Creating a University Diversity Professorship

For over 150 years, faculty at the University of Michigan have made significant contributions to the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in academia.

These contributions have taken the form of scholarly inquiry related to DEI, inclusive teaching and mentoring, and service and engagement that have resulted in greater access and opportunity. Introduced in 2016, the University Diversity & Social Transformation Professorship (UDSTP) both honors and builds on this legacy of faculty achievement in DEI. 

The UDSTP is an honorific designation for senior faculty who have, throughout their careers, demonstrated a commitment to the university’s ideals of DEI through their scholarship, teaching and/or engagement both on campus and with the wider world. Like other U-M named professorships, it is reserved for only the highest level of achievement.

  • Create a university-wide honorary professorship that recognizes, affirms and brings attention to distinguished U-M scholars who have demonstrated their commitment to DEI through scholarship, research and/or service and engagement.

  • Attract outstanding faculty from other institutions to our community and demonstrate our commitment to DEI by offering a set of honors, connections, opportunities and collaborative possibilities for those whose research, teaching and service support DEI.

  • Develop a robust, evolving community of exceptional scholars who care about the work of DEI and provide them with a venue for continuing and expanding that work  through scholarship, teaching, service and professional engagement.

The audience for the UDSTP includes faculty within the university and faculty worldwide who have made exemplary contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion who are successfully recruited to U-M through posted faculty positions.

Collaborators include the U-M’s National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID), the university’s Office of DEI, and schools and colleges campuswide.

Planning:

In designing the fundamentals of the UDSTP, every effort was made to structure the award in ways that mirrored other named professorships at the U-M in order to confer and convey the same sense of inherent prestige and distinction. All details and benefits of the program were made commensurate with similar honors.

This included the structure of the nomination and approval process; financial resources linked to the professorship; release time from teaching to allow a semester-in-residence at NCID for scholarly collaboration and community-building; and even the timing of the award, which was aligned with the announcement window for other named professorships on campus.

Special consideration was also given to naming the professorship, and it was agreed that the word “transformation” should figure prominently in the title. 

The planning team determined that UDSTP would be open to all senior tenured instructional, clinical and research faculty (associate or full professors) who are at least 12 years post-completion of their terminal degree. Candidates would be nominated by the dean of their respective U-M school or college.

Internal candidates must have a formal appointment in one of the schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor campus. These faculty must have outstanding portfolios with strong evidence of demonstrated achievement in promoting the values of DEI within their field and/or their university home(s).

Given the length of senior faculty recruitment seasons across schools and colleges, a distinct process is in place for the nomination of external candidates. Deans may nominate external candidates using an online portal from fall and through April 1 annually.

Although the plan established a separate selection process for external candidates, nominations for both internal and external candidates would be evaluated by selection committees coordinated by the Office of the Provost, the Office of DEI, and the NCID. Final decisions would then be made by the Provost, based on a set of recommendations from the committee.

Implementation:

The final program structure included an honorarium for research and professional development, NCID Faculty Fellow status for the entire five-year term of the award, as well as one semester teaching release to allow professors to spend a semester in residence at NCID. 

Individuals appointed as University Diversity & Social Transformation Professors hold this title as long as they have an active appointment as a faculty member at the University of Michigan. The Office of the Provost awards each honoree $20,000 per year for their first five years as a UDST professor. These funds may be used to support a range of activities related to their scholarly and professional work. 

During the five-year UDSTP appointments, recipients also serve as faculty fellows at NCID. There, faculty fellows interact with other UDST professors and NCID faculty fellows as well as postdoctoral scholars and students through activities designed to promote community and creative networking. 

Within these five years, and ideally within the first two years, UDST Professors will spend one semester as a Fellow-in-Residence at NCID, with no other teaching or administrative responsibilities at the U-M. This enables them to spend concentrated time devoted to their DEI goals immersed in an environment of other scholars committed to this work.

For faculty new to U-M, this semester in residence at NCID will also support their transition and enables them to make meaningful connections with colleagues and students. 

As the UDST professorship is intended to support scholars with long-standing commitments and who have made significant  contributions to DEI across their careers, it was important to provide honorees not only with an affiliation with NCID, but also a concentrated period of time as fellows-in-residence at NCID, since the Center offers not only a community of peers and colleagues but also resources, programs and support services that bring together scholars at all levels, across disciplines.

Schools and colleges across the campus were contacted by the Office of the Provost to submit nominations for the professorship.

The description of the award and criteria provided in itself has likely made an impact across the institution given how it has encouraged institutional leaders to consider more closely the DEI related work of outstanding faculty members who might be nominated for the award. 

The fact that this award is elevated to the same stature as other prestigious faculty awards also stands to impact the view of institutional leaders regarding faculty who engage in DEI work, that is, excellence and diversity do indeed go hand-in-hand.

The establishment of this new professorship was approved by the Board of Regents in July 2019. The initial list of nine recipients was approved by the Board of Regents in September 2019.

  • In positioning this type of initiative, it’s best to mirror other prestigious professorships in all aspects, including financial resources and stipends. This serves to establish//underscore the seriousness—and status—of the award from the outset.

  • Before designing the professorship, know who your audience is and recognize that the nature of that audience might vary greatly among departments. Once the audience has been identified, seek them out, make presentations, reach out via phone calls, and stay on message to counter any possible misconceptions.

  • Communicating about this award to the entire campus can be challenging. In the case of larger units, it can be especially difficult to track and control how the award is being announced and promoted by deans and department chairs.

  • It is likely that some individuals and groups on campus will have an incomplete, or even erroneous, understanding of what DEI entails; as such, it is important that communications surrounding this award should be explicit, repetitive and filled with specific and varied examples of what a demonstrated commitment to diversity entails in terms of scholarship, teaching, and service.

  • Timing for external nominations can be particularly challenging. The process may take many months, and deadlines may or may not work for various candidates. Even timing for internal nominations may need significant lead time depending on the size of the unit and standing processes/committees in place to evaluate unit nominations for similar awards.

  • To build and maintain credibility, be attentive and make a point of double- and triple-checking all details and processes. This vigilance is especially important due to the fact that the faculty hiring protocols and timelines of campus units often differ in significant and complex ways.

  • Before designing or even proposing a DEI-related professorship, enlist the support and approval of university leadership including Regents/Trustees, etc. Vocal, active, enthusiastic support from the president, the provost and other top-level executives is equally important to the success of launching a new Professorship as financial resources and other factors.



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