Letter to the Editor – Diversity and Academics Intertwined

Lyle Roelofs - Provost and Dean of Faculty

I write with thanks to Olivia Offner for her article “Divided over Diversity” in the Maroon-News issue of April 19. The article does a good job of representing some of the points of view on an important issue and opportunity Colgate and other institutions of higher learning are facing.

Diversity and academic excellence are fundamentally tied together in today’s global environment and our ability to prepare students for success beyond Colgate. Graduate schools are seeking students who can explore issues from a variety of viewpoints and understand the intricacies of other cultures. Success in today’s global environment requires that our graduates have a command of the skills associated with a diverse environment, and employers demand workers and leaders with the ability to build teams, negotiate and collaborate with all others.

Our ability to prepare students for success after graduation, like everything else we do at Colgate, has its roots in our excellent faculty and the powerful relationships they build with our students. So, if we intend to foster a diverse, inclusive campus environment, it is important to continue the effort to increase the diversity of the faculty.

Ms. Offner’s article could lead one to believe that there is a faculty hiring policy in place that orders the priorities for hiring. This is not the case. The faculty hiring process is department-centered at Colgate, as it should be, since faculty members with disciplinary expertise are the best judges of the qualifications of applicants. There is, however, a pattern to hiring that I suggested could be tweaked to elevate the consideration of diversity, where appropriate.

There is a pattern of departmental hiring activity, in which excellence in teaching and scholarship comes first, optimization of the coverage of subfields considered important in the discipline comes second and enhancing diversity comes third. In my remarks to the faculty at their December meeting, I drew attention to this pattern, strongly supported prioritizing excellence first, but then suggested that when appropriate and possible, departments consider prioritizing enhancing diversity over requiring very specific subfield expertise. By broadening the range of subfields to be considered, we will attract a broader range of applicants, maximize the quality and depth of the applicant pool.

Even when prioritizing diversity or other factors leads results in some overlap of subfield interest, the individuals are usually not so narrow in their interests that curricular comprehensiveness is threatened. Most holders of advanced degrees have a breadth of training enabling them to teach broadly and successfully at the undergraduate level. Moreover, a bit of overlap can even be an advantage in facilitating rich scholarly dialog.

I conclude by noting that Colgate has had a very successful year in hiring. During the present academic year we have filled 15 tenure stream positions, with most of the new hires to begin teaching in upcoming fall semester. (One search is still ongoing as I write.) In most of these searches departments were able to hire their first-choice candidate. Every one of the hires will bring new excellence to the Colgate faculty, and of the 15, seven will also increase our diversity. I truly believe that departments at Colgate are behaving with utmost responsibility in carrying out the goal of providing the strongest possible faculty for the benefit of current and future Colgate students.