A breakdown of faculty diversity in the College of Arts & Sciences

| Staff Reporter

As the largest academic division at Washington University, the College of Arts & Sciences contains 24 departments, eight research centers and 12 programs led by over 400 tenured and tenure-track faculty members. These faculty members are widely renowned for their research in disciplines ranging from the natural sciences to the humanities. However, the diversity of academic scholarship doesn’t bleed over into the racial and gender representation within the school’s ranks.

With nearly 70 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in this division, the Arts & Sciences faculty have a unique responsibility of forming the bedrock of the education of Washington University students. But as each incoming class brings more underrepresented students to the University, the slowed progress in improving diversity within faculty becomes increasingly apparent.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 12.03.27 AMGraphic by Noa Yadidi

In light of the newly released data on faculty diversity on the Danforth Campus, this story represents a series of conversations with both administrators and faculty to shed light on the current state of faculty diversity in Arts & Sciences. What follows is an investigation of current hiring practices and a discussion of the unique challenge of tackling gender equity and racial diversity within the College of Arts & Sciences.

Arts & Sciences: By the numbers

As of November 2017, 10 percent of the faculty of Arts & Sciences identify as underrepresented minorities, with 6 percent identifying as African-American and 34 percent of tenured/tenure-track faculty identifying as women. These numbers are nearly identical to the Danforth Campus.

Over the last 10 years, the number of tenured/tenure-track women faculty has increased, from 28 percent in 2007 to 34 percent in 2017. Underrepresented minorities constitute 10 percent of tenured/tenure-track faculty, up from 6 percent in 2007. During the most recent faculty searches in Arts & Sciences, 22 percent of total hires identified as underrepresented minorities, while 48 percent identified as women.

The continued addition of women and underrepresented minorities to the ranks of Arts & Sciences faculty reflects the broader mission of the school to continue diversifying its faculty, according to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Barbara Schaal.

During this current academic year, there are 13 approved faculty searches in Arts & Sciences, with two in the social sciences, five in the humanities and six in the natural sciences, respectively. While the results of the searches won’t be known until the semester’s end, Schaal is encouraged by the latest round of searches.

“Every year, I want that needle to move. I want to have a more and more diverse faculty. If things work out this year, this will be a very good year for recruiting,” Schaal said.

Professor Ignacio Sanchez Prado, convener of the humanities division of the Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee (AAMC), noted the willingness of departments to hire diverse faculty members. But the key issue, Sanchez Prado believes, lies in the number of qualified candidates.

“I think the issue comes from the pool. But it’s not because we’re not advertising enough. It’s because of the nature of the pools. And this is a very difficult problem,” Sanchez Prado said. “I would say the problem in diversity hiring at the faculty level is not individual hiring practices by individual departments, but it is rather the lack of commitment of the academic fields at large in forming diverse pools of doctoral students. I think that’s where the real problem is—there’s a problem of pipeline.”

Ensuring equity in the recruitment process

In order to recruit diverse faculty, a close examination of hiring practices must be conducted in order to ensure that there aren’t additional barriers to entry for underrepresented candidates during the recruitment process. What follows is an explanation of how hiring works in Arts & Sciences.

The process of opening a search for a tenured/tenure-track faculty decision requires a department to first submit a detailed request to the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, headed by Dean Barbara Schaal. All requests are evaluated by the dean’s academic planning committee who assess the priority levels of these requests, ranging from “high priority” and “medium priority” to “save for next year.” Once a department is approved for a search, they create a description detailing the desired qualifications and areas of research they’re looking for.

Departments can pursue two routes of recruiting faculty: the traditional route is a national search in which a job opening is advertised to all candidates. Less common is the target of opportunity (TOO) hire, which represents an opportunity to recruit an outstanding candidate whose teaching and scholarship will enhance the diversity of the faculty. Both kinds of searches require the approval of the AAMC whose purpose is to monitor all full-time, tenure-track searches in Arts & Sciences. The Dean of Arts & Sciences appoints a committee, comprised of three tenured faculty members, for each academic division: humanities, social sciences and natural sciences to ensure that each search committee seeks as diverse a pool of applicants as possible. While they have no say in who is hired by a department, they oversee how the hiring process is conducted.

