Mason faculty and staff:
We have now had two town halls since the release of the ARIE Task Force recommendations and I want to take some time to address some of the feedback and questions that we have received, several of which were represented in one particular question that was posed. The question was presented as follows: “I am concerned about what it really means to hire faculty and staff that ‘reflect the student population.’ The university’s job as an R1 institution is to hire the best faculty and administrators, period. The type of target hiring of minorities proposed through ARIE is both prejudicial and illegal. I would like to have this addressed.”
I agree that we should be committed to hiring the best faculty and staff. As a community, we need a more comprehensive framework for what constitutes “best.” Allow me to offer my input on this matter.
First and foremost, all organizations need a North Star – a vision of what their best can be. With respect to diversity and inclusion, Mason’s North Star is that this university should reflect the rich diversity of our students, the broader Commonwealth of Virginia (whose tax dollars support us all), and the nation. This is not code for establishing a quota system. It is a recognition of the reality that our society’s future lies in multicultural inclusion. By mid-century, when today’s undergraduates approach mid-career, they will take leadership of a society in which, for the first time in the 400-plus year American experience, there will be no ethnic majority. They will be required to lead and live differently than we do, and so we must offer them a learning environment that looks like the world they will enter, not the one they will leave. Our diversity, equity and inclusion initiative should also be aligned with the “One Virginia Plan,” now the law in Virginia.
The differences in ethnic diversity among our students as compared to our faculty are drastic. While a majority of our students are non-white and reflective of the nation’s expected ethnic make-up in the mid-21st century, just 30 percent of our faculty are from ethnic minority, multi-ethnic, or international communities, and the percentage from underrepresented groups is significantly lower than that. As so many leaders remind us, it’s hard to be what you do not see.
Second, in order to achieve our vision, we first have to adopt a broader, shared understanding of what “best” means when recruiting faculty and staff at Mason. Professional experiences will always be vital in recruiting our workforce, but so must lived experiences. Each quality prepares us in different ways to educate students for the demands of the world to come. If you have two candidates who are both “above the bar” in terms of requirements for a position, but one adds to your diversity and the other does not, then why couldn’t that candidate be better, even if that candidate may not have better credentials than the other candidate? Study after study has proven that the most diverse organizations, which recognize the importance of maintaining a diverse and inclusive environment, are the best performing organizations. This is just as true in academia as it is in business, as studies by the Center for Talent Innovation, the Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey have shown.
For a topic that is often labeled complicated, the essence is actually quite simple: We either believe that diversity and inclusion can improve our performance, or we don’t. If we do – and I do – then we must do two things:
- Include inclusive excellence in the criteria we use for hiring. This does not mean just hiring anyone we can find from historically disenfranchised communities. A better mechanism is to set cultural norms and expectations by requiring inclusive excellence statements alongside teaching and research statements in our hiring process, and then using rubrics to evaluate candidates based on all three criteria. Can we truly claim that inclusive excellence is important while not having it in the very criteria we use to recruit our workforce?
- Change our search processes to be more equitable. This begins with a recognition that intelligence and talent are universal, but that opportunity is not. Here we are confronted with another profound but simple choice of beliefs: Either we believe that we are all created equal, or we don’t. When the playing field of life is tilted systematically for entire populations, achieving equity is about providing everyone what they need for success, and that requires offering different things to different populations based on their own lived experiences. Treating everyone exactly the same may stop the advance of inequities, but it also perpetuates them by freezing them in place rather than correcting them.Our search processes must actively search for the types of candidates we need, and those needs go well beyond our disciplinary foci. In essence, our mission of educating and preparing the future leaders of America’s economy and society demands that we recruit people with the full breadth of lived experiences as well as professional backgrounds that our students encounter. If we want to be truly diverse – and I do – then we must understand that our current processes will only get us what we have.
Here are a number of techniques and best practices to achieve diversity and inclusion that I know, from my own experience, work:
- Identify potential candidates in conferences and workshops. If you see a PhD candidate giving a great talk, reach out to them and invite them for a seminar at your institution.
- All departmental seminar series, whether an active search exists or not, should include strategies for targeting women (if they are underrepresented in your unit) and candidates from underrepresented groups in addition to those individuals who are normally targeted. There should be an active seminar roster with slots targeting individuals who are targets of opportunity even though they are not actively pursuing a job. There are a number of national lists and listservs of UR PhD students or post-docs in almost every area, so use them.
- Be flexible on your search criteria and don’t be afraid to broaden the search if it’s too narrow to obtain diverse candidates. Facing a limited candidate pool, the search committee should ask themselves: Do we really need a candidate with a narrow focus? Are there related areas that are in alignment to the specific search that could yield a broader cross-section of candidates?
- Place your ads in publications where diverse audiences are looking. We will develop a comprehensive list if you don’t have one.
Finally, we have to address the question of what is best for our campus and our state. This begins with an honest reckoning of our history. As difficult as it is to accept, the truth is that Mason’s history is rooted in pervasive structural racism, some of which is chronicled in a report conducted by the Virginia State Advisory Committee (VSAC) to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1971. The report concluded that Mason had been “delinquent in its duty to attract and welcome minority students and faculty.” A half century later, some of the ripple effects still remain with us. With regard to student recruitment, we have made significant progress, establishing a national reputation for ethnic and cultural diversity. For faculty and staff, too many units remain at levels comparable or below the levels highlighted in VSAC’s 50-year-old report. If it was not our best in 1971, clearly it is not our best today.
The ARIE Task Force is about getting Mason to our best. All in all, I am very pleased with our progress and our response relative to the Task Force, even when it leads to difficult discussions like the one we are having here. The debate will lead us to a much better place and to outcomes that we can all rally behind.