The University of Michigan’s ADVANCE Program is sharing strategies to help campus leaders retain BIPOC faculty members.
This work gained momentum in the wake of ADVANCE’s climate survey, from 2017, in which faculty who identify as Black, Indigenous and other People of Color described U-M as less collegial, less respectful, less friendly, and less supportive than did their white colleagues.
According to the program’s most recent research, BIPOC faculty members have left the university at greater rates than white faculty in recent years, ADVANCE Director Jennifer Linderman said.
“Retention of our BIPOC faculty is critically important to the university’s excellence,” said Provost Susan M. Collins. “The ADVANCE programs provide chairs and directors with knowledge and tools that support the success and well-being of all our faculty, and that contribute to equity and inclusion in departments and centers.”
ADVANCE will conduct a virtual workshop May 11 for campus leaders interested in helping all people feel respected, supported and valued. Cultivating a Climate for Faculty Equity will focus specifically on barriers BIPOC faculty face and offer strategies for dismantling them.
To better understand why faculty leave U-M, ADVANCE conducts annual exit interviews with tenure-track faculty. Its recent reporting includes 68 BIPOC faculty who left between 2011-19.
At Collins’ request, ADVANCE and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2021 conducted informal discussion groups to better understand the experiences of BIPOC faculty as they relate to retention.
“I chose Michigan initially and I want to keep choosing Michigan again,” a U-M faculty member who identifies as BIPOC said during a recent discussion group for which participants’ comments were collected anonymously.
“BIPOC faculty identified a range of concerns, including inequitable service loads, poor workplace climate, bias in evaluations of scholarship and teaching, unclear pathways to leadership, and unmet family needs,” said Isis Settles, associate director of ADVANCE.
In response to these concerns, ADVANCE shared strategies for improving faculty retention in a workshop series for campus leaders during the 2021-22 academic year. Critical strategies included:
Trying to retain someone after they have an offer elsewhere is often too late. Instead, it is better to pre-emptively engage faculty by getting to know them as individuals.
Mingyan Liu, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, and a panelist in one of the workshops, suggested finding out, “How can I promote the work of this faculty member, create opportunities for them, and help them thrive here?”
Appreciate the full range of scholarly work
BIPOC faculty may work in areas outside the traditional center of a given discipline and may be devalued for doing so. Leaders should educate themselves and their colleagues about new areas of scholarly and creative work.
Recognize that gatekeeping occurs when devalued types of scholarly work are largely being done by faculty from marginalized groups. Broaden the ways to identify merit and impact, for example, to include impact on policy, practice and communities.
Broaden assessments of teaching quality
Be aware of potential bias in student evaluations of teaching, especially when the course or topics are related to race or diversity, equity and inclusion.
Recognize that BIPOC faculty often experience challenges to their authority and expertise in the classroom, and they must employ additional strategies to mitigate them.
Expand the evaluative lens to include peer evaluations, consideration of pedagogical approaches, and course development, design and innovation.
Increase service equity
BIPOC faculty often engage in so-called “invisible service,” including meeting special requests (tasks outside of official responsibilities), care work (emotional support to students and colleagues), and cultural taxation (identity-based service expectations).
Make such service visible, for example, by giving credit for the informal mentoring of students that often falls disproportionately on BIPOC faculty. Promote service equity by increasing transparency around the service being done, and clarity around what service is expected.
Improve the department climate
BIPOC faculty may have negative experiences related to different aspects of the climate. These include unwritten rules and exclusionary practices that result from inequity in structures and routines, tokenism and heightened scrutiny that result from low compositional diversity, and negative interpersonal behaviors that include exclusion and microaggressions.
Recognize and address the distinct climate experiences of BIPOC faculty that are a barrier to equity. For example, challenge the narrative around excellence and diversity as being in conflict.
Trisha Wittkopp, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology, and professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, said participating in the workshops helped her better understand the challenges faced by her BIPOC colleagues.
Recruiting, mentoring and advocating for students, contributing ideas to curricular and program development, and fielding questions from well-intentioned colleagues is crucial, but rarely documented and often overlooked in tenure, promotion and merit reviews, said Amy Hughes, professor of theatre and drama, and head of the Bachelor of Theatre Arts program.
“Going forward, I will take steps to ensure invisible labor is integrated into departmental conversations about workload equity, while also keeping an eye out for ways I can personally support colleagues who are doing this invaluable work,” she said.