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University makes diversity a priority

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The University has made small strides in hiring and retaining women and faculty of color in recent years, but two committee reports issued at the behest of University President Fr. John Jenkins indicate Notre Dame is falling behind other universities in maintaining a diverse faculty.

Fr. Jenkins and University Provost Tom Burish released a letter to faculty on March 2 that pledged to make faculty diversity a priority.

“The University has made progress increasing the number of women faculty and faculty of color in recent years, but the reports demonstrate that more progress is required,” the letter said. “In particular, Notre Dame must do better in recruiting and retaining senior women faculty, and in recruiting and retaining faculty of color at all levels.”

The University Committee on Cultural Diversity and the University Committee on Women Faculty and Students began examining the issue of recruiting and retaining women faculty members and faculty of color in the fall of 2007 and released reports to Fr. Jenkins with suggestions on how to create a more diverse faculty at Notre Dame.

Film, Television and Theater Professor Susan Ohmer, chair of the committee on women faculty and students, said the University recruits female faculty members at a higher rate than other universities, but lags in retaining them in the long term.

In the fall of 2006, 23 percent of Notre Dame faculty members were female, compared to a total of 28 percent at private universities that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), according to the committee’s report.

The report said that for every 100 female faculty members at AAU private schools, Notre Dame had 82, a ratio that has dropped 10 percent in the past 10 years. But at the recruiting level, for every 100 assistant professors at AAU private schools, Notre Dame hires 105.

“In recruiting women, we do better than other schools,” Ohmer said. “But we can’t keep them.”

In order to understand why women are leaving, Ohmer said the committee examined exit interviews, which recorded reasons female faculty members left the University over the years.

“Spousal hiring and childcare were issues that came up,” she said.

The report proposed several suggestions to improve childcare opportunities for faculty members and a spousal hiring program, which would establish a fund to “support dual academic hires” when both spouses work in the field of academia.

The report also suggested creating a hiring plan that would increase the number of senior women faculty members.

While the Committee on Women Faculty and Students found that the University recruited female faculty members in high numbers, but did not retain them, Ohmer said the Committee on Cultural Diversity concluded Notre Dame is not recruiting high numbers of members of faculty of color, nor is it retaining the members it does hire.

“When it comes to faculty of color, we don’t even do enough at the recruiting point, let alone keep people,” she said. “We need to get them here so in that sense, it’s more dire.”

The report released by the Committee on Faculty Recruitment and Retention – a subcommittee of the Committee on Cultural Diversity – said that in the fall of 2007, 82 percent of Notre Dame faculty were white, 13 percent minority and 5 percent non-resident alien.

According to the report, Notre Dame ranks lower than many AAU private Universities. The University of Chicago led AAU schools in 2007 with 20 percent faculty of color, compared to Notre Dame’s 13 percent.

Ohmer, who was also involved with examining the report on faculty of color, said location is a large part of the issue.

“University of Chicago is very international, very cosmopolitan,” she said. “We are working on that. We are becoming more global, but it’s not the same.”

Ohmer said the committee wants to look into ways to make faculty of color more comfortable with Indiana and Notre Dame.

“They need to know that Notre Dame is a welcoming place for people from diverse backgrounds,” she said. “We want it to be for students’ sake and faculty’s, but sometimes it’s a harder sell.”

Another obstacle in recruiting faculty of color is the competitiveness of the field, Ohmer said. The scholars often have multiple offers, so the University needs to make Notre Dame appealing.

The report suggested creating a fellowship program for faculty of color, a hiring plan to recruit new faculty members, mentoring programs and an office devoted to diversity.

Many other top universities already have programs like those proposed by the committee, Ohmer said.

Ohmer said she is delighted by Fr. Jenkins’ response to both committees’ reports. She said the University has already committed to increasing funding for the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), and starting in August, faculty members in the Office of the Provost will be assigned to work to increase faculty diversity.

“In the committee, we feel we are getting real results,” she said.

In the letter circulated to faculty, Fr. Jenkins said creating and maintaining a diverse faculty is essential to the Catholic character of the University.

The letter stated the University will implement several of the committees’ suggestions immediately, such as a Dual Career Assistance program for spouses of faculty members and a new postdoctoral training program to “attract top young academics from underrepresented groups, especially women and faculty of color.”

Ohmer said she is pleased with the progress the University is making in creating a diverse faculty and she said she hopes the efforts will help Notre Dame emerge as a more globally aware and enriched university.