The University Record, November 23, 1992

Diversity now a matter of daily routine for English Department

Bob Weisbuch is "thrilled" by the diversification of the Department of English Language and Literature faculty. "It's made our lives 100 times better. We have a much more high power faculty, we're encouraged to read new texts, try new approaches. There is a strong will among the faculty to reconsider everything and allow for change. Everyone has been involved in efforts to attract women and minorities."

Weisbuch, who chairs the department, says the new appointments of faculty of color and of women in the past few years have made diversity a matter of course in the department.

"After a little while, there was no need for our faculty to represent themselves as people of color, they just represent themselves as individuals. We don't think of our faculty in terms of racial or ethnic background, as members of one group or another, but in terms of the persons themselves and their expertise."

He cites a comment made by Steven H. Sumida, associate professor of English, to Sandra Gunning, a visiting scholar in Afro-American and African literature. "She asked Steve how minority faculty related to the department. He said, 'We are the department.'"

The secret to the department's success?

"Having a president who has made diversity issues a central focus of the University made our job easier. There is a real sense of commitment. It's not just 'show.' There is a huge commitment down the line," Weisbuch says. "We've had great institutional support from the president, from Dean Edie Goldenberg and former Dean Peter Steiner, as well as from John Cross and John Chamberlin." Cross is LS&A associate dean for budget and administration; Chamberlin is LS&A associate dean for academic appointments.

He also cites "a universal desire on the part of existing faculty" to bring in more women and persons of color, as well as changes in the curriculum, which include requiring a course in minority or women's writing for graduation.

Weisbuch says the department currently is searching for a junior or senior faculty member to teach African literature, and there are approximately 100 candidates.

"We are considering white as well as Black candidates, any interested candidates. Politically, this was not viable a few years ago. You don't need to be Black to teach Black literature, and people trust us on this."

Weisbuch is angered "by the misperception that the standards for hiring minority faculty are different or lower. This is a terrible insult to people who've come here. It's absolutely untrue. Our selection process is rigorous. We compete well with other schools, and are successful about two-thirds of the time.

"They are individuals who have records of extraordinary accomplishments since joining us, and I'm not surprised, since we reject huge numbers of candidates for our openings."

Weisbuch says the ease with which he department has diversified reflects the discipline itself. "We're very involved in thinking about minority literature traditions. It's an intellectual quest, so it's natural."