A template for equity: inside the Brown School’s faculty hiring

| Senior News Editor

As the first school at Washington University to admit African-American students, the Brown School of Social Work has long been an institutional leader in recruiting and retaining faculty, staff, and students from underrepresented backgrounds.

The school has continued this legacy by creating a system of equity within its faculty hiring processes, reflected by women and underrepresented minorities making up a larger percentage of faculty in the Brown School than in any other Washington University school. Such commitment to creating a diverse faculty is particularly notable at a University which, has struggled to recruit and retain female and underrepresented faculty in some cases.

This dedication to equitable hiring has endured even as the school has been forced to overcome obstacles. In 2010, the departure of a number of senior faculty of color prompted remaining Brown School faculty and staff to reflect on the climate and support systems in place to support underrepresented minority faculty members.

Following this departure, the Brown School has taken several steps to ensure their faculty makeup reflects the ideals they champion. What follows is an investigation of what made these efforts so successful and a discussion of how this work can be utilized in other schools at the University.

Noa Yadidi | Student Life
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The Brown School by the numbers

As of fall 2016, almost a quarter of Brown School tenured and tenure-track faculty members are underrepresented minorities, a number will increase when new hires are included in the most recent census, slated for completion in November. Amongst the dean’s administrative team, consisting of assistant and associate deans, 31 percent are people of color, 19 percent identify as members of the LGBTQIA* community, and 75 percent identify as women. 55 percent of tenure/tenure-track faculty members are women.

According to Dean of the Brown School Mary McKay, the recent hiring of two new faculty members—professor Fred Ssewamala and associate professor Leopoldo J. Cabassa, both of Columbia University, brings the number of underrepresented minorities to one-third of tenured and tenure-track faculty. Should the Brown School hire three additional underrepresented faculty members, that number would catapult to over 40 percent.

Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Tonya Edmond believes that a diverse faculty goes hand in hand with the school’s core mission and values.

“One of the advantages we have in comparison to the other disciplines on campus is that social justice is a core values within the social work profession, so it gives us more of a mission-driven justification for why this matters. Equity is one of the central objectives, not just for the profession, but also for the school. I know that for other disciplines, this is something that isn’t necessarily front and center for them,” Edmond said. “We’ve really worked hard to make this something that is part of everyone’s responsibility across the whole institution.”

Ensuring equity in the recruitment process

To ensure all hiring candidates are granted an equitable hiring process, the Brown School has institutionalized diversity training. All members of the search committee are required to complete training offered by the Office for Faculty Advancement and Institutional Diversity. Facilitated by Vice Provost and law professor Adrienne Davis, these sessions focus on best practices and hiring strategies, with particular focus on uncovering implicit bias in the hiring process.

While other Washington University schools only require search committee chairs to complete the aforementioned training, the Brown School requires all members of its faculty search process to attend. By doing so, Davis hopes that all individuals involved in the hiring process will be knowledgeable of patterns and mistakes that have emerged in existing searches.

“I stress to my colleagues that I don’t hire people, the provost doesn’t hire people, the dean of the Brown School doesn’t hire people—it is the faculty who hire people,” Davis said. “This only changes because my colleagues across the University are doing things differently. They’re showing commitment, they’re putting a lot of energy and innovation into it, so they are the ones really driving this.”

A significant part of the diversity training is dedicated to combatting implicit bias which, according to Davis, can disrupt good hiring.

The Brown School is also attempting to broaden its recruitment pool by utilizing various tools to attract a diverse pool of candidates. In addition to broad advertisements for faculty positions openings and promotion of University initiatives, such as the Serenade Program and the Distinguished Visiting Scholars Program, faculty are encouraged to utilize their social networks to identify qualified individuals.

Institutionalizing equity: Faculty retention methods

Brown School administrators have taken a two-pronged approach to fostering a diverse environment, stressing that an equitable recruitment process will be in vain if the school lacks support systems to retain new faculty. In his role as associate dean for faculty and research, Sean Joe adopted an approach that prioritizes building an equitable process for Brown School faculty in every facet of their positions—research, teaching, and career advancement.

“My research experience and work in this [field] for 20 years has taught me that you have to pay attention to the social networks that are available to faculty and to ensure that, at least as an institution, in terms of our broader functioning and culture, that all faculty feel involved, engaged, and [are] given opportunities for leadership,” Joe said.

