The diversity dilemma: Georgia State’s solution to improve faculty diversity

The majority of Georgia State’s students are people of color; however, as reported last year by The Signal, this contrasts with the diversity within the faculty, which is predominantly white.

But, since the last reporting, Georgia State has begun a new initiative to address these concerns.

“Faculty equity, engagement and diversity will always be very important to the university,” Provost Wendy Hensel said.

Back in November 2017, Georgia State University President Mark Becker and former Provost Risa Palm formed the Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty to observe what changes were needed to diversify the staff. The commission was tasked with coming up with a number of recommendations and, in doing so, engaged in activities such as reviewing national and university data and trends about faculty recruitment, engagement and retention.

In addition, James Ainsworth, chair of the University Senate Cultural Diversity Committee, has been gathering statistics for over 11 years as a way to advocate for diversity among faculty. However, Ainsworth notes the problem of faculty diversity is not something that is going to change overnight. All of the initiatives that are being implemented are still initiatives that are very novel and will take time to demonstrate concrete, statistical differences.

“This is a big change,” Ainsworth said. “The university wasn’t really focused on faculty diversity in any significant way … they were focused on creating a pipeline through [the College of Arts and Sciences] or trying to get undergrads to go to graduate school.”

Until recently, faculty diversity was not at the forefront of Georgia State’s issues to address, but the administration has realized diversity is attainable. This year, the commission created in 2017 released the Report of the Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty.

“Georgia State has the potential to become a nationally recognized model for leadership in building a diverse and inclusive faculty, given its diverse student body [and] geographic situation in the heart of Atlanta,” the executive summary of the report states.

Although diversifying the faculty has been underway for a while, new Provost Hensel has introduced diversifying the faculty as one of her most pressing initiatives. Hensel was named provost and senior vice president for academic affairs in September 2019 after previously serving as interim provost and senior vice president since July.

“My goal is to provide clear, transparent leadership and open lines of communication with the university community,” Hensel said. “Students are at the heart of everything we do and will remain front and center as we identify future priorities.”

According to Hensel, the faculty diversity initiative arose out of the two-year study the commission implemented by Becker and Palm in 2017. 

“Although we are above the national average in faculty diversity, we have a highly diverse student population and are committed to hiring faculty from diverse backgrounds,” Hensel said.

This commitment to hiring diverse faculty is expressed through five “transformative recommendations” and three “best practice initiatives.”

The first recommendation is to “make faculty diversity and engagement a priority” to the president, provost and senior leadership.

The second recommendation calls to invest “resources into deepening the sense of community and engagement for all faculty” and celebrate the different peoples and cultures on campus. 

The third recommendation is to “create a Center for African-American and African Diaspora Scholarship and Outreach,” where African American faculty will feel comfortable participating in research and collaboration to “foster intellectual community” across the university.

The final two transformative recommendations concern implementing recruiting strategies and addressing retention trends.

The first initiatives is to “adopt and implement best practices for hiring faculty from diverse groups.” The second is to create programs that effectively retain and develop faculty from diverse backgrounds. 

The last initiative is to create a steering community that will enforce these changes. Hensel said the commission has already started implementing the recommendations.

In addition to faculty, these changes may also benefit students. Students seeing people that resemble them in leadership and learning is beneficial to the education process, according to Hensel. 

“All students, regardless of background, benefit from a wider range of perspectives,” Hensel said.



Commission Members

Dr. Kavita Pandit, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs

Dr. Sara Rosen, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Elizabeth West, Professor of English and Executive Director, South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA)

Dr. James Ainsworth, Associate Professor of Sociology

Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa, Professor of Health Policy and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Jonathan Gayles, Professor of African-American Studies

Dr. Kyle Frantz, Senior Faculty Associate for Pipeline Programs

Dr. Pamela Moolenaar-Wirsiy, Associate Dean, Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) – Perimeter College

Dr. Michael Galchinsky, Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness

Ms. Linda Nelson, Associate Vice President, Human Resources and Opportunity Development/Diversity Education Planning

Mr. Dallas Smith, GSU Foundation Board

Ms. Kerry Heyward, University Attorney (ex officio)