Maya Sweedler

Yale has committed $50 million to diversify its faculty over the next five years.

In a joint email to the faculty on Tuesday, University President Peter Salovey and University Provost Benjamin Polak unveiled what Polak called the largest faculty diversity initiative in recent memory, a project that will touch all 12 professional schools and every department in Yale College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The Provost’s Office will provide $25 million of the funding, which will support half the salary of any hired candidate who brings diversity to his or her department. The other $25 million comes from across the graduate and professional schools, which will match the amount given to salaries by the Provost’s Office, Polak said. The initiative is designed to incentivize Yale’s schools to seek out and hire faculty from historically underrepresented groups.

“It’s very important to me that this be University-wide,” Polak said in an interview with the News. “From the Divinity School to the Medical School to Yale College … Diversity has to reach everywhere.”

While the goal of the initiative is to create a more diverse faculty across the University, Polak said diversity means different things in different departments. Hiring a woman at the Nursing School, for example, has a relatively small impact on the diversity of that school since there are already a large number of women going into nursing, he said. Hiring a woman to teach engineering, however, does more to increase the diversity of that field at Yale.

The initiative, which is being funded not through a gift or donation but rather out of the University’s operating budget, applies not only to hiring diverse candidates to ladder faculty positions but also to bringing as many as 10 visiting professors at one time to teach one-year courses. For example, even though the Drama School has no tenured faculty, School of Drama Dean James Bundy will be able to apply to the Provost’s Office to temporarily bring on new faculty members of his choosing. The deans of the other professional schools will also be able to hire faculty in a way that best suits their specific faculty-hiring processes, Polak said, noting that this will ensure the initiative can reach every area of campus.

Polak added that he will meet with the dean of each school once a year to talk specifically about the faculty diversity at that school.

“Although the resource of this $25 million is coming from the Provost’s Office, we want each dean to determine what works best for their school,” he said.

This initiative is the result of over a year of work done by the president, the provost, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler and the deans of every professional school. Polak said Salovey has made faculty diversity a major goal since he took office.

While Polak noted that some groups, like women, are underrepresented in the sciences not only at Yale but also across the country, he added that Yale must buck national trends and work harder to bring more women to fields like engineering. A 2013 head count of faculty found that 2.8 percent of FAS professors were Hispanic, 3.5 percent were African-American and 9 percent were Asian. In October, a large poster mysteriously appeared on Cross Campus drawing attention to disparities between undergraduate and faculty racial diversity: the poster showed that while undergraduate minorities comprise 42 percent of Yale College, minorities in the faculty number only comprise 17 percent.

“If you don’t have a diverse faculty, you are leaving talent on the table,” Polak said. “Half of the most talented people in the sciences are women. The same is true of underrepresented minorities.”

In addition to freeing up budget money to hire faculty and creating a central website for faculty diversity, the initiative also builds on projects that Yale already has in place. For example, the initiative expands a training program in implicit bias for faculty and administrators who are in charge of hiring. It also seeks to expand support for pipelines that encourage minority students to pursue academia after graduation. Yale already has several such programs, such as the Edward A. Bouchet Fellowship, which is aimed at reducing racial disparities among Yale undergraduates who apply to graduate school. Although Yale has introduced several smaller-scale faculty diversity initiatives over the years, Polak said the University is now uniquely positioned to allow an initiative of this size. As the University’s finances continue to improve, he said, Yale can begin to afford to introduce new initiatives for faculty and students.

“Things are picking up a little bit,” said Polak. “It’s not going to be easy to afford, but we can afford it.”

Although a majority of the initiative’s funding will go to hiring a more diverse faculty, graduate and undergraduate students interviewed said retaining faculty of color may actually be the larger problem. Over the past few months, three of Yale’s black  professors affiliated with the African American Studies Department have announced that they will leave Yale at the end of this academic year. Both English and African American Studies professor Elizabeth Alexander ’84 and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor Vanessa Agard-Jones ’00 will go to Columbia University, which has committed over $60 million to faculty diversification efforts since 2012. The university-wide initiative at Columbia, which is currently in its second three-year phase, also aims to help each of its schools recruit underrepresented minority and female scholars.

In September, Alexander told the News that Yale lags behind its peer institutions where it should be a leader and that Yale should make faculty diversity a priority as Columbia has. Agard-Jones said while Yale succeeds in attracting diverse professors in the first place, its high attrition rates for black faculty are a “structural pattern.”

Co-Community Development Chair for the Asian American Students Alliance Crystal Kong ’18 said that while she supports the sentiment and plan laid out by the provost and president, administrators should outline in greater detail to the Yale community how it will address the problem of faculty retention. “Yale is already less diverse and worse off because of these departures,” Kong said. “Working on retaining diverse faculty, in my opinion, is as important as working on hiring them.”

Part of the initiative does seek to provide more support for minority faculty once they have been hired: Polak and Salovey’s email announced the creation of a University-wide teaching academy that will address the unique challenges faced by women in STEM fields and international and underrepresented faculty. According to the administrators’ email, Deputy Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Richard Bribiescas will provide further information about that initiative later this semester.

Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said faculty diversity now ensures faculty diversity in the future. Professors act as mentors and sources of inspiration for graduate students, Mo said. When a student identifies with a professor, that student might be more likely to follow that professor’s career path and enter academia, she added.

Kong agreed, noting that today’s undergraduates are tomorrow’s graduate students and professors.

For graduate students, the Provost’s Office recently increased its financial support for the Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity, an office that helps all graduate students follow their intellectual and professional aspirations. This increase was highlighted in Polak and Salovey’s email.

“It’s important to have role models and mentors that you can relate to and identify with,” said Haylee Kushi ’18, who is on staff at the Native American Cultural Center. She added that diversity is also important in departments with a greater emphasis on studying diversity like African American Studies, Political Science or the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program. It makes sense for members of underrepresented groups to teach their own histories or speak on own issues directly related to them, she said.

Over the next five years, Polak said, Yale will monitor the effects of the initiative to judge whether it has been successful. Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith said the president and the provost will continue to work together on the issue of faculty diversity.

The total number of faculty employed at Yale across Yale College and the graduate and professional schools in the 2014–15 academic year was 4,410.