Faculty diversity on upward trend

Efforts at increasing faculty diversity have shown an upward trend in recent years according to a report issued at last month’s faculty meeting. Dean of the Faculty and Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of English David Smith, and Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action and Government Relations Nancy McIntire, wrote and presented the report detailing the effectiveness of the College’s affirmative activities at the faculty meeting on November 17.

The report describes last year’s employment goals and success rates for the numbers of women and faculty of color and compares them to the figures from previous years. Last year, the College hired six women and two minority professors for tenure-track positions. Overall, the percentage of women on the faculty increased from 30.8 percent in 1992-1993 to 37.1 percent in 1999-2000. The percentage of faculty of color remained essentially constant, increasing slightly from 12.5 percent in 1992-1993 to 12.7 percent in 1999-2000.

“Our goal in faculty hiring is to build and maintain a faculty of the highest quality,” said Smith. “Within this context, the purpose of our affirmative action plan is to insure that we make every effort to insure that qualified minority candidates are appropriately represented in our candidate pool.”

With the large number of openings this year, 19 of which are tenure-track positions, McIntire considers this to be a “good opportunity to hire women and faculty of color. We are hiring in fields where there are a lot of women and minorities.”

In addition to the tenure-track positions, two special programs, the Gaius Charles Bolin Fellowships, which allow graduate students to teach one class and devote the rest of their time to finishing their dissertations, and the Sterling Brown ’22 Professorship, provide specific opportunities for minorities.

The affirmative action plan, implemented by the College in 1971, is a voluntary program. “We are not required by law to follow any mandated set of guidelines,” Smith said. “Rather, we have our own goals and our own program.”

“The goals that we have are just goals,” McIntire said. “They’re not quotas and if in a given year we don’t meet a goal, a department is not denied filling an appointment next year. There is no specific penalty if we are unable to meet our goals.”

The program has two phases. First, Williams targets advertising at women and minority job seekers of college teaching positions to encourage them to apply. Then, the College ensures that the applications by women and minorities are given fair consideration.

“In the end, all of our decisions are based on our commitment to hire the best available talent,” Smith said.

The numerical goals for the affirmative action program are based on the number of minority and women doctorate recipients in fields taught at the College.

“I think that because the percentage of women receiving Ph.Ds has been increasing steadily, I am pleased to say that the number of women who have been hired on the faculty in tenure-track positions has also been increasing steadily,” McIntire said. “My long-range interest is making sure that there is a sufficient number of women on the faculty so that they may assume leadership positions as chairs or deans or as heads of centers. While we can appreciate the degree to which the percentage of women on the faculty has increased, it will still take a little more time for women to go through the ranks and then be promoted to leadership positions.”

The number of faculty of color is an area where the College might need to improve, for the percentage of minority professors has remained about constant instead of progressively increasing.

“We should prefer to be improving,” Smith said. “In this area, we will have to continue to work very hard, because the market for highly qualified minority candidates is exceptionally competitive.”

Williams’ location in the homogeneous Berkshire region has some impact on the low numbers of minority faculty. “Williamstown is something of a hard sell,” Steven Gerrard, Associate Dean of Faculty and Associate Professor of Philosophy said. “The rural environment and the issue of spousal employment, but in particular, the lack of minority community, make recruitment and retention of minority faculty difficult.”

According to McIntire, a diverse faculty is necessary to reflect and mentor a diverse student body. “If you’re educating a diverse student body, men and women, African-American students and Caucasian, numbers of different groups, as a way of saying we value your undergraduate education, we also should be saying we hope those of you who are really interested in the academic and intellectual life will go on to get Ph.Ds and then we or a similar college will hire you,” McIntire said.

“So I see our hiring women and faculty of color as a way of saying to our undergraduates that we value the intellectual life and we value your achievements in an academic setting, and not necessarily as a way to make our numbers look good,” she said.

Overall, the affirmative action program is fulfilling its goal of diversifying and improving the campus. Of the top three positions in the College, president, Dean of the Faculty and provost, one is African-American and one is female. In Division III, a field where women are historically underrepresented, women make up a greater part of those departments than the percentages of women doctorate recipients in mathematics and the sciences.

But according to Gerrard, the College should not stop or ease up because it is making progress with affirmative action.

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