U-M ADVANCE works to improve faculty diversity through hiring

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Improving campus diversity, including among faculty, remains a central challenge facing many colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan.

U-M’s ADVANCE Program, led by director Jennifer Linderman, Pamela Raymond Collegiate Professor of Engineering, has been vigorously spearheading an interdisciplinary effort to boost faculty diversity and excellence through recruitment efforts.

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One of the program’s flagship efforts is the Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence Committee, which is composed of respected faculty from across campus and functions as a team of peer educators to those making hiring decisions.

This year, Isis Settles, associate director of the ADVANCE Program and professor of psychology and Afroamerican and African studies, leads the STRIDE Committee. With attention to new and emerging challenges around equity and inclusiveness, STRIDE will continue to facilitate a series of recruitment workshops with one main goal: to provide faculty search committees with the best evidence-based practices that lead to more robust applicant pools and more equitable selection processes.

STRIDE’s materials are revised annually to incorporate new scholarship and respond to emerging concerns. In particular, the workshop has been updated to include additional context and new research related to anti-racism and racial equity. This year’s participants will increase their understanding of structural-level biases, including biases related to disciplinary norms and institutional practices that lead to racial inequities, and learn better strategies to counteract those factors.

“Research shows us that we evaluate people differently based on their social groups, such as their race or ethnicity,” said Settles, whose scholarship focuses on the experiences, perceptions and consequences of unfair treatment directed at marginalized social group members.

“More recently, scholars have been studying the role of structural factors, such as formal search policies and informal practices, in thwarting fair evaluations in faculty searches. For example, the composition of the search committee or the types of scholarly work that are valued often go unquestioned. Our workshop provides evidence-based strategies to empower search committees to create and engage in more equitable search practices that shift the status quo.”  

ADVANCE, which began its work in 2001, was initially created to focus on recruiting and retaining more women faculty to the science and engineering fields. The program expanded in 2007 to support hiring and retaining diverse and excellent faculty in all fields, initiating cross-campus STRIDE workshops in 2004. Workshop content is revised yearly to reflect new scholarship and practices, and to be responsive to emerging concerns. It now includes extensive resources available on ADVANCE’s website.

In 2020, Provost Susan M. Collins charged all schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor campus to use STRIDE’s workshops to orient their faculty search committees.

“We want to ensure that those who conduct the critical work of recruiting faculty colleagues are well prepared to help us achieve robust and diverse outcomes,” she said.  “The continuing excellence of the university depends on this work. A shared commitment to best practices in recruitment will also help us understand how to support faculty success and strengthen the experience of faculty once they join our community.”

The impact of STRIDE’s work has not been limited to U-M. A number of colleges and universities across the country have replicated the model — often calling their versions STRIDE as well.

The STRIDE Committee’s workshops were the subject of the paper “An evidence-based faculty recruitment workshop influences departmental hiring practice perceptions among university faculty” authored by Denise Sekaquaptewa, professor and associate chair in LSA’s Department of Psychology and a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor.

Examining faculty who had attended a STRIDE workshop, Sekaquaptewa found that “faculty had more favorable attitudes toward equitable search strategies if they had attended a workshop or if they were in a department where more of their colleagues had.”

Her findings offered the possibility that an evidence-based recruitment workshop, like STRIDE, can lead to changes in the institutional climate that promote greater diversity in hiring.

As a result of campuswide efforts, the faculty has become more diverse in the past two decades, although much work remains. The largest increases have been in the numbers of women, Asian and Asian American faculty, with more limited increases in underrepresented minority faculty.

“We are seeing improvement in the junior faculty ranks that, with sustained effort, can translate into greater diversity across the entire faculty,” Settles said. 

“We recognize that our universities are built upon an historical legacy of racial and other inequalities. To make meaningful and lasting changes in faculty diversity, we need every search committee member — really every department — to work to transform their search practices,” Linderman said.

“But that is not enough. The important work of the STRIDE Committee and of faculty search committees won’t by themselves be sufficient to diversify the faculty. We also need to support faculty retention in various ways, for example by improving unit climates, helping faculty navigate various career challenges, providing leadership opportunities, and facilitating networking and community building.”

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