Dever examines faculty diversity

by Erica Buonanno | 11/16/14 7:03pm

In her first months at Dartmouth, Provost Carolyn Dever has advanced initiatives including faculty diversity and experiential learning.

Dever said the College must hire faculty from underrepresented backgrounds and build relationships with historically black colleges. Although this might involve expanding the size of the faculty, Dever said she is not pursuing expansion for its own sake.

College President Phil Hanlon addressed recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty at a faculty meeting last month, noting that the College has committed $1 million to this goal. In five years, the College aims to have minority and international professors comprise 25 percent of its faculty, Dever said at the October meeting.

In the Ivy League, Dartmouth has the highest proportion of white faculty, at 84 percent, according to the 2013 College Fact Book. Columbia University follows, with 82 percent; Yale University 80.1 percent; the University of Pennsylvania 79.5 percent; Cornell University 79 percent; Harvard University 79 percent; Princeton University 79 percent; Brown University 77 percent, according to the most recent data available on each school’s website.

As talented academics from underrepresented backgrounds are in high demand, recruitment can be a challenge, Dever said. She said, however, that while Hanover is “not particularly diverse,” every location presents its own challenges. When she was at New York University, prospective faculty were concerned with the city’s high cost of living, and at Vanderbilt University some applicants were not interested in living in Nashville, she said.

Vice provost for academic initiatives Denise Anthony said the Provost’s office is focusing on recruitment and retention so the College can create a supportive community in which students, faculty and staff can be mentored throughout their career development.

The provost’s office seeks to partner with foundations and funding agencies that have innovative programs for developing talent in different academic fields, Anthony said.

Another academic goal is expanding exposure to Thayer Engineering School beyond those pursuing engineering degrees. Thayer dean Joseph Helble said Thayer has begun searches for new faculty members who will help design new engineering classes for non-majors based on their expertise and interests.

In January, the provost’s office will announce a new central resource for experiential learning, director of action-based learning programs Gail Gentes said. This will fall under the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning.

Gentes, who was appointed to the position last fall, said she spent the year collecting data and cataloging Dartmouth’s experiential learning opportunities. She also studied other institutions’ efforts, noting that schools have different conceptions of experiential learning.

The formal initiative, which has not yet been named, will develop new courses, work with faculty seeking to redesign existing courses and offer programming to students, Gentes said.

She added that she hopes this resource will encourage faculty members to assess the impact of action-based learning on campus.

Gentes said that the implementation — which she hopes will occur in the coming months — depends on hiring a viable candidate to lead the initiative, but she added that she is also interested in finding a “faculty champion” of the initiative.

DCAL interim director Lisa Baldez said that, following a period of broad discussions about the importance of experiential learning, now is the time to talk more specifically about teaching and learning. This aligns with Dever’s focus on academic excellence, she said.

“She sees and I see teaching and learning at the center of that enterprise,” Baldez said, “and so the idea is to think much more intentionally about what it is that good teaching and learning is, how we do it, and propel Dartmouth to a national leadership role in terms of enhancing teaching and learning.”

Faculty clusters, an initiative announced last fall, unite groups of professors from different fields who are interested in similar topics, such as globalization or “the puzzle of the brain.”

“The whole point of the clusters is to identify significant issues in which Dartmouth can have an impact,” Dever said.

Students will work alongside faculty in researching these disciplines, she said.

She said there will ultimately be 10 clusters, at a cost of around $15 million each. The Neukom cluster, which will focus on computational science, is the first.

A search is underway for the cluster’s chair, and Dever said she hopes to find an external, senior-level hire by next year.

Dever said of the 29 first cluster proposals, five will be developed further. Faculty will soon be invited to submit a new round of cluster proposals to the provost’s office, a process that will occur annually until the College launches 10 clusters.

Dever also created a task force of 10 faculty members to explore forming a more unified graduate program at the College.

Task force chair Jon Kull wrote in an email that by the winter interim, the group will have met three times this term. During the winter, the group will meet four times and have a more “fleshed out” report by the end of the term, he said.

“From my perspective this is a bit of a silent period,” said Dever, who will receive the report. “From theirs, it’s the hardest part.”

At the November Board of Trustees meeting, Dever discussed admissions initiatives and the recent boost in early decision applications. Dever cited subject-specific tours and the “alumni ambassador program” as examples of a larger variety of admissions programs.

Dean of admissions and financial aid Maria Laskaris said this program will get alumni involved with the admissions process beyond conducting interviews, like attending college fairs at local high schools.

Reflecting on her first months at Dartmouth, Dever said she is excited to be teaching an English course next winter, which she has provisionally titled “The Victorian Gothic.”

“One of the things I’m energized about going forward is getting an even better grasp of the range and scope and interest of the work going on here,” she said.