May 04, 2007

On Diversity

In hiring new faculty:
Which is more important — that a department have all of its disciplinary subfields represented or that it diversify its faculty? That’s the question being posed at Colgate University in an attempt to change how hiring committees have considered questions of diversity — and posing the question may be having an impact.

Lyle Roelofs, dean of the faculty, has been asking the question. Roelofs said that individual departments make the hiring decisions — “departments know how to judge quality” — but that as part of broad discussions about diversity at the university, he has tried to suggest some new ideas. Traditionally, he said that there has been a broad consensus (even if no formal policy exists) that the top factor to consider in a faculty hire is excellence in teaching and research, followed by match of candidates with the subfield specialties needed, then followed by diversity concerns.

After a series of efforts, Colgate has seen the percentage of minority faculty members rise to about 20 percent, with the percentage of women topping 40 percent. But as a small liberal arts university in a rural setting, Colgate has a hard time holding on to minority professors — and so needs to keep hiring them as well as trying to encourage more of them to make their careers at the university. Roelofs has asked departments to flop the second and third criteria. Excellence will stay on top, but diversity would generally trump subfield choice.

“There are going to be appropriate gains for us if we can be more diverse,” Roelofs said. “When you have a more diverse faculty, there emerges a greater diversity in curriculum. Greater value is placed on difference. So why not think about each hire and say, ‘in this situation are we better off thinking about how we need someone on 18th century reflection of Shakespeare, or have a broad description to maximize our opportunities on diversity?’“
And in teaching:
The article is entitled “Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies.” If the writer were intellectually honest enough to confront her own assumptions, it would be called “Diversity through Intellectual Conformity: If You Don’t Agree with Me, You Have Issues.”
Education about diversity and social justice is a deeply emotional and psychological process, not simply an intellectual one. Often when we ask people to engage with questions of social justice, we are asking them to question their fundamental belief systems—how they see themselves and make sense of the world. It is therefore not surprising that, even when armed with great information, stimulating activities, and compelling issues, we find ourselves asking why our students fail to engage with—or even actively resist—our course content. This tendency to resist is particularly common among people from privileged groups—those in the more powerful positions in a given form of oppression (sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, etc.). Many educators find resistance from students from privileged groups to be one of the more challenging aspects of teaching diversity and social justice.

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