By examining data surrounding a faculty member’s workload, including the number and kind of courses being taught, the Brown School can ensure faculty of all seniority are given the same startup framework. As faculty members transition into the Brown School, their course load is reduced, allowing them to fully develop their teaching skills and the full-range of work afforded to everyone, according to Joe.

In addition to accounting for a period of adjustment to Washington University, the Brown School tries to give faculty similar opportunities for leadership early in their careers by encouraging exploration of curriculum-level and school-level leadership opportunities.

Joe’s office has also instituted the Faculty Impact Profile, a program allowing faculty to share their key research priorities and major findings across the school’s leadership structure and to the University’s key partners in corporate relations, foundation relations and the Office of Alumni and Development. Rather than a few faculty members being handpicked, the Faculty Impact Profile attempts to provide all scholars with a chance to promote their profile, allowing the Brown School to support faculty research equally.

“When we’re looking for opportunities to support faculty research, the dean can actually see what’s happening there, and it’s a little more equitable versus the ones who have a closer social relationship or someone who’s better at promoting themselves,” Joe said.

The annual faculty review process, relaunched during the 2014-2015 academic year, provides an additional opportunity for the Brown School to track a scholar’s development process, deepening the school’s investment in its faculty and allowing faculty members to feel fully integrated into the school environment.

Activity Insight, an online faculty reporting system, was introduced at the Brown School in an effort to collect and aggregate data from faculty. In addition, the reporting system allows the school to have an online process for faculty to present their annual review information, in a process called faculty development evaluation.

“Activity Insight is really good for us because it makes us much more responsive and dynamic,” Joe said. “It’s in a centralized place. We have the ability to build upon that for more effective use. We did it in a very quick period of time to put it in place. It took a year and a half. And now it’s being used and so far it’s been going well.”

Following the submission of their evaluation, junior faculty have their cases reviewed by two senior faculty members to receive suggestions on research, teaching, and service. Following individual meetings with both Joe and McKay, junior faculty have input from the top-down about their career trajectories— a comprehensive process that reflects the support structures that the Brown School offers its faculty members.

Within the faculty development evaluation process is a template for junior faculty to draw upon during their tenure review several years down the line. During the annual review process, faculty nominate six other faculty members whom they would want to review their work. Of the six, Joe assigns two individuals to each scholar’s evaluation.

“It’s built in a way that it leads faculty to their tenure statement so the framework of it mirrors an early tenure statement. So, they’re building a document that grows incrementally over time until they come up for really formal tenure review. They’re getting senior faculty feedback from a diverse group of people so that they’re getting really good feedback from the colleagues who will evaluate them in the long run,” Joe said.

In addition to this mentoring in the formal review process, the standard social approach—where faculty gravitate toward one another because of shared academic interest—is the predominant method of mentorship in the Brown School. During his annual fall meetings with faculty members, Joe frequently checks in to ensure that a junior faculty is in conversation with, dialogue with, or working in collaboration with a senior faculty member.

Leaders on the Danforth campus: Brown School’s vision for equity

For McKay, increasing diversity in both faculty hiring and student recruitment aligns directly with the Brown School’s broader goals.

“If we are preparing the next generation of students to be excellent leaders around social change, around dismantling racism and I absolutely need students of color in our seats enlarged. If I care about who teaches them, that they have role models and people ahead of them, I absolutely need a highly diverse faculty,” McKay said.

Within the past month, University administrators have navigated around several events affecting marginalized groups in the United States, including the Aug. 12-13 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., and President Trump rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While McKay envisions the Brown School leading the Danforth Campus in having the most diverse faculty and student body, she believes this leadership extends to the national stage.

“Never before have I seen such a void at the highest levels around bringing us together. And tolerating and even supporting divisions by race, by class. And so we are going to need to step into that leadership space,” McKay said. “I think that the kind of events that are occurring just continue to fuel my deep commitment that our school needs to be an agent of social good, of justice, of clear communication around how our values need to translate into action in our country. I think that’s where we are and where we are going to grow to be.”

  • Monica Alzate

    Great to know that the SSW is leading the effort to diversify faculty, but keep in mind that most social work students, even at the PhD level are women. This is not the case in the STEM disciplines, thus the pool to recruit women is bigger in SW. Even with this advantage, only 55% of tenure or tenure track are women, when at least 75% of new PhDs are women. As far as minorities, it would be good to know how many are foreign born vs native. Food for thought for your next article. Enjoyed reading this one. Thank you.