Strategies for Supporting a Diverse Faculty

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While the diversity of undergraduate student populations is steadily increasing, faculty diversity continues to lag, especially in fields such as engineering and science. To see what could be learned from institutions that have made real strides in this area, we reached out to Wanda Mitchell, vice provost for faculty development and inclusive excellence at the University of New Hampshire, and Myron Anderson, associate to the president for diversity and associate professor of education technology at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Anderson and Mitchell suggest that to really see gains in fostering a diverse faculty, you need to:

  • Clarify guidelines and expectations around key processes, especially the tenure process
  • Audit your tenure and promotion policies to remove unnecessary impediments
  • Clarify and articulate the unwritten culture of both the academic department and the institution
  • Break down any sense of isolation among faculty members
  • Make sure there is parity in access to resources, tools, and mentoring

“In removing the impediments that minority faculty face, at the end of the day you are creating better resources, tools, and policies for all of your faculty. When you are working toward “inclusive excellence,” you create a situation where everyone wins.”
Myron Anderson, Metropolitan State University of Denver

Reviewing Your Policies

Mitchell suggests that the first step is to review your tenure and promotion policies — and make them more prescriptive. For example, ensure that there are clear guidelines for a structured conversation between department chairs and faculty at the annual review, and that both parties know how to prepare for that conversation.

“It’s critical that your institution clearly articulate the expectations for promotion and tenure, and that this process is outlined and communicated to new faculty.”
Wanda Mitchell, University of New Hampshire

Second, make sure that your policies allow for stopping the tenure clock for specific reasons, and that it’s clear to junior faculty in what cases this can happen, and how it will work. “Promotion and tenure processes tend to focus on a lockstep approach,” Mitchell cautions. “But things happen in the lives of our faculty. Do you have family-friendly policies?”

Specifically, do your policies explicitly allow for stopping the tenure clock for the following:

  • Medical or maternity leave
  • Opportunities to do research overseas
  • Other forms of research leave (for example, a term of leave for junior faculty to work on publications)

“Policies of this kind don’t just help minority faculty,” Mitchell notes. “They are likely to help all your faculty. Let the drive to support diverse faculty be an impetus for re-examining and clarifying your policies.”


Mitchell suggests regular monitoring for equity at the department level, the college level, and the institutional level. In particular, as your institution looks to recruit more women faculty in STEM disciplines, take care to check:

  • Are they teaching more classes than their male counterparts?
  • Do they have the appropriate lab space to do the research they are expected to produce?
  • Is there equity in salary across male and female faculty?
  • Is there gender parity in rank — for example, among faculty who have achieved the rank of full professor?

If you find that you have few women with the rank of full professor in your STEM disciplines, Mitchell recommends revisiting the way the department conducts annual reviews (not just for women, but for all faculty). “Make these reviews developmental in their approach,” she advises. “Set specific objectives for the next year, and determine what resources or support the individual faculty member needs to achieve those objectives. Do they need release time for research? Do they need a coach or mentor? Do they need funding to support additional travel? Make sure department chairs are providing individualized advice and support.”

Mentoring Junior Faculty

Beyond pairing junior faculty with tenured faculty who “know the ropes,” Anderson and Mitchell suggest forming mentoring workshops that address specific questions around faculty culture, faculty development, and tenure and promotion — even the difficult questions. Provide a forum for addressing questions around:

  • Teaching strategy and classroom management
  • Work climate and expectations around faculty professionalism and around interactions between faculty
  • How to design a research agenda
  • How to connect a research agenda to the current work of the department
  • How to apply for grants
  • How to connect meaningfully with other faculty
  • How to balance scholarship, teaching, and service appropriately
  • How to navigate the political climate of the department appropriately

In a workshop focused on the tenure and promotion process, keep the content focused, clear, and practical. For example:

  • Bring in a mid-career faculty member to discuss what they had to submit as part of their tenure portfolio
  • Bring in a faculty member who has just completed their first annual review, to discuss preparing for the review

“This can be very low-cost,” Mitchell adds. “Recently tenured faculty are often happy to come back and share. Provide dinner and foster a conversation; then have a department chair or a dean speak about tenure and promotion policy.”


In this March 2010 article from Academic Impressions, Mary Coussons-Read (University of Colorado Denver) suggests best practices for structuring faculty mentoring to be effective and meaningful.

Taking Mentoring to the Next Level: The Tenure-Track “Supper Club”

One initiative that MSCD is pursuing is what Myron Anderson calls a “supper club” for tenure-track faculty. It’s a pilot program, open to all junior faculty, and its goal is to build a stronger sense of community and of peer support among faculty on the tenure track.

“You want to create a safe environment,” Anderson suggests, “and then facilitate courageous conversations.” Accordingly, the role of the 7-8 diverse senior faculty that have been identified as mentors for MSCD’s program is not to give presentations, but to provide resources and then assist junior faculty in developing strategies for success together.

Anderson also recommends structuring the “supper club” around a curriculum and a text, and organizing the club similar to a book club or a graduate seminar. While the supper club at MSCD is in its infancy, early feedback has been very positive.

Real Change Will Require Systemic Thinking

Beyond these tactical initiatives, however, Anderson stresses the importance of thinking systemically. “You cannot ghettoize diversity,” he warns, “trusting in a diversity office by itself to foster a more diverse campus or a more diverse faculty. Infuse diversity in the curriculum. Infuse it in the language of your policies, in the writing of job descriptions. Include cultural competence training in your leadership development and mentoring programs. Systemic changes will have the real impact, and will stand the test of time.”