Apply to join The Signal

Georgia State re-launches faculty diversity goals

Photo Illustration by Hannah Greco | The Signal

In 2016, there were double the amount of white tenured professors to black tenured professors at Georgia State, a statistic in stark contrast when compared to the university’s nationally ranked student diversity.

Part of the school’s 2011 overall strategy was to establish a diversity plan for the school population. Designed to promote racial and gender diversity among faculty, the plan was merged into the university-wide Strategic Plan in 2016. But one year later, Dr. Jim Ainsworth, chair of the University Senate’s multicultural committee, realized that the faculty demographics had not changed.

According to Jessica Siemer, SGA Academic Affairs Committee Chair for the Atlanta campus, Ainsworth came to SGA with the realization that “the diversity portion of the strategic plan really had no diversity in it. We didn’t actually see an increase in diversity among faculty after the plan,” Siemer said.

Ainsworth then asked several students, some from SGA and some who were not, if they felt that having a diverse faculty actually mattered to them. The consensus, Siemer said, was that it did matter.

“The idea of having role models and the idea that people tend to feel more comfortable approaching teachers that look like them,” is what made the lack of diversity among faculty so impactful, Siemer said.

The issue raised concerns among faculty and SGA boards, which led Georgia State University President Mark Becker to act. This time, Becker created a new commission designated specifically to manage diversity among faculty instead of letting the problem fall between the cracks of a larger plan.

The Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty, created in 2017, now operates on new guidelines and oversees every aspect of diversity.

The problem, Siemer said, is not in blatant racism, but in “inherent biases that come with people.”

Helping to spearhead the endeavor is Dr. Kavita Pandit, Georgia State’s Associate Provost of Faculty Affairs. Her office, which follows the guidelines of the newly crafted diversity plan, works with teachers to manage their progress and assist in aspects of human resource.

The Office of Underrepresented Faculty, led by Dr. Cora Presley, declined to comment.

ROOT CAUSES

According to Pandit, the lack of diversity among faculty across the nation is rooted in three causes: the pipeline problem, the hiring process and implicit biases.

The “pipeline problem” is the lower rate of minority students going to graduate school and becoming qualified enough to become professors in the first place. Pandit also said that the hiring process could reduce diverse hirings, as many professors are recruited by word of mouth. Implicit biases, much like Steimer said, can hold diversity back without malicious intent.

“When someone reviews applications, they may put their own bias on the applicant, thinking ‘oh, this person’s name sounds a little different, or this person went to this institution.’ With this kind of bias, minority candidates could unknowingly be weeded out by,” Pandit said.

To combat these factors and promote advancement in young and minority professors, Pandit said the Office of Faculty Affairs works on faculty development, which she said, “finds ways for faculty to feel valued, improve their skills, become better teachers, become better leaders, and mentor each other.”

Pandit said that Georgia State has also launched the “Pipeline Project”, which works on encouraging diverse students to pursue graduate programs and become professors. The Office of Faculty Affairs has also put together resources for search committees on how to recruit, select, and hire diverse professors and offer classes on how to interrupt bias.

President Becker has established the commission for next generation faculty, which, according to Pandit, pursues innovation to increase diverse faculty numbers. “What can we do to bring in the very best and diverse faculty and make sure that they want to stay?” Pandit asked.

Though the diversity plan explains clear steps in allowing the “pipeline” to include diverse students from graduate programs, one professor, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Most of us feel that the administration is less focused on pedagogy and faculty development than we would like. We are really disappointed in the low levels of financial support for graduate students.”

Even if that problem did not exist, the same teacher said, “The hiring budgets will not allow us to hire new faculty at all right now.”

But French professor Mathias Guerreiro said that diversity was not an issue for him as, “we are a diverse group of French instructors. I am from France, I have colleagues from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Haiti, Iran, Romania and the U.S.”


This story was updated on April 9, 2018 to reflect a more accurate timeline of the creation of the Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty.

Be the first to comment

Join the Discussion