Faculty diversity increases, remains College priority

While the student body becomes more diverse with each year, increasing faculty diversity remains a priority and a challenge for the College as it struggles to find and attract eligible candidates.

In 2007, persons of color made up 18 percent of the faculty. This number included 24 professors of Asian heritage, 10 black professors and 16 Latino/a professors. Statistics from 2006 showed that 97 out of 252 faculty members were female, a total of 38 percent. There were no faculty members identified of American Indian heritage.

The College has been increasing the diversity of its faculty over the past decade. In the 1994-1995 school year, 14 percent of the faculty was of color and 33 percent of the faculty was female.

Like most institutions of higher education, the rates of faculty diversity are below the national averages. Data released in 2007 by the U.S. Census Bureau indicated that one in three Americans is of color, a total of 100.7 million individuals. On campus 29 percent of students are identified as belonging to a minority, with seven percent made up by international students.

Much of the discrepancy between national, student and faculty diversity is due to the small pool of qualified faculty candidates. In the past decade, minorities have received only around 15 percent of total doctorates awarded in the United States.

“This is an issue of little supply and huge demand,” said Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity. “Even though I want to increase in a certain area, you’re limited by where you have opportunities. Not only are there not that many PhDs, we probably would not accept half of them because of the degree-granting institution.”

According to the 2006-2007 Self-Study for Accreditation available online, the College has a higher rate of faculty diversity than that of most liberal arts institutions. However, the College also encounters greater disadvantages when attracting diverse candidates than more urban schools and larger research institutions of similar caliber. These other institutions may offer a reduced teaching load, which runs contrary to the College’s goals as a teaching institution. In addition to more research money at larger colleges, social life and quality of local public schools were also possible deterrents for faculty considering the College, Reed said.

One aspect of the College that has been highly attractive to minority faculty members, however, is its free-standing programs in areas such as Latina/o and Africana studies. In most schools, faculty in similar programs often share appointments in other departments, leading to restrictions on teaching and research flexibility. The College’s Latina/o Studies program is the only free-standing Latina/o Studies program among liberal arts colleges in the United States.

“The free-standing program allows the faculty members teaching in that program to engage in very rigorous interdisciplinary research and teaching,” said María Elena Cepeda, professor of Latina/o studies. “It is a little more difficult [in non-free-standing programs] to engage in interdisciplinary work in part because of the competing demands of one’s home department and smaller programs that don’t generally enjoy the same degree of institutional support and large student enrollments.”

Despite the free-standing program, Cepeda senses a lingering resistance to interdisciplinary studies. “There’s still a questioning on the part of many folks on campus, among the students, faculty, administration and alumni – [regarding] our very existence, what are we bringing to campus, if we’re worth studying,” she said.

She also cited the “traditional liberal arts atmosphere” as a complicating factor for faculty in these areas who may be considering coming to the College. “There’s a reason why [liberal arts colleges] were built in the middle of nowhere,” Cepeda said. “They were historically designed for certain people to attend and to engage in intense study in an isolated locale, for elites. While that attitude is slowly being abandoned … Williams in its institutional structure at times still reflects that attitude.”

“We need to re-conceptualize how we define diversity at Williams,” she added “I think that campus-wide, diversity is still very much defined one-dimensionally; people tend to locate it all in race. But while race is of course central, diversity is a lot more complicated than that, in that you can’t divorce race from other issues, such as gender, class, sexual orientation, regional, national identity.” She suggested that the College should focus on retention as well as recruitment.

Changes since Diversity Initiatives

In 2004-2005 the College examined its diversity through a series of Diversity Initiatives. One aspect of the Initiatives included the 2006 faculty and staff satisfaction survey carried out by three consultants from Cambridge Hill Partners. Another report was filed by the faculty-student-staff Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC) from 2006-2007.

The CDC report presented findings based on its three main objectives of inaugurating postdoctoral fellowships in the sciences and mathematics, engaging department chairs with the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity and enhancing the Bolin Dissertation Fellowship program.

Among its recommendations, the CDC report suggested increasing the term of the Gaius Charles Bolin Fellows from one to two years. The CDC also proposed allowing departments to bid for Bolin Fellows in specific disciplines to better suit departmental needs, rather than waiting for open applications.

The Bolin Fellowship program draws in minority postdoctoral candidates who work on their dissertation at the College while teaching one undergraduate course during the year. Since its inception in 1986, four out of 46 Bolin fellows have gone on to hold positions at the College. In the 2007-2008 school year, the College hired three Bolin Fellows.

The Cambridge Hill report, compiled also with data from earlier studies on faculty demographics, was mostly a qualitative study. The report cited a number of criticisms of the College, including the lack of “a clear and explicit vision of what it aspires to achieve in the realm of diversity.” Since then, the College has reexamined its structure and policies and published a list of the changes undertaken from 2004 to 2006. These include the recruitment of new faculty of color and the creation of Reed’s position, formerly held by Nancy McIntire, as the assistant to the President for affirmative action and government relations.

Reed’s office targets five academic departments in particular for recruitment: English, political science, psychology, biology and athletics. Chosen based on size and the opportunities available, these departments will be the special focus of faculty diversity in next two to three years as greater networks are formed in these areas.

“You have three months [to recruit faculty] – you cannot develop a diverse pool of candidates in [that period],” Reed said. “The only way to do this is to take a long term approach and build relationships with institutions, conferences and individuals,” he said, adding that attending conferences and leveraging alumni are examples of how the College is currently working to expand its networks for institutions that are producing PhDs for women and people of color.

Reed also questions whether the College can maintain its number one ranking in U.S. News and World Report without first working to increase faculty diversity. “It’s competitiveness, it’s mentors, it’s expansion of the curriculum, and it’s diverse ideas and points of views that [faculty] bring to make this a more challenging and exciting place,” Reed said.