When two junior professors approached Gerald Jaynes, an economics professor who is black, as he was leaving the Psychology Department, they did not ask him when the faculty meeting was or how his classes were going but rather if he had come to fix the furnace.
Jaynes told this story as part of a panel on faculty and tenure diversity held Wednesday at Dwight Hall. The panel discussion, attended by nearly 50 people — mostly minorities — was the first in a serious of scheduled panels this year that will tackle questions of diversity at Yale.
The panel, a cadre of Yale professors, administrators, and students, focused on the need to increase the number of minority and female professors at Yale and addressed the steps the University is taking to meet this need.
Jaynes said diversification will not usually happen all by itself.
“You still have to keep the administration and the faculty’s feet to the fire to diversify,” Jaynes said.
Panelists’ suggestions to keep this pressure on included placing a greater emphasis on recruitment, retention, and mentorship.
“Senior faculty are much more invested” with the mentorship program, said history professor Jonathan Holloway, citing a helpful and positive part of his own experience at Yale.
Despite some praise of the University’s efforts, panelists questioned whether Yale is really doing everything that it can.
“Are we really making efforts?” said Anna Ramirez, the associate dean of admissions and financial aid at the Yale School of Divinity.
Though panelists uniformly put a great importance on diversity, they were careful to make clear that Yale would not sacrifice academic quality solely for the purpose of assembling a more varied faculty.
“Yale has extremely high standards,” Deputy Provost Charles Long said.
Jaynes recounted a story in which he served on a hiring committee for the African American Studies department. He was up all night captivated by a great dissertation written by a prospective candidate to join the faculty. Even though he told his chair that he thought the candidate would be a good addition to the department, the chair refused to hire him at first because of his race — white.
Through this anecdote, Jaynes tried to explain the need to strike a balance between racial diversity and academic achievement. He described this dilemma in terms of two distinct “lines” common to hiring practices at any major university.
“We have to work hard at both lines.”
In defense of Yale, the panelists also focused on the fact that Yale is not the only university experiencing this problem.
“Yale is not in this alone,” Long said. He added that amongst peers such as Harvard, Princeton, Duke, and Stanford, Yale has one of the highest numbers of minority professors.
One explanation the panel offered for deficits is the lack of minority candidates applying for these positions.
“It is largely due to the small number of faculty from whom we can draw,” Long said.
“A critical mass of people has to be attained,” Holloway added.
After the panelists spoke, the audience split into small discussion groups to find specific, practical solutions to the general diversity problem.
Organizers of the panel said they were pleased with the event.
“This is a great turnout,” said Hannah Guhm Croasmun ’01, Dwight Hall program coordinator.
Both Croasmun and other organizers said that the panel should be considered as only a starting point for future discussions on diversity.
“We hope that it will have started a level of discussion that goes beyond just having panels on diversity,” said Liza Cariaga-Lo, assistant dean of diversity at the Graduate School and the moderator of the panel.