive questions about life as a future faculty member and understand the institution’s commitment to diversity, Virginia Tech offers each candidate a confidential thirty-minute session with a Work/Life Liaison who is trained to answer questions about their work/life policies. The liaison is not part of the search committee and will not report back to search committee members on any concerns raised.

Sample Questions for Work/Life Liaison

  • Are there opportunities for my spouse here?
  • What type of community is there here for LGBT faculty?
  • How would choosing to stop my tenure clock affect my progress here?
  • What childcare options are available in the area?

So that the Work/Life Liaison has some disciplinary familiarity, liaisons are nominated by their college dean to conduct these meetings for all searches within that unit. Some liaisons receive a course release and, depending on the college, may serve multiple terms or turn over every year. The liaisons are trained on work/life policies through monthly presentations on topics of interest and meet regularly with other liaisons and members of the campus community to help respond to candidate questions they have not encountered before.

Improve commitment to diversity throughout the faculty lifecycle

Campuses that demonstrate to candidates that they understand their concerns, and have plentiful resources available to make faculty life as welcoming as possible are more likely to see their offers accepted. To learn about more opportunities to improve inclusion throughout the whole faculty lifecycle from recruitment through to post-tenure review, read our study, Instilling Equity and Inclusion in Departmental Practices. Download the study.