As soon as Dr. Christine Riordan began her tenure as president of Adelphi University in 2015, she vocalized her commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusion.
“Universities should be safe spaces for the exploration of ideas and the pursuit of knowledge–there is no place within the academy for acts, whether overt, subtle or unconscious–that marginalize any member of the community,” she said at the time.
These words became reality through new faculty hiring protocols at the private Long Island university. During last year’s recruitment process, Adelphi’s administration began conversations with faculty search committees, ultimately implementing more active search methods across all academic departments. After the first year of using these techniques, 12 of the 25 new hires are faculty of color. Administrators say this has never happened before at the university.
“There were so many faculty of color who were not being hired,” said Dr. Perry Greene, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Adelphi. “Underrepresented faculty were not making their way into our ranks as robustly as they would have liked.”
According to Greene, qualified academics of color were not being hired at the same rate as their white counterparts.
Dr. Chris Storm, a professor of mathematics and the Associate Provost for Faculty Research and Advancement, worked with Greene to go beyond traditional faculty search methods. As the former chair of the mathematics and computer science department, Storm has led previous search committees.
When academic departments need to fill vacancies, Greene and Storm said that they typically post the job openings on websites such as Diverse and the Chronicle of Higher Education. While important, Greene and Storm refer to these conventions as passive hiring protocols.
“There wasn’t anything in our previous protocols that were active barriers,” Storm said. “But we weren’t doing anything to open up so candidates from all perspectives would be open to apply.”
The goal for Adelphi was a more active approach by sending hiring committees beyond the campus to conferences, community centers, and even churches. Faculty were encouraged to do outreach within their own profession and personal networks.
Dr. Yiyuan Sun, professor and director of the College of Nursing and Public Health, said the passive hiring methods were not optimal for new and emerging fields. Sun co-chaired hiring committees for five positions in nursing, public health, emergency management and health informatics. None of her new hires applied through traditional job postings.
“They heard about the openings from their colleagues or mentors,” said Sun. She explained that it was a challenge collecting a pool of Ph.D. applicants with for new fields like emergency management and health informatics. Despite those challenges, diversity remained a priority for Sun.
“We tried to make the candidate pool as diverse as possible,” Sun said.
As required by Greene and Storm’s new hiring protocols, Sun was required to take at least two Harvard Implicit Bias tests. These online tests help participants identify their own biases without reporting the results to their employers. This helped Sun recognize her own blind spots as she led the search committee.
“My implicit bias: I like young people,” Sun admitted. She can now counteract this bias as she reads applications. “I tend not to look at their age.”
According to Sun, the Harvard Implicit Bias tests have had a positive impact on the faculty searches.
“Each person knew his or her own bias,” she said. “We tried to look at [applicants’] experiences, their scholarship, their publications. . . instead of looking at these personal factors.”
She also emphasized that women were underrepresented in certain scientific disciplines like informatics. She hopes to eliminate the stereotype that technology is best-suited for men. “We encourage the minorities,” Sun said. “Minority here means women in emergency management or women in health informatics.”
That said, Adelphi University’s search committees looked at factors besides ethnicity and race.
“I’m a woman in science. Technically we’re not minorities, but we’re minorities in the upper levels of science,” said Dr. Andrea Ward, the chair of the biology department who participated in two search committees last year. “When I’m thinking about diversity, we’re also thinking about research diversity and socioeconomic diversity.”
Ward found it rewarding to work with the administration to revitalize the recruitment process. “We were having a more engaging administration. I found it a little more gratifying,” she said.
Professors’ anxieties about losing authority over hiring quickly dissipated. “Some of the faculty were initially concerned, but it turned out to be a collaboration,” Ward added.
While 48 percent of this year’s new faculty comes from underrepresented communities, this is only a first step.
“I don’t consider a hire successful until they achieve tenure,” said Storm.
“Words don’t mean very much. I have to applaud the search committees,” Greene added. “Whatever our past practices as a university, we’re not just talking the talk, we’re walking the walk.”
Joseph Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @jjshong5