Littera Nova

I write things sometimes.

Committing To Change

Word count: 1019 (~6 minutes), Last modified: Sun, 29 Dec 2019 01:05:05 GMT

I am privileged and blessed to be attending a school in the University System of Maryland. Not only is there a well-deserved reputation for excellence in undergraduate teaching, but unlike many colleges and universities throughout the country (especially those with research as part of their mission), my campus of the USM - UMBC - has demonstrated the desire to engage with the growing concern around "inclusion and diversity" as Chair of the Board of Regents Brady put it at today's Symposium on Diversifying the Faculty. A few notes follow on things I thought were important from those discussions.

In Chancellor Caret's opening remarks, he mentioned that when he became chancellor, he began a mid-term correction process to correct the system-wide strategic plan. As part of this update, the system made explicit that support of diversity, which had been more implicit (if indeed present) in the original conception of the plan. A few things that I took away from this action were that while that long term planning was important, it was also a plan that was treated as a living document, and subject to change if there was enough political will. More plans ought to be so flexible. Additionally, it shows a demonstrated commitment at the highest levels charging institutions and departments to not accept a passive role in their recruitment processes as related to new faculty. He also brought up a caution - be careful not to burn out your underrepresented minority (URM) faculty by tokenizing them in all activities where you feel the need for diversity. I applaud this recognition, as well as the commitment to taking the next step in spreading that workload by hiring and retaining more URM faculty.

I've not often met with a member of the Board of Regents, despite the massive power they wield across the university system. This made it all the more exciting to hear from the Chair himself a recognition of the progress we have yet to make: "until faculty reflect student diversity, our commitment is not credible." I was delighted to hear this, since we so often pay lip service to diversity without truly recognizing that efforts without results are not sufficient.

Throughout the day, we heard from Dr Kimberly Griffin, Associate Professor at UMCP and Editor of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Her calls to action were inspiring, and she introduced an ontology developed for the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) INCLUDES project for defining categories of efforts (see Figure 3 of the 2017 APLU INCLUDES Summit Report). She also defined some useful tools for those seeking to explain just why someone should help diversity initiatives. For example, diversity of the faculty is positively correlated with department rankings (citation needed, she mentioned in the presentation but I didn't get it down and I couldn't find it by search), and stressed the important of working on climate at the department, and not just the institutional level, since that is where new faculty spend so much of their time. To that end, she also mentioned the importance of the second two parts of her three part ontology: Transition and Retention are often excluded from the conversation to focus on Recruiting activities, but each part is complementary in ensuring positive trends. Finally, she also brought up an issue that is often hard to talk about: if we as an institution are truly committed to diversifying our faculty (and we must be, since students demand a faculty that it at least somewhat reflective of their demographics), we must reward in the Promotion & Tenure process the activities that we demand of our URM faculty so often, which often happen at the expense of other sectors of the faculty role.

The latter half of the retreat was excitingly dominated by UMBC: we heard presentations from the STRIDE Committee and Associate Vice Provost Renetta Tull. Most personal to me, though, were the conversations that the UMBC community had in team breakout sessions. Interestingly, while the symposium was system-wide, the breakout sessions were divided based on institution. In my opinion, this was somewhat counterproductive - institutional conversations can happen fairly easily at any time, while an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals at other campuses can be rarer. Nevertheless, there were several helpful suggestions raised in committee (a discussion including STRIDE Committee members, representatives of faculty affinity groups and the senate, the Provost's office, the Vice President for Student Affairs, and a representative from the Student Government Association [me]). One specific step discussed was improving monitoring of faculty peer mentoring. While many departments have plans for this sort of thing, execution is not well captured in Digital Measures and anecdotally is lacking. The provost remarked that this is something that his office could work on in the 3-6 month time frame, and I look forward to following up with Dr Rous to hear how progress is going on this initiative in the fall. A cautionary anecdote related by the faculty though was somewhat overlooked though, I felt: they mentioned that oftentimes the toxic environment that makes faculty, especially URM faculty, want to leave was not captured well in exit data due to the difference between "official" reasons for departure and actual ones, and that to truly address some of these environments, there needs to be more emphasis on isolation and damage control of the individuals in those departments who make them toxic. These problems get compounded when those toxic actors are those controlling P&T processes, funding, or course load and thus have methods of punishing faculty for speaking out against them. It is clear that until this cause is addressed, the revolving door of URM faculty will continue, and little progress will be made.

As an institution and as a system, it feels like the USM has a commitment to change. The depth of that commitment, however, varies even within institutions and from individual to individual, so much so that it is vital that we continue to have conversations around creating transformative processes to incrementally address this cultural change and prioritize equity in the professoriate through inclusive excellence.