Divided Over Diversity

Olivia Offner

Members of the Colgate administration recently backed an initiative to transform the faculty-hiring process to build a more diverse faculty body. The proposed hiring changes are part of the larger Diversity Initiative that President Chopp and members of the faculty unveiled in the Pre-planning Report of Diversity in the spring of 2004.

At recent faculty meetings, Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs proposed a reordering of the three current faculty-hiring priorities. The first priority, that the applicant demonstrate excellence in both teaching and scholarship, would remain unchanged. At issue is whether the current second priority, that the candidate have a subfield specialty avoiding overlap with those of existing professors in the applicable department, should defer to the third criteria, diversity.

At the February faculty meeting, Dean Roelofs proposed that, “as often as possible, we prioritize diversity above subfield concerns.”

Roelofs stressed the likelihood of finding a strong minority candidate is smaller if Colgate is limited to candidates with particular subfields.

“You rarely increase the diversity of the faculty,” Roelofs said of the current hiring prioritization. “The question we have to ask is, is it necessary to go for the broadest possible subfield coverage or is it more important to go for a diverse perspective?”

Under Roelofs’s proposal, a faculty member would adjust their teaching of a particular subfield to accommodate the new hire of a candidate with an overlapping specialty. This would entail “a little bit of sacrifice” from faculty, admits Roelofs.

He feels that the faculty broadly embraced the new hiring initiative.

Associate Professor of Romance and Languages Marilyn Rugg, who served as the Associate Dean of Affirmative Action and Employment Initiatives from 2002 to 2005, feels that this initiative presents a way for departments to expand their offerings.

“Subfield restrictions are important, but so is diversity,” Rugg said. “We wanted to ensure that the hires we were making at Colgate were more reflective of what we call the national availability statistics.”

Rugg also noted that Colgate is moving away from the term “affirmative action” and towards a more broad and inclusive “diversity”.

A key reason for the new faculty diversity emphasis is creating a more welcoming campus for minority students.

Roelofs said most of the nationwide growth in college attendance is due to growth in attendance from minorities, who are “much encouraged by encountering some persons that look like them in…departments and programs.”

Senior Associate Dean of Admission Karen Giannino declined to comment on the hiring reprioritization. However, she agreed that a more diverse faculty would facilitate minority student recruitment.

“Prospective students look at ‘who is going to be teaching me,'” said Giannino. “They are looking for a faculty that represents a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds.”

Junior Thomas Dilworth agreed.

“I do believe that although subfield specialization is particularly important for teaching, students need to have professors that can make their academic transitions a little bit more comfortable,” Dilworth said. “As a minority student, I find it easier to talk to other minority professors because they understand where I’m coming from academically and socially.”

Junior Wil Redmond, the Second Lieutenant of Brothers, a group that promotes the issues of men of color on campus, dissented.

“To hire someone simply because of their race and discredit their specialization seems like a move backwards,” Redmond said. “I agree that Colgate needs to be more welcoming of students of color … but simply hiring more faculty of color is not going to change the climate on campus.”

Many students expressed concern over the effect of the administration’s proposition on their classroom experience.

“I think it’s a tragedy that sub-division specialization is being de-emphasized in the hiring process,” said senior Kevin Glass. “It’s precisely that quality in our teachers that makes Colgate such an outstanding institution. De-emphasizing sub-division specialty degrades the quality of our institution as a whole.”

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson underscored that Colgate is looking at diversity very broadly and that efforts to improve faculty diversity would not hurt the classes’ quality.

“What people often hear when you say diversity versus subfield is diversity versus competence,” Johnson said. “We’re not saying that because we think you can have both.”

Some think the claim of seeking diversity in its broadest sense is specious rhetoric.

Kraynak of the Political Science department pointed to Colgate’s paucity of intellectual diversity. A study done by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) indicates Colgate has demonstrated improvement in diversity in every area except intellectual diversity. The study showed that 76.2 percent of Colgate faculty identify as liberal or far left but only 2.4 percent identify as conservative.

Roelofs disagrees that intellectual diversity is lacking at Colgate. Roelofs stated the Colgate faculty is “dominated by people who are middle-of-the-roaders” and he “does not think any opinions at Colgate feel silenced.”

Kraynak believes conservative voices among students and faculty are silenced at Colgate. He noted many students feel that their grades will suffer if they voice opinions that counter those of their liberal professors.

“The administration claims to be promoting diversity and critical thinking, but they are actually promoting intellectual conformity to political correctness,” Kraynak said. “A white male with a hint of conservative viewpoints would have a difficult time getting hired. Freedom of thought has left the campus.”

The reprioritization of faculty hiring standards, and the diversity initiative as a whole, have fomented controversy among students and faculty, many reluctant to publicly comment on this heated issue. The controversy includes how “diversity” is defined and whether or not diversity of any kind should be a significant or weighty factor in hiring decisions. The Colgate community may not be as diverse as some in the administration would like, but there are certainly diverse opinions on the subject of its diversity.