On April 6 the college announced a move by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support diverse hiring in the fields of humanities, humanistic social science and arts, putting forth $8.1 million to the 14 schools in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). On the same day, Chair of the Diversity Committee Daniel Beers presented draft proposal on diversifying faculty hirings.
As Beers explained, the same-day announcement was a lucky coincidence.
“I actually had no idea about the Mellon grant until Monday [April 6]. … It’s going to directly benefit the initiative to bring more faculty from underrepresented backgrounds to campus, because the grant is going to open up … some funding to actually pay the salaries for a couple new tenure-lined openings for a couple of years.
The Mellon Foundation grant is broken up into two main parts. The larger part is the $4.6 million faculty fellowship. 30 total fellowships will be awarded for the colleges and between one and three fellowships will be offered to each college. The money will be used to offer monetary assistance for a two year period per hire on tenure-track appointments of an underrepresented individual.
The second major aspect is fellowship for students, four each being offered to the ACM schools. $430 thousand dollars will go toward aiding students interested in academia in acquiring a summer internship with one of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) universities in the Midwest, which are often dubbed by the football nickname the “Big Ten.”
Juniors and seniors would be taking on these internships for one or two years, depending on their year. These students will also be students of underrepresented backgrounds.
Bringing the two fellowship types together, students and faculty members selected will attend workshops relating to academia and barriers to diversity in the field, among other topics.
The Diversity Committee also presented their draft of an initiative for diverse hiring at the April 6 faculty meeting. This initiative is one of many outlined in the 2018 Strategic Plan and is rooted in the goals stated in the plan. The Strategic Plan puts forward the goal of increasing unrepresented or international hires to 50 percent in five years.
The draft included a provision on training search committees on biases related to the interviewing and hiring of underrepresented candidates, as well as an initiative to connect with the greater Galesburg population wherein underrepresented groups exist. The committee also hoped to build better relationships with other colleges in the area for research, professional development and networking opportunities and mentorship programs within the college for new staff and faculty.
“I felt that there was broad support for a lot of the recommendations in the document and it was a pretty wide-ranging document,” Beers said. One of the largest questions faculty brought up in the meeting was what the term “underrepresented” meant and how search committees are able to recognize less obviously diverse individuals.
The proposal also looked into the prospect of anonymous reporting for faculty and staff.
“This is probably especially important on the staff side, because if you are in an environment that you don’t feel comfortable in and you don’t want to report it to your boss because are you afraid of what the repercussions could be, we are in danger of losing you as an employee,” Beers said.
Professor of Political Science Lane Sunderland presented concerns about the legal ramifications of the current language at the faculty meeting. As the draft stands, it includes a numerical example of how the college could consider candidates. The usage of numbers in an example may appear like a quota to legal officials.
In a later interview, Sunderland sited previous instances where quota-like actions by a college were disputed in court, such as the 1978 Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke and in the two affirmative action cases against the University of Michigan.
Speaking on these prior cases, Sunderland said, “It was clear that that numerical quotas would not pass muster under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. … We would be in some legal liability if we implement this sort of program.”
Sunderland supported trying to create a more welcoming environment on campus and noted that there are intrinsic drawbacks in being a small college in a small city.
“I think it would be acceptable to try to explore every avenue to try to attract underrepresented individuals,” Sunderland said. “But as that pool is narrowed I don’t think that following that ratio system would be legally acceptable.”
Beers responded to this criticism that the intent was not to create a quota, but instead for faculty search committees to make sure they aren’t accidentally letting someone by who could provide a perspective and background that is underrepresented at the college at this time.
“Some things that came through to me was that a diversity statement would be a great way to handle, especially on the faculty side, how we understand who the applicants are and what they could bring to campus. … There really are good candidates out there, but we are not necessary currently doing the best job of understanding who they are or finding them,” Beers said.