Light & Verity

Faculty diversity initiative extended

$85 million for a program that has contributed to 84 new faculty hires.

Last December, Yale announced it would commit another $35 million to an effort to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty. After four and a half years, what does the university have to show for its Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative (FEDI)? Yale credits the program, launched in 2015 with a $50 million budget, with 84 new faculty hires so far. But as demographic data show, even that kind of money and that many hires can barely move the needle in a faculty that totals nearly 5,700 people.

“We only replace four or five percent of the faculty each year, so this is necessarily going to be slow going,” says physics professor Larry Gladney, the Phyllis A. Wallace Dean of Diversity and Faculty Development in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. (FAS includes all faculty who teach in Yale College and the Graduate School.) “Also, we haven’t done an optimum job of retaining women and underrepresented minorities.” Figures from the Office of Institutional Research show that university-wide, the percentage of women faculty increased from 39 to 41 percent from 2014 to 2019. In the same period, the percentage of Hispanic or Latino faculty went from 2.5 to 3.9 percent, and the percentage of black or African American faculty rose from 2.8 to 3.2 percent.

What FEDI is doing, says associate provost for academic resources and faculty development Karen Anderson, is helping to change the culture at Yale and make the existing faculty more open-minded about how they conduct searches and assess their faculty needs. “The real benefit is that it gets faculty to talk to each other and talk about goals,” she says.

Fedi has three main parts. The first, and most directly tied to faculty hiring, is a fund that provides matching money to Yale’s schools and academic departments to help recruit new faculty to fill a vacancy. The money might be used to sweeten an offer with funds for startup costs or research needs; it could also cover a staff position for the spouse of a recruit, or provide bridge funding during an outgoing professor’s phased retirement. It is through these varied means that FEDI has assisted in 84 faculty hires. (The administration is tight-lipped about specifics and does not identify by name the faculty who have been hired.)

The second part of the initiative is a set of faculty development offerings that teach people on search committees how to conduct more deliberate searches and be aware of implicit biases. “At nearly any university, the faculty are very inclined to think, ‘Well, everybody here’s terrific, so let’s just hire people the same way we’ve always hired people,’” says Abigail Stewart, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan and coauthor of the book An Inclusive Academy: Achieving Diversity and Excellence. Gladney says that before a search can go forward, an FAS department must produce a plan to insure that its search process will bring in a diverse group of candidates.

Finally, FEDI established programs to promote diversity in the “pipeline” to academic careers: the Dean’s Emerging Scholars program, which provides additional stipends and research grants to Yale doctoral students; a year-long, fully funded post-baccalaureate program to prepare students for graduate education; and a Presidential Visiting Fellows program that brings diverse academics at various stages of their careers to Yale for a year for teaching and scholarship. At least three of the Presidential Visiting Fellows were subsequently recruited to the Yale faculty.

Those pipeline programs won’t necessarily increase faculty diversity at Yale; most students from programs like the Dean’s Emerging Scholars will end up at other universities. But that’s part of the goal. “Investment in the pipeline is one of the most crucial intellectual responsibilities of top schools to all of higher education,” says Anderson. “If we aspire to the highest level of excellence it’s just an intellectual imperative.”   

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