Committee reviews College inclusivity plan
A chart depicting action plan tasks with 2017 deadlines and statuses according to the Inclusive Excellence website.
An external review of the action plan for the College’s Inclusive Excellence initiative found that while the plan has clear objectives, it lacks in-depth accountability, a faculty retention strategy and student involvement. The external report, which was released more than a week after the College’s self-imposed deadline, is an effort to increase transparency and accountability in its policy initiatives.
The action plan was announced May 27, 2016, based on the recommendations of three different working groups studying inclusivity among faculty, staff and students, respectively. It articulates many goals under six broad initiatives that seek to increase faculty and staff diversity, build a more inclusive community and increase accountability and transparency measures.
The external review committee is meant to address accountability and transparency, reporting to the Board of Trustees on the action plan’s progress every year.
Sixteen of the goals were slated for completion by various dates in 2016 or 2017. Of the seven goals with specific completion dates in 2017, two were completed late and one is incomplete, though it was updated on June 5. Three goals, one of which is “Review tenure and promotion process,” are past deadline and have no updates. One goal is listed as “completed,” though it is unclear whether it was completed on time.
While some tasks have taken longer than expected, all are making measurable progress, College President Phil Hanlon said.
“I don’t see any action items which are stuck,” he said.
Special assistant to the president Chris Wohlforth said that while good progress has been made on “low-hanging fruit” such as allocating funds and increasing funds, more complicated processes such as creating a new distributive requirement on “human difference” take a longer time to complete.
Specific goals, originally set in 2014, included increasing the percentage of underrepresented tenure-track faculty from 16 percent to 25 percent by 2020.
The external report called this goal unrealistic, saying that it did not appear to be based on “actual analysis” and was “destined to fail.”
Keivan Stassun, interim external review committee chair and senior associate dean at Vanderbilt University, elaborated in an email that since faculty members usually stay at the College for 30 to 40 years, there is “perhaps three percent” faculty turnover each year.
“Even with very aggressive and ambitious diversity hiring initiatives in place, the demographics of the faculty can only change so quickly,” he wrote.
Furthermore, there are a limited number of minority Ph.D. candidates each year from certain fields, such as physical sciences and philosophy.
The report also said that among the faculty the committee had spoken to, there was a consensus that this goal was unlikely to be attained.
Hanlon said that while he appreciates the external review committee’s insight, the executive committee is still committed and “enthusiastic about that goal.” If it becomes clear that the goal will not be reached by 2020, the 25 percent goal will not change but the time frame will be pushed back, he said.
Separately, former vice provost for academic initiatives Denise Anthony, who stepped down from the role in May to return to teach full-time, had been working on an internal study of retention and tenure of underrepresented minority faculty, which the external review committee supported and recommended completing. College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email that the research on tenure and promotion will continue at the school deans’ level, and that the College will make an announcement on filling the vice provost position soon.
The school of arts and sciences, the Geisel School of Medicine, the Thayer School of Engineering and the Tuck School of Business have all reviewed their tenure and promotion processes, though information is still being gathered on what changes, if any, will be made, Wohlforth said.
The report was critical of the fact that while the provost is responsible for promoting faculty diversity, the dean of faculty of the arts and sciences has “near-autonomous authority over faculty hiring and retention.” Students and staff also feel disconnected, the report noted.
The inclusive excellence website, which lists all the action items publicly, is a transparency measure, Hanlon said. Every page of the inclusive excellence website has a contact form that sends an email to the responsible member.
While some faculty and students have submitted questions, Wohlforth, who helps manage the tasks and inclusive excellence website, only receives a couple of questions every month. The website usually receives around 50 unique views a week, though the number increases when the initiative is covered in a news story.
Faculty and students were to join the council on institutional diversity on July 1, according to the inclusive excellence website. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity is currently working with student affairs to develop a process to appoint students to the diversity council and two additional faculty members will be added to the council, Lawrence wrote.
Vice president for institutional diversity and equity and chair of the council on institutional diversity and inclusivity Evelynn Ellis declined to be interviewed.
The committee originally consisted of five members from various institutions, though the chair of the external review committee Shaun Harper stepped aside after moving to the University of Southern California to establish a new center on race and education. In the meantime, Stassun is serving as the interim chair. Harper may rejoin the committee at a later date, Lawrence wrote in a separate email statement.
The College has previously come under fire for how it conducts tenure review. Last year, English professor Aimee Bahng was denied tenure, to the chagrin of many students and faculty. Critics claimed at the time that a possible reason for this denial was that Bahng’s commitment to working with students was undervalued compared to her scholarly output.
The report noted that the College’s teacher-scholar method is “potent but perilous” if the teacher and mentor aspect is discounted during evaluation. Hanlon agreed that there is room for improvement on balancing the workload put on professors, but said that good teaching should not come at the cost of good scholarship.
“To put it in a different way, at some places if you’re really outstanding at one it makes up for being not so good at another,” Hanlon said. “We don’t accept that.”