The hiring committees must ensure that their advertisement doesn’t contain language that favors a certain demographic. According to Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Barbara Schaal, the scope of an advertisement plays a large part in the University’s ability to attract a diverse pool of candidates.

“A search that’s focused very narrowly will have a less chance of being approved than one that is searching broadly,” Schaal said. “It’s a very important thing to do because it opens up a search to diverse candidates. And we’re seeing increased recruitment of diverse candidates. It means that you have the opportunity to recruit someone in an area that sometimes isn’t quite to the heart of what the search committee was thinking but they turn out to be fantastic and open to all kinds of new possibilities. So a wide net, I think, is very important.”

If pursuing a national search, the department must also widely advertise this opening by entering it into the national database, and other databases that are targeted toward underrepresented individuals, such as a disciplinary affinity organization for underrepresented academics. In addition to providing feedback on the scope of searches, the AAMC ensures that as finalists are invited to campus for interviews, the makeup of the finalist pool mirrors that of the applicant pool, according to Sánchez Prado.

“What I have to see is that the people who are invited to different interview processes…[that] it’s not underrepresenting people as represented in the pool. Making sure those numbers are not off. So we will be okay if the number of finalists…the proportions of the finalists match the proportions in the pool or maybe the department is making an additional effort to bring a little bit more of underrepresented candidates as represented in the pool. What would not be acceptable is if it’s in favor of the non-underrepresented groups,” Sánchez Prado said.

During national searches, a department can pursue alternate methods of hiring to increase the likelihood of a candidate accepting the job offer. These methods are: cluster hiring and partner hiring. Cluster hiring allows a department to hire multiple scholars into one or more academic units. According to Schaal, such a method makes a position more attractive to the candidates because it would allow the candidate to have a colleague immediately upon arrival and foster professional collaborations. These connections also function as a key retention method.

In many cases, the ability of a candidate to join the faculty of Arts & Sciences is dependent upon the ability for spouse or partner of the candidate to find employment. Whenever possible, Arts & Sciences tries to work with other departments and St. Louis-area businesses to help spouses find employment. However, this method of hiring often causes difficulties in the hiring process.

“Spousal hires are a challenge. We have a program with Saint Louis University to try and help with spousal hires. I know the deans at a couple of other places and we try to contact them when we have spousal hire issues. What works best is spousal hires that are done in the Washington University community in different schools. We’ve hired a number of spouses for people that have been hired at the medical school and vice versa. So it’s often done on an individual basis depending on what position the spouse would like to have and what’s available. It’s a rather common thing,” Schaal said.

According to Sánchez Prado, Washington University’s status as medium-sized, research university limits its ability to accomodate all partner hires at a higher rate.

“Here, faculty resources are more limited. Because the economic capacity of the University to hold tenure-track lines is different. You have to make sure that the department that is hiring the partner is comfortable. Sometimes it is the case, but sometimes it is not.”

Retention and the importance of institutional support

After a tenured or tenure/track faculty member is hired, the issue shifts from recruitment to retention.

Broadly speaking, Arts & Sciences approaches tenure at two different levels: preemptive retentions and responses to specific job offers that a faculty member may receive, according to Schaal.

“I think the issue is we’ve hired really, really great people. People that are going to be at the top of their game,” Schaal said. “When they become renowned, then other universities try to recruit them away because, like us, they want to diversify their faculty. So that retention issue is a really important one….That’s going to be a challenge in the future.”

More often than not, retention concerns the institutional support offered to a faculty member in Arts & Sciences. Specifically, for individuals recruited at the assistant professor level, retention efforts are more focused on mentoring, providing support for research and teaching, and opportunities to serve on university committees.

Rebecca Wanzo, associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, who was the first tenured hire in the WGSS department, notes that forming connections with mentors can be particularly challenging for underrepresented individuals.

