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Excellence and Diversity Go Hand in Hand

February 6, 2015

Last semester in a variety of venues across campus, several robust discussions took place on important aspects of advancing diversity at KU, including

  • faculty and staff hiring strategies for increasing diversity,
  • admissions and enrollment of a diverse student body,
  • a supportive climate for faculty, staff, and students from underrepresented populations, and
  • policies promoting our core conviction that excellence and diversity go hand in hand.

Along with Nate Thomas, vice provost of diversity and equity, we as a community are working collaboratively on these priorities. 

I would like to focus this issue of Provost eNews upon the single topic of increasing faculty and staff diversity, as it serves a foundation for building a stronger climate of inclusion in the entire university.

Hiring for Excellence

Last fall, department chairs around campus attended a roundtable discussion on diversity, and a number of them were also part of one of the advisory groups that I meet with periodically for advice and feedback.  I would like to relate part of a discussion that I think you may find informative, namely, about the Hiring for Excellence process in our strategic plan Bold Aspirations.  I regard this process as a key strategy to make real and lasting progress on diversity hiring.

Following campus-wide workshops in 2011 led by external speaker Vic Hunter, we developed and instituted campus-wide protocols at KU for Hiring for Excellence in order to recruit the very best faculty candidates (and not coincidentally, more diverse candidates).  We start out each search requiring a large diverse pool, and even more importantly, once the pool is developed, the protocols help the search committee determine in an intermediate stage those truly excellent candidates to bring to campus as finalists.  Those finalists tend to be more diverse than finalists chosen in the traditional way of looking only at CVs, and as a result we hire better and more diverse candidates.

Here are some statistics from just the first year of use of Hiring for Excellence in the College:

  • 83% of rankings of faculty candidates changed as a result of the intermediate stage.
  • 14 more females and eight more underrepresented minorities were brought to campus as finalists than would have been otherwise.  
  • Five of those women were made job offers (three accepted), and three of the minorities were made job offers (two accepted). 

The strong diversity in our faculty hires program reinforces for me the main tenet that excellence and diversity go hand in hand.  Here are some statistics on the change in the number of assistant, associate, and full professors on the Lawrence campus for the last three years from Fall 2011 through Fall 2014 (as tracked in KU Data Profiles table 6-115):

  • The percentage of faculty who are minorities increased by 15.6% — from 193 (18.2%) three years ago to 223 (20.3%) this year. 
  • The number of female faculty during that same period increased by 9.4%. 
  • In contrast, the number of Caucasian faculty increased by 0.8%, and
  • the number of male faculty increased by 0.3%. 

The Hiring for Excellence program provides the tools to make excellent — and diverse — hires, and we are working continually to improve it. 

While discussions of how best to diversify faculty sometimes raise the possibility of a special and separate track for minority hires, Chancellor Gray-Little and I have both seen such programs at other universities create an unintended second-class perception for minority hires, which in the long term has been damaging to those institutions.  In contrast, our process Hiring for Excellence has led to stellar hires and at the same time has enhanced diversity

I do believe it makes sense to target excellence in diverse faculty at the tenured level and by so doing to build the cohort of mentors for junior faculty of color.  A good example is the successful Langston Hughes Visiting Professor program.  We also work with deans on bridge funding for targeted opportunities when a faculty slot is not yet available.  

Going forward

Beginning next academic year, we plan to utilize the Hiring for Excellence process on a regular basis for a number of staff searches as well.  In the early fall, we will offer a campus-wide workshop for faculty and staff covering enhancements to Hiring for Excellence and best practices to encourage diversity.  In the meantime, the members of our faculty development team, led by Marta Caminero-Santangelo, interim vice provost for faculty development, are happy to meet with any search committee to assist you in getting the best results, and they welcome feedback on the process.  Recruiting materials are also available online

There is still much more to do. We share a common goal of enhancing excellence and diversity, and I am heartened by the progress underway.  I encourage all search committee members, department chairs, and directors to help make the Hiring for Excellence protocols as effective and well utilized as possible.  By so doing, we will hire truly amazing faculty and staff and at the same time build a vibrant and diverse KU community.  

Bits and Bytes

  • On February 9–11, the University of Kansas will host a team of consultant-evaluators from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association as part of its regular 10-year university-wide reaccreditation review.  While on campus, the team will meet with a cross section of university administrators, faculty, staff, and students.  Open sessions and the Self-Study report are available to faculty, staff, and students. 
  • The next deadline for Level I Strategic Initiative Grant proposals is just over one week away:  Monday, February 16, at 5 p.m.  This cycle is the second and final Level I proposal cycle for the 2014–2015 academic year.  Information about the program, including all components of the application, is available online.   Since its launch in 2012, the Strategic Initiative Grant program has awarded more than $5.4 million in Level I awards to Lawrence researchers for innovative, collaborative projects.  Level II proposals, for less than $50K, can be submitted at any time and have a relatively quick turnaround.
  • Upcoming presentations in the Bold Aspirations Visitor and Lecture Series:
    • John Hansen on Tuesday, February 10 at 3:30 p.m. in Spooner Hall.  His topic is “Speaker and Noise Variability — Making Future Speech & Language Systems Robust.”
    • Mark Shiflett on Thursday, February 26 at 3:30 p.m. in the Bruckmiller Room of the Adams Alumni Center.  His topic is “Ionic Liquids — Phase Behavior to Applications.”
  • KU is applying for designation as an Innovation & Economic Prosperity University through the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).  This prestigious national designation is awarded only to universities that have demonstrated excellence in innovation and economic development initiatives.  As part of the application process, KU will host two Innovation & Economic Prosperity Community Forums.  We invite all KU employees, students, and external partners to participate.  The forums are designed to help us better understand and improve the university’s efforts and activities related to innovation and economic development.  Forums are scheduled for
    • Tuesday, February 17 from 4:00–6:00 p.m. at the Bioscience & Technology Business Center in Lawrence, and
    • Thursday, February 19 from 4:00–6:00 p.m.in the BEST Conference Center at the KU Edwards Campus. 

    Registration is required to attend.  Participants are asked to RSVP by Thursday, Feb. 12.  For details contact Chelsea Nuttall at cnuttall@ku.edu or 785-864-2441.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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