The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 2nd

Faculty Executive Committee discusses how to increase faculty diversity

At Monday's Faculty Executive Committee meeting, members raised questions about the role of diversity in more than just the student body.

Provost Jim Dean said many students have expressed discontent with regard to racial issues on campus, the most prominent being the diversity of faculty. They want to be able to look up at the person teaching them and see a face that looks like theirs, he said. 

Dean said the conversation with students is continually evolving.

“We’re not making speeches to each other, we’re making plans for what we can do together. We’re collaborating in the true sense of the term, and I think that’s where we needed to get to," he said. "We’re building enhanced mutual respect for each other. I hope the students will continue to be patient with us.”

Dean said faculty hiring is pretty decentralized and takes place at the department level. Only 11.2 percent of UNC’s faculty members are underrepresented minorities. This is better, though, than many other large, comparable universities, he said. 

Dean insisted the issue not be taken at face value. He urged his colleagues to "consider not just the letter of it, but the spirit of it."

But, he said, under the most optimistic scenario possible, it would take a while to improve faculty diversity, partially because UNC really only hires faculty members once a year.

Dean proposed an exchange program with nearby historically black colleges that he said would give UNC a faster way to make sure its students have professors who look like them.

Many committee members including Bruce Cairns, faculty chairperson, advocated for the proposal, saying some sort of pilot project to test the waters could go a long way to uphold UNC’s position in the system and could be highly beneficial for establishing some sort of long-term collaboration or relationship with HBCUs.

Cairns said he wanted to ensure faculty who were hired in that way wouldn’t feel "diminished" by the circumstances.

Dean said he thinks it's important to establish an inclusive environment.

“We want to create a culture where everyone here deserves to be here and should be treated as such,” Dean said.

Committee member Rosa Perelmuter voiced her concern that the exchange program professors might receive a more demanding teaching schedule, leaving little time for other academic endeavors. 

"Right there, you have a huge difference because their time is absorbed by teaching, and not much is left for research," she said.

Cairns said the discussion is still ongoing.

“It’s hard, it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of continued dialogue," Cairns said. "But some of it is just visibility, acknowledgement — we’re still doing it, we’re still talking about it, we’re still pressing on."

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