“I think the problem that people have recognized in terms of diversity is that with underrepresented people the informal connections that people build often don’t happen with people of color,” Wanzo said. “You’re not invited as often to people’s homes for dinner. You’re not in the same social circles. So sometimes that happens and that has cost, that informal intimacy where people feel invested in you personally.”

Wanzo also noted that underrepresented junior faculty don’t always account for the need to have multiple mentors and the fact that the mentoring process may become less intentional after earning tenure.

“Having a diversity of mentors is also important when some mentors don’t work out. You can’t have one person who you depend on for everything,” Wanzo said. “A really diverse, rich faculty that are interested in bringing people along is always key in any institution. And again, you do need mentors at a variety of levels of your career if you want to continue to advance and do well. And I think that sometimes that drops off particularly post-tenure for some people.”

An additional burden on junior faculty comes in the form of university service. For women and underrepresented people of color, administrative labor and service labor can distract from academic research, according to Wanzo. Hiring more underrepresented individuals will ease the burden on those who are routinely asked to do university service work.

“One of the things I can say is that the population of the faculty of color in Arts & Sciences has grown exponentially since I’ve gotten here. Which means that I’m not called upon to do as much as I was when I first got here,” Wanzo said. “That’s the other thing to understand about people succeeding professionally is that if you increase diversity…institutional service obligations aren’t as high since you’re not only of only two or three people that are always asked to be on committees.”

A combination of both departmental and institutional support is key in ensuring that once brought here, underrepresented and women faculty have the proper amount of support to feel that Washington University is a place where they can thrive. Sánchez Prado, identifies institutional support for a faculty’s field as a key aspect of retention. He cites the lack of U.S. Latinx studies at Washington University as an example of how infrastructure feeds into faculty recruitment and retention.

“If you make an offer to a young Latinx faculty member, some of them are going to come because the job market is very tight. But if that candidate has another offer, they’re going to go to the place that has more infrastructure in their field, Sánchez Prado said. “Infrastructure in the field is important, at least as far as the social sciences and the humanities go to bring people of Latinx heritage. Beyond everything, it’s just self-preservation. You’re more likely to be more valued at an institution that values your field.”

Institutionalizing equity: Whose responsibility is it?

The unique challenge in carrying out the vision of a more diverse faculty is that Washington University operates under the organizational model “shared governance,” according to Vice Provost Adrienne Davis. Faculty members control some of the core parts of the University’s mission as they make decisions on both hiring and curriculum. A top-down approach to implementing equitable hiring and retention practices is incompatible with the decentralized structure of our university, according to Davis.

“In one way we could think ‘The University should do this thing and make it required for everybody.’ But we know that won’t work because we know that the disciplines have different needs, the schools have different cultures,” Davis said. “It’s trying to find what is the right balance between centralization and decentralization. How much belongs in the individual academic units, and how much belongs in a centralized place?”

Furthermore, the definition of “academic unit” and “centralization” varies based on which division is being considered. For the School of Law, where Davis holds an endowed professorship, the unit is the school. The Dean (of the School of Law) is in charge of everything related to that division. Whereas for Arts & Sciences, which contains many departments, the question of how to implement diversity practices is more complex. The structural differences between academic divisions at Washington University complicate the ability of Arts & Sciences to follow the template for diversifying faculty that is being used in other divisions.

Furthermore, the challenge isn’t just about increasing the numbers, according to Davis. Rather, changing cultures within the university is the ultimate goal, one that is inhibited by the University’s decentralized structure.

“The culture and climate piece is not… moving the way we need to see it move. As challenging as it is to increase numbers, part of what we’ re learning is that it’s even harder to change culture and climate. For any institutional organization, it’s harder to change the daily experience people have,” Davis said. “The question of how you change culture and climate in organizations that are structurally decentralized, designed to be decentralized, and in fact couldn’t function if they weren’t decentralized, is one of the great questions of our time.”