November 6, 2007

Ivies Create Positions in Diversity Development

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Correction appended. See below.

Recognizing that administrative action is a key way to promote diversity on college campuses, universities across the country have created positions in their central administrations to help achieve this goal. Brown and Cornell are among the Ivies that have taken proactive steps to ensure that diversity remains a high priority for administrators.
Brown’s efforts are coordinated through its Office of Institutional Diversity, which has developed a position in the Provost’s office that specifically focuses on coordinating and supporting diversity efforts across the campus as a whole.
Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty development at Cornell, said that it is up to each department to determine its hiring criteria. He contrasted the role of his position to the office at Brown.
According to Brenda Allen, associate provost and director of the Office of Institutional Diversity at Brown, Brown was the first Ivy League university to create such a position within the Provost’s office.
“The office came about in response to the areas where gaps of communication persisted between the various coordinators and groups on campus that oversaw faculty and student recruitment,” she said.
“We see more schools moving towards creating a position in the central administration. The central theme in all of the schools adopting a similar approach is that they want a centralized leadership. At Brown, we’ve seen some good success and movement in our numbers,” Allen added.
However, no one single model is appropriate for all schools.
Harris explained that because his office is in charge of recruitment and retention of minority faculty, it regularly gives recommendations to departments for where they might advertise in order to attract a more diverse applicant pool.
“As a way to keep track of our success, we solicit anonymous feedback from applicants in order to see to the extent which they are reaching that pool,” Harris said.
In a time when the University is set to lose 600 faculty members in the next 10 years, many of the colleges have taken it upon themselves to initiate their own diversity programs. One such program is the College of Engineering’s Office of Diversity Programs.
Since its creation, the Office has focused on attracting diverse faculty using methods developed by the search committees overseen by the Working Group of the University Diversity Council.
Associate Dean for Diversity Zellman Warhaft said that the search committees are encouraged to use language explicitly stating their desire to increase diversity when they post advertisements in professional publications.
Likewise, Allen said that Brown’s commitment to diversity is deeply rooted in its philosophy to reach out to populations that have historically been ignored and oppressed.
“The philosophy of the diversity-driven undergrad experience is to provide an environment that pushes people. We don’t lose sight of our history and the need to create opportunities for underrepresented populations, specifically minorities and women,” Allen said.
The University has organized several programs across the various colleges to facilitate diversity, focusing specifically on bringing in a higher quality applicant pool. There is some debate as to whether promoting diversity at both the faculty and student levels would favor under-qualified persons due to their minority status.
Christine Reimers, executive director of the C.U.-ADVANCE Center, said, “At Cornell a lot of time, structurally [the various offices are] very decentralized. Most these efforts are happening at different places in the institutions and a lot of things are going on but it’s coming from different places, but it is all connected with the commitment to promoting diversity.”
The CU-ADVANCE center is a group on campus working in conjunction with the Provost’s office to develop strategies for recruiting diverse applicants. Reimer points out, however, that the point of the programs is not to exclusively attract minority students, but to bring in a more highly qualified pool of applicants by making hiring committees more aware of unconscious bias.
“When we actually look for quality candidates and are aware of the possibility of unconscious bias that would normally keep highly qualified candidates out of the pool, the broader pool we bring in is actually a higher quality. We are working against bias to bring in a more overall stronger pool of applicants, regardless of what color they are.”
Despite their different strategies of incorporating diversity into campus life, both Cornell and Brown share a common goal of creating an environment of equal opportunity that supports diversity in intellectual thought, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion.
“[Our model] is our way of redressing historical patterns of exclusion,” said Allen.
Correction appended: “Ivies Create Positions in Diversity Development” incorrectly states that Christine Reimers, executive director of the C.U.-ADVANCE Center, works to attract students. The C.U.-ADVANCE Center works to recruit, retain and promote women faculty, not students. The Sun regrets this error.