Faculty diversity still a priority in hard times

Despite a budget shortfall that has forced the University to delay or suspend many faculty hires, administrators and department chairs said they are still committed to increasing the diversity of Yale’s faculty in the next few years.

Chief among the advocates for diversity is Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who plans to continue a decades-long push that she said precipitated her own promotion to tenure. Miller said that over the past year, as the dean who oversees the humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, she has encouraged department chairs and hiring committees to consider culturally and ethnically diverse candidates and to call on similarly diverse scholars to help departments make their hiring decisions. But in the wake of a University-wide budget shortfall, Miller has had to reevaluate her strategy by appealing to department chairs with specific hires and setting the faculty up for diverse tenure appointments in better economic times.

Miller acknowledged that her goals for faculty growth would be challenged by the budget cuts. To combat this, she said she advocates keeping “success in the pipeline” — hiring junior faculty now and promoting them to tenure when departments are under less financial strain.

“Through smart, strategic hiring at the junior level, we can grow a more diverse faculty,” Miller said.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, who oversees the social sciences and sciences in FAS, said budgetary constraints have been a constant topic of conversation for deans and departments alike. Both he and Miller have been working with departments to develop long-term hiring plans and manage vacancies that might need to go unfilled until the University’s finances recover.

When consulting with departments that are making faculty appointments, Butler said Miller asks “good and useful questions” of departments to encourage them to enlarge their fields of search. But she and Butler, as deans of the faculty, now play a more “hands-on” role in hiring searches at all levels than deans did in recent years, Miller said.

She and Butler review lists of candidates themselves, and they encourage departments to broaden the scope of their research during the search process. Miller said she has even reviewed some candidates’ curricula vitae and dossiers over the past year. Some departments lead letter-writing campaigns, surveying eminent scholars in the field for opinions on which scholars to consider. During these campaigns, Miller said, she and Butler encourage departments to query a diverse group of scholars in hopes of collecting more diverse information.

Miller pointed to the Geology and Geophysics Department as exemplary in its efforts to recruit and hire more diverse faculty. But the department will not be hiring any faculty at all for the next few years, department chair David Bercovici said, bringing progressive hiring, at least in his department, to a halt.

Although Bercovici said he looks for candidates with diversity in research, gender and ethnicity, his No. 1 priority is outstanding scholarship. His department has hired seven faculty over the past three years, and he said they have positively changed the face of the department.

“We got the best young scientists in the world, from Caltech, Berkeley, Cambridge, Harvard, and we’re incredibly happy to have them,” he said. “We want a diverse faculty, but we never give women or minorities an extra point, as we are looking for the top.”

Miller’s push for diversity is not entirely new. In 2005, University President Richard Levin and then-Provost Andrew Hamilton released a set of seven-year goals intended to increase the diversity of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Levin and Hamilton said the University would add 30 minority faculty and 30 female faculty to fields in which women were underrepresented, and announced plans to reevaluate how the University conducts searches with the goal of making them more thorough.

School of Management Professor Judith Chevalier, who was deputy provost for faculty development from 2007 to 2009, said she thinks the University was on track to meet its goal for minority hires but “a bit behind” in its attempt to hire more women.

But English Department Chair Michael Warner said his department has made three diverse hires this year while pursuing two others. Although the English Department is mindful of the need for gender diversity, Warner said, the department has a more pressing need for ethnic and racial diversity.

“We are also interested in the diversity of scholarship and method that often comes with such hires,” he said. “We have to find ways of going beyond token inclusion or the rote application of census categories and expand the kinds of knowledge we are interested in.”

Nevertheless, Bercovici said his department has enjoyed independence in searching for new faculty. His department does not have a formalized letter-writing campaign, he said, but they keep an eye out for promising scientists in the field.

Bercovici said the efforts of Kim Bottomly, the former deputy provost for science, technology and faculty development, to achieve Levin and Hamilton’s goals motivated his department to consider diversity.

“A lot of the push for diversity started before Miller became dean, but she has been very encouraging and helpful in terms of advice,” he said. “She’s really an important leader in terms of pushing these things forward.”

Miller, who joined Yale’s faculty in 1981, was promoted to tenure under recommendations made in the landmark 1984 Crothers Report, formally titled the “Report of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on the Education of Women” and named for the committee’s chair, chemistry professor Donald Crothers ’58.

The report — which recommended that Yale double the number of tenured female professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — is now “ancient,” Miller said, but it continues to influence the University’s hiring practices.

“I think of it as one of the University’s road maps,” Miller said. “This is work that isn’t yet done.”

Butler’s term as dean of the sciences and social sciences will end when he leaves his post as Graduate School dean June 30. A search is currently underway for Butler’s replacement, and a list of candidates is expected by the end of March.

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