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Task force looks to ‘move the needle’ on faculty diversity

The Provost’s Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity has issued its report recommending steps that could help Cornell keep its competitive edge in attracting and retaining outstanding female and underrepresented minority faculty members.

“At the heart of our report is Cornell’s founding motto, that ‘… any person can find instruction in any study,’” said task force chair Mark E. Lewis, professor in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering, and senior associate dean of diversity and faculty development in the College of Engineering. “The committee is a diverse, highly committed group of faculty. At the end of the day, we want to create a microcosm of the society we all want to live in, where all can flourish and succeed.”

The task force was convened by Provost Michael Kotlikoff in October 2017 to recommend ways to enhance and accelerate the diversification of the Cornell faculty. Three themes emerged in the report: the need to “reset” the climate for diversity and inclusion, so that seeking diverse inputs and creating inclusive environments is a universitywide goal; increased access to and hiring of diverse populations at all levels of recruitment; and retaining diverse faculty, with efforts beginning at the time of hire and continuing until retirement.

The report builds on work the university has undertaken since 2010, when it launched the Faculty Renewal Fund to increase recruitment of outstanding faculty. In response to a 2011 faculty diversity report, the university implemented a multilayered strategy of programs and policies to increase its number of female and underrepresented minority (URM) faculty members, equaling or outpacing the diversity recruitment efforts of its peers. But now, peer institutions are more aggressively competing for these faculty.

“Over the past eight years, we have made important progress in increasing the diversity of our faculty to better reflect the diversity of our society and provide our students with the skills and perspectives to thrive in today’s world,” said Kotlikoff. “This report builds on that progress and provides thoughtful, tested recommendations to ramp up the effectiveness of our recruitment and retention efforts. I want to thank the members of the Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity, led by professor Mark Lewis, for the time, care and expertise they brought to this report.”

Among initiatives already implemented, said Yael Levitte, associate vice provost for faculty development and diversity, are establishing accountability structures in hiring in the colleges and units; strengthening pipeline and mentoring efforts; and addressing concerns around such issues as networking, child care, work-life balance, tenure clock and parental leave. “The provost also committed central funding to hire superior, diverse faculty and find employment for dual-career couples,” she said.

Levitte said those efforts have helped Cornell make some progress. “In 2011 we had 99 URM faculty (6.3 percent of the faculty),” she said. “We now have 136 (8.2 percent), a gain of 37. In 2011 we had 441 women faculty (26.7 percent); we now have 538 (32.6 percent), a gain of 97.”

But, she noted, over the same time period, 19 URM and 64 female faculty left the university. “Clearly retention is a key challenge for both groups,” she said.

The task force report makes several recommendations to help address the challenges and “move the needle” on faculty diversity, Lewis said. Among them:

Actions to reset the climate for diversity and inclusion:

  • Create an official university statement to formally connect Cornell’s motto to its commitment to diversity and inclusion;
  • Require tenure-track faculty and senior leadership applicants to submit a personal “diversity and inclusion statement” in their application;
  • Provide bias training for search committee members for senior administrative academic positions; and
  • Strengthen references to diversity and inclusion in colleges’ criteria for promotion and tenure.

To recruit top talent:

  • Attract applicants by hosting a Faculty Diversity Summit for graduating URM and female doctoral students and postdocs;
  • Identify strategic university initiatives that are likely to align with areas of expertise of diverse candidates and support those positions with funding from the provost;
  • Expand the Presidential Postdoctoral Program to include fellowships for those from underrepresented groups and establish a Presidential New Faculty Fellows Program to prepare promising doctoral students for a tenure-track position at Cornell; and
  • Increase the provost’s funding to support diverse hires.

To increase retention, especially among URM/female faculty:

  • Provide monetary rewards for time spent advising diverse students or serving on committees in need of diverse representation; travel funds for mentoring and networking; and junior faculty meeting groups;
  • Provide central funds to enhance the salaries of outstanding underrepresented faculty whose salary is significantly below market;
  • Enhance recognition for female and URM faculty excellence at the college level, including appointments to endowed chair positions;
  • Provide a loan program to help new faculty buy a home in Ithaca and establish community connections.

“We understand that the university may not be able to implement all of our recommendations, so we structured them so that the implementation of even a subset of them will help the university realize significant progress in faculty diversity,” Lewis said.

Along with the reports submitted June 8 by the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate to address issues of prejudice and bigotry at Cornell, the recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force to Enhance Faculty Diversity will be considered by central administration to determine what can be implemented – in what timeframes – to improve Cornell’s climate for diversity and inclusion.

The full faculty diversity report is posted on the provost’s Academic Initiatives website.

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John Carberry