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Postdoc Support and Inclusive Hiring Practices Provide a Two-Pronged Strategy for Increasing Faculty
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J. Marcela Hernandez


Faculty in higher education institutions have not diversified at the rate funders of diversity programs had expected. Programs that just focus on the individuals from underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds without also addressing the institutional barriers to diversity are only partially successful. Institutional and cultural changes are rarely tackled, in part because they are difficult to implement. However, diversifying faculty has become an urgent priority, particularly with the wave of demographic changes that higher education institutions will be facing in the future undergraduate student body.


To promote faculty diversity, twelve Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions are currently participating in the Professorial Advancement Initiative (PAI), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate program. The program aims to double the hiring rate of URM faculty in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at participating institutions. From 2009 to 2012, these institutions hired an average of 24 URM STEM faculty members per year. Since the program started, the average has increased: 52 in 2013-2014, 65 in 2014-2015, and 56 2015-2016.


PAI is having success because it takes a two-pronged approach: creating a pool of URM postdoctoral scholars interested in obtaining faculty positions; and educating mentors, faculty, and faculty search committees about unconscious bias and diversity hiring.


To achieve the first goal, PAI directors in each participating campus recruit eligible postdocs among those hired at their institution. Once they are part of PAI, postdocs receive a small stipend and identify at least one mentor on their campus other than their advisor and a mentor in one of the other participating universities. PAI encourages participants to meet with their off-campus mentors at least once in person and provides funding to make this possible. In addition, PAI provides monthly webinars to address professional development needs and funding to attend conferences. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in research mentoring training and grant writing workshops organized by the NRMN-CAN program, another Big Ten Academic Alliance initiative. On some campuses, PAI directors organize additional activities and/or have individual meetings with PAI postdoc.


The second goal is addressed by exposing faculty hiring committee members at participating institutions to resources regarding unconscious bias and the benefits of having a diverse faculty. The aim is to mitigate negative racial and ethnic biases and perceptions among those involved in the hiring process. Since the start of the project, the PAI training team has educated over 1,250 faculty through workshops on unconscious bias and diversity hiring. In addition to in-person trainings, PAI developed resources such as video case studies and facilitation guides. An online, searchable database of PAI postdocs was developed to serve as a recruitment tool for all Big Ten Academic Alliance faculty search committees. This directory provides easy access for faculty search committees to a large pool of URM postdocs who bring diverse perspectives and experiences to higher education. Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions are encouraged to reach out to postdoctoral scholars in the directory and make them aware of their available faculty positions.


This approach effectively works on two fronts simultaneously, a strategy any diversity effort should take.


J. Marcela Hernandez, PhD, is the arts and sciences director for graduate and STEM diversity at The Ohio State University and diversity officer for the NPA.


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