New protocols aim to ensure diverse hiring pool for faculty

With faculty retiring in droves, Cornell is looking to recruit and retain the brightest and most diverse generation of new faculty the university has ever seen.

To support that process, the university is implementing new search accountability oversight measures to ensure that every faculty search attracts a diverse pool of candidates.

“Given the aging of our workforce, and the fact that we hire annually between 70 and 80 faculty, we have an unprecedented opportunity to ... bring to campus excellent, innovative and diverse faculty,” said Yael Levitte, associate vice provost for faculty development and diversity, whose office oversees the new measures.

These new measures are just one piece of a multilayered, universitywide strategy for increasing faculty diversity and supporting faculty retention, Levitte added, which the university supports through professional development and community-building programs. Recent hires also tend to be part of dual-career couples, and Cornell has been a leader in offering support to them. For example, the university recently launched a travel fund to offset dependent-care expenses for dual-career faculty traveling to conferences, meetings or workshops.

Last fall, Provost Kent Fuchs, who will become president of the University of Florida Jan. 1, rolled out the search accountability initiative. It requires all college and unit search committees to actively engage with their dean’s offices at key points in the faculty search process: first, during the initiation of the process, which includes discussion of search goals and recruitment plans; second, before inviting candidates to interview, to review the quality and diversity of the pool; and third, before an offer is made, so the success of the search effort can be discussed.

In the past year, each college has tailored a process that fits within its context and culture, and the measures now are being implemented. Sandy Dhimitri, chair of Human Resources’ Academic Services Council, worked with each college and unit to come up with a structure for these measures.

The accountability measures were informed in part by recent successes in diversity hiring by the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine. In engineering, women made up 26 percent of assistant professors in 2001, compared with 37 percent in 2012. When Fuchs was dean of engineering (2002-08), he implemented a strategic oversight committee for faculty hiring, which has since served as a template for other colleges and units to create their own accountability measures.

At the College of Veterinary Medicine, 31 percent of assistant professors were women in 2001, and 55 percent in 2012. In that college, the associate dean of academic affairs oversees the search checkpoints, which include making sure there is a specific search plan and that searches are sufficiently broad.

In addition to the accountability measures, Fuchs also has instituted a core meeting time policy to support faculty work-life balance. A 2010 Faculty Work Life study indicated that many faculty members, including 57 percent of associate professors, often juggling child care or elder care, were stressed by the timing of departmental meetings.

Now, each department must define hours between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, as “optimal meeting hours,” during which all department business meetings will be held. These measures have been implemented, alongside the search accountability measures, as part of an overall effort not only to increase faculty diversity, but to support these faculty members once they get here, Levitte said.

“The university is changing its practices and support mechanisms because it’s hiring a different demographic than it used to, with different needs,” Levitte said.