University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

University moves forward on faculty diversity initiative

Davidson appointed vice provost for faculty development and diversity

Lynne Davidson


A task force assembled by President Seligman in February recently issued a report outlining 31 recommendations designed to address faculty diversity. The group, chaired by Lynne Davidson, deputy to the president, met for seven months and identified specific steps the University can take to recruit diverse faculty applications, create a more welcoming professional environment for minority and female faculty members, and improve retention and promotion rates for those who contribute to a more diverse University community.

The response from Seligman on October 17 was overwhelming support for the task force’s conclusions. In adopting all 31 of the recommendations, he said the report provides “the basis for further significant progress in making our University a more inclusive and welcoming campus for all faculty regardless of gender, race, and ethnicity.”

Davidson says unanimity was key among a task force whose members included the provost, the senior vice president for health sciences, the senior academic dean of each of the six schools, the chair of the Faculty Senate, and faculty from throughout the University.

“These were people with all different kinds of perspectives, from different schools and departments, men and women, deans and faculty at all levels, members of different groups—and we all agreed on these 31 recommendations,” she says. First among those recommendations is the appointment of a faculty diversity officer who will report to the president and provost. Beginning January 1, Davidson will serve as vice provost for faculty development and diversity in addition to her current position as deputy to the president.

“The recommendations put someone right at the president’s office who is responsible for this issue,” says task force member Nicholas Bigelow, Lee A. DuBridge Professor of Physics and chair of the Faculty Senate. “That action is one that potentially can make the difference.”

The faculty diversity officer will be the “default starting point for faculty seeking help on issues of multiculturalism and its advancement,” according to the report. Davidson will help ensure that consistent and comprehensive education and training standards are established and that all searches are inclusive. She also will work to establish a central clearinghouse to address questions on issues such as local schools, daycare, and resources for children with special needs; provide a central point of contact for deans, department chairs, and faculty who need assistance with job relocation for spouse or partners; and coordinate annual reporting on the status, progress, and challenges of diversity.

“Our decentralized structure, which is great for so many things, occasionally acts as a barrier when we need to share ideas and resources, and achieve important economies of scale,” Davidson says.

With Provost Charles Phelps, Davidson will administer the Special Opportunities Fund, an expansion of the current faculty support fund, designed to help deans and department chairs recruit and, in special cases, retain specific faculty candidates who contribute to faculty diversity. The recommendations call for the University to commit a minimum of $2.4 million to the fund over five years.

In addition to establishing the Special Opportunities Fund, the task force identified three distinct needs: enhanced University-wide coordination, establishment of family-friendly policies, and implementation of best practices. In its report, the task force notes that “the University, with often the best intentions, has taken a more passive approach” than many of its peers in creating a welcoming environment for faculty and supporting diversity. The recommendations aim to close that gap and to allow the University to compete effectively in attracting and keeping a diverse faculty.

In arriving at its recommendations, the task force reviewed University data, acknowledged effective existing practices, and identified obstacles. Several members of the group traveled to universities noted for diversity and inclusiveness, among those Syracuse University, the University of Michigan, and Columbia University, to interview provosts, deans, and faculty.

Family-friendly policies like those adopted in recent years by peer institutions are identified as crucial to establishing a culture that fosters diversity. Examples of such policy changes would be a one-year postponement of promotion or tenure review for a tenure-track faculty member who becomes a new parent.

Ellen Koskoff, professor of musicology at the Eastman School and a member of the task force, says institutional culture is key. “Every school has had, historically, its own way of dealing with these issues,” she says, observing that the report recommends a cultural climate analysis for each University school. “The value systems that underlie our cultures are where we should be looking, not at the numbers,” she adds.

The report also addresses faculty development, suggesting that all six schools evaluate support for teaching techniques. “Faculty development is intertwined deeply with how we address diversity,” says Bigelow. It involves not just providing community and support for new faculty members, he says, but also ensuring that all faculty have access to information and training that will help them explore issues related to diversity and inclusiveness inside the classroom.

For task force member Frederick Jefferson, University intercessor and professor emeritus of education, the specificity of the recommendations is significant. “We don’t just say, let’s improve recruitment. We put practices in place,” he says. Seligman has named Jefferson as a consultant to the faculty diversity officer and as chair of a diversity advisory committee.

The next step, says Davidson, is to work closely with the deans of each school to assemble a committee of diversity officers and to write an 18-month implementation plan laying out timeframes and processes. “Some changes will happen quickly,” she says. “Others will take longer.” The diversity advisory committee also will be formed to work with Davidson and the school diversity officers.

“Everyone I’ve talked to really wants this to succeed,” she adds. “Making this a welcoming university is beneficial to everyone, and we’re all in agreement on that.”

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