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Diversity committee discusses department hiring, faculty mentoring resources

Screenshot 2022-02-14 204115.jpg
DTH Screenshot. Screenshot of The Committee on Community and Diversity meeting on Feb. 14, 2022.

At the UNC Committee on Community and Diversity's meeting on Monday, Joseph Jordan, vice provost for academic and community engagement, spoke about how the University is still experiencing repercussions from the Board of Trustees' initial failure to grant tenure to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones — including concerns from prospective faculty.

“The conversations that I’m seeing with applicants isn’t about campus climate, the conversation is about the intrusion from the state,” Jordan said. “’Are we going to have the freedom to do the kind of things that we want to do?’”

In addition to hiring diverse faculty, the committee discussed top faculty concerns and the availability of mentoring resources.

What’s new?

  • The Committee on Community and Diversity discussed results from UNC’s 2018 Collaborative On Academic Careers in Higher Education survey.
  • The survey is a research project that came out of Harvard University. The project gathered responses from tenure-track and tenured professors about topics such as diversity, work-life balance and the tenure process.
  • Rumay Alexander, clinical professor in the UNC School of Nursing and faculty appointee of the committee, opened the discussion on the COACHE survey.
    • Alexander said a surprising result was that diversity, equity and inclusion wasn’t one of the top issues on the survey. According to the report, only 7 percent of faculty said diversity was their choice for the most important thing the University could do to improve the workplace. The top-three categories were compensation and benefits, facilities and resources for work, and culture.
    • Committee consultant Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center, and faculty appointee Dana Rice, assistant professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said this might have been due to factors including how the questions were structured, when the data was collected and who was surveyed.
      • “Diversity was a primary issue, yet it was not for other non-faculty of color," Rice said. "The faculty of color have across the board, whether they were tenure track or not, have expressed very similar concerns."
  • Amanda Smythers, chief of staff for the Graduate and Professional Student Government and doctoral candidate in the chemistry department, introduced the conversation on the effects of Hannah-Jones' fight for tenure.
    • In June, the chemistry department lost the opportunity to hire Lisa Jones, who recently announced that she would take a position with the University of California San Diego instead. In a letter to the University, Jones noted the BOT’s inaction in the Hannah-Jones case was a deciding factor in declining a position with UNC.
      • “I feel like what happened last summer is going to continuously come and bite us and prevent us from getting a more diverse campus, or showing people that we have that capability,” Smythers said.
    • She said the decision is still impacting the hiring of diverse faculty, specifically those on the tenure track.
      • “And with that, I feel like it’s like a snowball (effect),” Smythers said. “We have three tenure-track positions open on our department ... and we had zero candidates who were Black. Zero, and because people don’t want to come here.”
    • However, Jordan said it is also important to recognize the diversity the University has already and to consider other reasons faculty may be leaving UNC.
      • “If you look over the past two years, the number of people, particularly people of color, LGBTQ, has been higher than it’s ever been before,” he said. “If you look at the people that have left ... they’re not necessarily leaving because of climate. It’s because they came here, they got tenure, they are now marketable and they are going to get some bucks — the kind of bucks UNC will not pay.”
  • The committee also discussed the availability of mentoring resources for faculty.
    • Jordan said this problem is both due to the lack of mentoring resources that are not department-specific and the overall structure of how those resources are provided at the Center for Faculty Excellence.
      • “There’s no other campuswide center that supposedly provides support services for faculty,” Jordan said. “I think that’s probably the crux of the matter is that some of the deans in these particular places, they want to be able to manage their own kinds of units.”
    • Trevy McDonald, a tenured professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said a centralized set of mentoring resources would be helpful for all types of faculty within the University.
      • “A lot of units have mentoring for junior faculty, but once you’re tenured, you’re kind of left out on your own,” McDonald, who also serves as the journalism school's director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said. "So I think that making that set of resources accessible would be really important, and especially to people who are just joining us as faculty.”

What’s next?

  • In the upcoming weeks, the committee will be working on its annual report to faculty governance, which is due in April.
  • At its next meeting on March 10, Jordan will discuss the new UNC Alliance that has been formed between four academic and community engagement centers at the University.

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