Tufts Anti-Racism Initiative: Compositional Diversity

Working to intentionally recruit a more diverse community and creating pipelines for faculty, staff, and students are among the goals
A scene from the Tufts campus. Working to intentionally recruit a more diverse community at Tufts and creating pipelines for faculty, staff, and students are among the goals recommended for the university.
Our efforts at diversification must be energetic and sustained, or we will lose faculty that we worked so hard to recruit,” said Nadine Aubry, Kevin Dunn, and Chris Swan. Photo: Alonso Nichols
February 17, 2021

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On July 8, 2020, President Anthony Monaco announced the creation of a new strategic initiative aimed at making Tufts an anti-racist institution. As part of this effort, five workstreams were charged with identifying structural racism throughout the university’s academic and administrative enterprise and outlining the steps necessary for eradicating it. 

Following a presentation of their findings and recommendations at a Town Hall for faculty and staff on Feb. 12, Tufts Now spoke with workstream leaders about what they found, what’s been done so far, and what to expect in the next phase of work. 

Tufts Now asked Nadine Aubry, provost and senior vice president, Kevin Dunn, vice provost, and Chris Swan, dean of undergraduate education for the School of Engineering, to share takeaways from the Compositional Diversity workstream’s report. The full reports for all five workstreams are available on the Office of the President’s website

Tufts Now: What were the major findings and recommendations about the four major groups covered—faculty, staff, admissions, and university leadership?

Nadine Aubry, Kevin Dunn, and Chris Swan: Our data collection showed clearly what we all knew: that we are not where we would like to be in the diversity of our students, faculty, staff, and leadership. It is essential that we acknowledge that fact and work to address it.

Our workstream produced over 50 recommendations, so they are difficult to summarize, but there are some common themes. One is that we need to look at our metrics when we assess applicants (students, faculty, and staff) and make sure that we are pushing to the forefront the qualities that will enable us to recruit a more diverse community.

Another is that we need to attend to creating and maintaining pipelines that will bring faculty, staff, and students to us; for faculty and staff, we also need to create internal pipelines by developing career ladders and leadership programs. Finally, across all the groups, we stressed the value of transparency and of building a culture that celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The report indicates that faculty of color have left the university at a higher rate than white faculty. What can be done to retain them? 

We are not the only institution working to attract and retain faculty of color, which means we are working in a competitive marketplace. Faculty of color want what all faculty want: recognition of their contributions, support for their research and scholarship, bright and ambitious students, and a supportive workplace.

We need to make sure we provide all that and do so in a way that is equitable. But given our lack of diversity, faculty (and students and staff) of color also want to be able to look around them and see colleagues that resemble them. That is why our efforts at diversification must be energetic and sustained, or we will lose faculty that we worked so hard to recruit. 

The report focuses primarily on the undergraduate community. What can be done to encourage more diversity in the graduate and professional schools, which ultimately become faculty streams?

Our graduate and professional schools each has its own set of challenges in diversifying its community. Many of those challenges can be addressed through our recommendations, although many are more specific to each set of students. We believe that efforts being taken at each school, under the leadership of our chief diversity officers, will be able to make meaningful progress in this area. 

How can more diverse hiring be done that is not seen as tokenism? How can it be consistent and thorough across schools and departments?

The perception of tokenism can only be avoided, we believe, by not being satisfied with a few hires and by continuing to press for diversifying our student body, faculty, and staff. But we also have to address this at the level of our thinking and rhetoric, making sure that we don’t see diversity as an “extra,” something added once we’ve met our “real” needs; rather, it must be seen as an essential, core goal and an important form of excellence.  

What are “partner hires” and dual career support?

It can be a real impediment to hiring and retaining faculty and staff when we attempt to hire someone from another area who has a partner in our profession. Partner hires would enable us to have a strong competitive advantage, but there are other forms of support, including working with a network of local institutions to find a place for the partner.  

What are “window of opportunity” hires?

Institutions use this phrase in different ways. We define it as keeping funds available to act quickly to make hiring moves that improve our faculty, including by diversifying it. Sometimes, for instance, a search will turn up more than one excellent candidate, and the opportunity presents itself for hiring more than one faculty member. At other times, an outstanding senior faculty member at another institution may be available for hiring outside the usual search process. 

What are “cluster hires” and what is their impact on diversification?

Cluster hires are a mechanism that allows a school or the university to make multiple hires in a general area of research and teaching, thereby forming a cohort of faculty with similar interests. The value of this method for creating interdisciplinary collaborations is obvious, but it can also be an important method of hiring a more diverse faculty and then retaining it.

If the cluster is defined around subject matter such as diaspora and migration, then we are more likely to attract a diverse pool of applicants. And once the cohort is hired, it produces a natural community that is conducive to retention. 

Can you explain more about making “service an equal to research in evaluating faculty”? 

Our faculty of color all feel the pressure to take on more service than other faculty members. Students of color look to them for advising and departments, schools and the university itself asks them to serve on many committees in order to diversify those groups.

Needless to say, this produces an imbalance, and unless we insist on assigning value to those activities, faculty of color will always be operating at a disadvantage in promotion and other evaluations such as those around merit pay.