President John Kelly and Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver talk faculty diversity and initiatives

The final segment of this series deals with diversity issues among faculty.


President John Kelly says diversity in the faculty is a major priority. Photo by Mohammed F. Emran.

Joseph Acosta, Managing Editor

In the final part of this interview with President John Kelly and Associate Vice President of Outreach and Diversity Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver, diversity issues among FAU faculty was the primary topic.


The first and second installment of this series can be found at the University Press: 


Joseph Acosta (JA): A lot of students have complained about the lack of diversity among professors and that it doesn’t match the amount of diversity among the students. So I want to know what can the FAU administration do to make the diversity of the teachers match the diversity of the students that we have?


John Kelly (JK): Yeah, it’s a good question. You know, when people are hired, if they are successful in academia, they typically stay, and they stay for a long time. A lot of professions people move from sales from this position to that position but typically if they’ve gone through nine years of training to become an academic professor. They want to go to a place and stay for a while. So the fact we have people that have been here for quite a while; until a person leaves you don’t often have the openings to fill it with more diversity. 


But that’s been our priority when we have an opportunity, to make sure that we have a diverse pool of candidates, and I look for that constantly. Doesn’t matter what area it’s in, we expect there to be a diverse pool of candidates. I think it’s also important to note that while there’s not the same match of diversity in the faculty that there is in the student body, the training that we give to faculty so that they are more inclusive and thinking more inclusively is an ongoing part of their professional development. 


In an effort to increase the diversity of the university, some colleges are beginning to look very closely at doing quite what we call cluster hires, so instead of, let’s say we had three positions open in the college of engineering or three positions open in arts and letters, instead of looking for one person, we might look for a whole group of three or four people that we’re trying to hire, and instead of doing a one by one with different search committees, you have a search committee that looks at a pool of candidates. You get more of a chance to attract a larger pool of diverse candidates and have a greater chance of doing diversity hires.


I will say that students and faculty members who came from diverse backgrounds are very highly sought after. So the competition to find students who are now faculty members, former students who are interested in going into the academic realm is difficult. It’s just the number of people out there. When we look internationally, we can attract faculty from other countries. But when we look within this country, the training of the minority students needs to improve and increase and that’s, I think, one of the great benefits of having so many students who go on to graduate work is their chance then to go into the professorial ranks if they choose to.


Andrea Guzman Oliver (AG): It’s definitely a challenge nationally for a lot of institutions. I know that human resources subscribes to a particular membership where any position that FAU posts gets posted on a bunch of other diverse platforms like the Chronicle of Higher Education through their Affirmative Action portal. I haven’t looked at it in a while so don’t quote me on the number but it used to be, like, anywhere between 30 to 35, different hiring sources that would push our positions out and that was one way for us to try to attract more diverse candidates to apply at FAU that started probably about two or three years ago. 


We’ve also been talking through the [Diversity] council and with the Provost office on how to provide more informal, as well as structured, mentoring for folks who are in the tenure track. Tenure track is just so difficult and it’s the only way to become a full-time tenured faculty member and culturally, you know, for some people it can be very difficult. As a woman, I chose not to do tenure track because I knew that I wanted to have a family and I knew that the commitment to not just teaching, but doing research and community service was going to be too much for me to handle with small children at home. 


So I think the more we can find ways to support graduate students as they’re leading into that profession and sort of prepare and support them for tenure track, we’ll see more people sort of rising up that then can be employed by the institution, but it is a huge national issue. There have been discussions within academia on [the] tenure track and whether or not it is the best way to hire a full-time faculty, because once again once a faculty member becomes full tenured, you know they’re locked in. That’s called the Golden Spot- you’re locked in for life basically. I think it’s finding avenues to best support graduate students as they’re leading up to become full-time faculty.


JK: I think an important thing is the idea of really mentoring students who want to go to graduate school who are from diverse backgrounds. Frequently there may not be somebody, and there’s nobody in my family, whoever went on to grad school. If I hadn’t had a good mentor, I wouldn’t be sitting here, and many kids do not have [that] mentor in place. At an institution like FAU, you find a mentor who sees the potential in you and then helps usher you in the direction of things you should do, how to build your resume, how to be in a place that you are competitive for scholarships or fellowships. For students that want that, I actually think because we are a fairly diverse university, we’re pretty good at helping students find avenues to graduate school, which is a prerequisite really for going into the faculty.


JA: You talked a little bit about the Diversity Council and I wanted to know if you could provide me with a little more detail on the Diversity Council.


AG: So the Diversity Council was developed once the strategic plan was finished and a platform for diversity was named. It includes representation from our colleges, the FAUPD, Equity Inclusion and Compliance, Human Resources, the Division of Student Affairs, Student Representative, and Public Affairs. It bridges across all units. 


There’s a couple of different things. It provides sponsorship and funding to host professional development for faculty and staff, or to augment professional development and learning opportunities for students. So, if you look on the website you’ll see that the last three years and reports are there, and you’ll see some of the speakers that the platform has actually supported everywhere from Jacqueline Battalora, Ana Navarro, Rosa Clemente, so we brought in some pretty impressive speakers through that platform. The platform vets the speakers in order to ensure that we’re selecting speakers that are really going to challenge people to think beyond the norm, to develop new perspectives. 


So our goal is always to build cross-cultural competencies and to really provide a different perspective for students, faculty, and staff to see things through. We also host the Diversity Symposium for faculty and staff. It’s an opportunity for faculty to really redesign their syllabi, for instance, we’ve had breakout sessions on implicit bias or unconscious bias. We’ve looked at white privilege. We’ve looked at redesigning the syllabus so that it is more culturally relevant.  We’ve looked at supporting people of color through tenure track. We also support the “WE LEAD” diversity symposium that you’re probably familiar with and that one occurs a couple of days, either after or before the faculty one, and it’s a way for us to bridge the type of content that faculty are receiving to what our students are receiving. We challenge normative behaviors and normative thought processes. We have breakout sessions that include panelists with activists from Fort Lauderdale from Boca. You know we include a tunnel vision as part of that experience so that students who may have never seen the intersectionality of some of the social justice issues that are here in the United States and globally they have an opportunity to sort of see that, and experience that, so the platform does those types of things. 


In addition to that we also take a look at some of our processes in place, and some of the practices that we have at the universities, and we submit recommendations to administration. So a really good example would be previously there was little to no language in our housing website regarding gender-inclusive housing, and so we worked with Owls Care, Health Promotion, and Student Services, and Lambda (LGBTQ+ legal group) was a huge help to really develop a comprehensive plan on making gender-inclusive housing, having gender-inclusive restrooms, adding some components to our applications so we know who is identifying as cisgender or transgender or a member of the LGBTQ community, and those things have slowly started to take place. 


Now you’ll see a spot where students can actually click on to seek gender-inclusive housing in orientation and they can identify as a member of the LGBTQ community so we can do outreach with those students. We support professional development in terms of training for individuals who served on search committees. Search committees is sort of a step in the door to any institution into any type of employment here at the institution so making sure that search committees are well equipped and that they understand what their own biases are as they’re going in and they understand what types of questions are appropriate for diverse candidates. So those are some of the initiatives that we do. Again, if you take a peek at any of the annual reports, you’ll be able to see more in detail. The new annual report for this past academic year, should be up by mid-July.

Joseph Acosta is the Managing Editor of the FAU University Press. For more information regarding this story or any other stories, email him at [email protected] or tweet him @acosta32_jp.