Commitment, active involvement of leaders key to ensuring success of women of color faculty
By Jane R. Elgass
"You, as a leader, must be committed and demonstrably involved all along."
Speaking at a meeting of the Women of Color in the Academy Project last week, Charles Krause said that advice, from U-M colleagues Beth Reed and Mark Chesler, "was the single best piece of advice I've gotten."
Krause, who is senior associate dean at the Medical School, was handed that advice during the early years of the Michigan Mandate, when his department was developing a strategic plan to recruit minority faculty.
Krause also noted that he "didn't realize how little I knew at the time. A lot of those in this room educated me."
Krause touched on both recruitment and retention issues, noting that "we have to sell the University and Ann Arbor as a place where you can be successful. We need help from many on this."
But, he said, "retention is even more important. To bring [new faculty] in and not nurture them is the worst thing we can do. We don't do as well as we need to, especially with women of color. Those in leadership roles need to be educated by you," he told the audience. "We don't do it intentionally, we just don't know better. Leaders need to be involved. That's the only way to learn."
Krause cited the special value diversity adds to the environment of the University and his growing understanding of the special barriers faced by women of color. "It shocks me how frequently you are challenged by such barriers as lower expectations and child care responsibilities."
The development of a truly diverse environment at the University, Krause said, "has an additional payoff. We solve these problems, and we make it a better place for everyone else."
Last week's meeting was designed to open the dialogue among women of color faculty and University administrators, and included presentations by several administrators and a panel of women faculty of color. They highlighted some of the challenges they have faced and continue to face because they are women and because they are women of color, described by one speaker as "being dealt a double blow."
The Women of Color in the Academy Project is one of several initiatives related to both the Michigan Mandate and the Michigan Agenda for Women, "all designed to make women equal partners in the University community," explained moderator Satwant Samra, associate professor of anesthesiology.
A personal commitment to the goals of the Mandate and Agenda, as well as the commitment of his office, were made by Provost J. Bernard Machen in opening remarks to the group, who noted that he looked forward to the presentations and discussion "because there is much for all of us to learn about the experiences and challenges of faculty women of color."
While the University has many positive attributes, Machen noted, "the situation of this particular cohort of faculty is one that concerns me, and raises questions that need answers."
"Why, in 1995, do women of color represent only 4 percent of the governing faculty?
"Why is it that women of color achieve tenure at a rate significantly below that of men of color, white men or white women?
"Why are African American and Latino women less likely to hold tenure or tenure-track appointments at the University of Michigan than their male peers?"
Machen then ticked off six areas identified by the President's Commission on Women's Issues where answers might be found:
The tenure process is adversarial, with inadequate rewards for service. Faculty are not encouraged to conduct research in their interest areas.
Mentoring is inadequate and there are not enough role models.
Basic information about expectations is lacking.
The distribution of teaching responsibilities is inequitable.
There are many issues associated with the climate for women of color.
University policies and basic structure contribute to the problem.
Machen noted that as the leader of the struggle to make women and minorities equal partners, President James J. Duderstadt "has shown that the University's commitment to excellence is integral to and compatible with a commitment to diversity. President Duderstadt's lasting legacy to Michigan will be his commitment to excellence through diversity.
"As his era ends," Machen said, "it is time for all members of the University community to step forward and demonstrate that diversity is one of the core values of this University."
Lester P. Monts, vice provost for academic and multicultural affairs, shared information on recruitment and retention strategies that have worked effectively with a number of campus units. These include the Target of Opportunity Program and a new program of cluster hiring being embraced by the Department of Psychology, among others.
He also noted joint funding being done with Vice President for Research Homer A. Neal's office for postdoctoral students in science areas.
With respect to the pool from which potential faculty candidates can be drawn, Monts chastised the University for not tracking its own Ph.D. graduates.
Looking at the pipeline issue from another dimension, Monts commented on the success of the Wade McCree Incentive Scholars Program, which begins working with 9th-grade students. The U-M has graduated its first group of Incentive Scholars and only one left the program, transferring to another university.
"We need to build up these pipelines," Monts said citing the presence of more than 400 students and family members at a recent gathering in Detroit of the Incentive Scholars. "The majority of the young students were women. Our yield based on our track record so far will give us future scholars," he added.
Progress has been made in supporting women of color faculty with research interests, "but much more needs to be done," Neal said. "One of the roles of my office is nurturinghelping junior faculty get started, helping senior faculty change fields, helping anyone who finds it difficult to secure external support."
Neal's office provides funding for the Women of Color in the Academy Project, supported a Women's Studies Program teaching and research agenda on "Differences Among Women" last year, supports the new Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and has supported a large number of projects in recent years, "efforts of single faculty members mainly, but efforts that support the goals of the institution."
When Patricia Gurin assumed the top post in the Department of Psychology, she turned to Robert Weisbuch (now interim dean of theHorace H. Rackham School of Studies) because of his success in recruiting new minority faculty.
Weisbuch told her to "never stop recruiting, do it 12 months a year." As a result, Gurin's unit has a standing committee that meets at least every two weeks to "ferret out possibilities that may not come to fruition right away."
The department also is taking advantage of the cluster hiring funding provided by Monts' office "so that we don't have to negotiate the "Is" and the "Ts" every time. If we can find the appropriate person, we can move immediately."
The unit has appointed 11 faculty of color over the past few years and hopes to appoint eight more in the next two or three years. Gurin said hiring faculty of color at every level "is a terribly difficult job."
Gurin attributes some of the failures to the difficulty in hiring just-tenured people to "a quality at Michiganarrogancestands in the way. Attitudes have to change. We hire only those who we believe will succeed here."
Gurin also cited two "structural" problems:
The disproportionate number of women, and women of color, in the lecturer category. LS&A is reviewing this, Gurin said, but she fears that since the members of the executive committee are elected members of the faculty, "they don't appreciate the amount of work done by lecturers that most of us wouldn't do."
The tenure and reward system. Gurin said the tenure process has become "too reputational," noting that support must come from faculty at the top schools and that even their CVs have to be included.
While he "started as a child in diversity," Sherman James, associate dean of the School of Public Health, admitted that he's not an expert in issues facing women of color, but "my ears are wide open."
James called "amazing and equally pathetic" statistics that show that women of color make up only 4 percent of the public health faculty and that of the University at large.
And those at the School of Public Health are fairly recent; two are associate professors and two are new assistant professors. What accounts for that recent success?
James cited four elements:
Excellent national reputations of the hiring departments.
Demonstrated interest and support by the chair, faculty and students during the recruitment process.
Competitive starter packages with respect to salary, equipment and laboratory space, as well as careful attention to gender equity in salaries.
Flexible expectations with respect to teaching loads the first two years, with senior faculty helping new faculty develop their courses.
James said the failures have come when one or more of the above factors was lacking "or a trailing spouse couldn't find a job. If one member of the partnership is not in academe, it's very difficult," he said, "and this is even more true with women of color. It's not significantly recognized by University leadership."
Tactics used by the School of Public Health to help encourage individuals have included:
Successful mentoring by a senior faculty member.
Recognition of the value of research on populations of color.
Clear explanations of what it takes to be successful, with continuous feedback on progress, feedback that is supported by the dean.
Avoidance of unreasonable pressures that may be detrimental to the individual's career as a result of active intervention by the chair and dean.
Perceived easy access to the dean or his/her representative. "The welcome mat should always be out," James said.
If the individual receives a good offer from another school, "we respond with the most we can."