Recruiting Diverse Faculty: Collegiate Fellows Program

The concept and plan for the Collegiate Fellows program began in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts (LSA), the founding department of the university. Today, with more than 100 degree programs in over 75 academic departments and programs, LSA is the largest of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges.

In 2015, as part of the unit’s DEI strategic planning process, a faculty task force assigned to address faculty components of the plan took on the essential challenge of developing a more diverse and inclusive community of scholars. 

As a result of the task force recommendations, the College established the Collegiate Fellows program, partnering with U-M’s National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) to develop and launch the program.

Launched in 2016, the program is a major college initiative aimed at recruiting and retaining exceptional early-career scholars in all liberal arts fields who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to building an inclusive and diverse intellectual community.

Through an active and broad recruiting program, the College seeks outstanding scholars whose research, and/or teaching, and/or service have the potential to contribute to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education.

The program is particularly interested in candidates with a demonstrated interest in applying critical perspectives – through teaching, mentoring, and/or engagement and outreach – that come from non-traditional educational backgrounds and pathways, or those with a scholarly understanding of groups who are historically underrepresented or marginalized in higher education.

The overall goal is to prepare the Collegiate Fellows for possible tenure-track positions within LSA. The program’s third cohort will begin their fellowship in Fall 2019, as the first cohort moves into tenure-track positions.

The long-term goal is to add 50 new tenure-track faculty members over a 5-year period who have demonstrated commitments, knowledge, and skills to engage in building a diverse intellectual community at Michigan.

Among its primary aims, the LSA Collegiate Fellows program works to:

  • Build a diverse and inclusive scholarly environment by supporting exceptional early-career  scholars in liberal arts fields whose research, and/or teaching, and/or service will contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education

  • Function as an effective recruiting mechanism for faculty in the earliest stages of their career by creating a pathway for, and preparing these scholars for, possible tenure-track appointments in the university’s College of LSA; the goal is to add 50 new tenure-track faculty from the ranks of its Collegiate Fellows Program to LSA departments within a 5-year period

  • Leverage university resources such as the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) to implement a faculty-driven initiative at the departmental level, and develop a strong and sustainable community of support for scholars with a demonstrated commitment to DEI 

The audience for this program includes graduate students and other early-career scholars, nationally and internationally, who are interested in faculty positions and whose research, and/or teaching, and/or service and engagement demonstrates a strong commitment to DEI issues and  topics.

LSA departments are both audience and collaborators — we want departments to understand the program and proactively use the program as an opportunity to identify and recruit exciting new faculty colleagues.

The Collegiate Fellows program also works closely with department chairs and faculty across LSA departments in developing and implementing the program. As such, an important feature of the program is the effort of departments and their faculty to refer and recruit potential Fellows from their disciplines/fields to the program. 

Planning

Early in the planning process, the planning team (LSA Dean’s Office and NCID) considered carefully how to identify and evaluate applicants’ demonstrated commitments to DEI. As part of the application process, candidates were required to submit a diversity statement.

Based on research and practice literature as well as legal parameters, NCID developed an evaluation guide based on candidates demonstrated commitments to DEI, and not identity characteristics, to help department search committees evaluate candidates’ diversity statements and other application materials.

After evaluation guidelines were established and a website had been created, NCID also provided department faculty and staff guidance and support (both group orientations and individual consultations) including program goals, processes, and procedures.

In addition, recommendations for recruiting candidates, evaluating DEI criteria, and setting up inclusive and effective campus visits were provided. This guidance aimed to ensure that everyone involved in recruitment—from faculty, to department and College administrators, to students—were able to engage with the candidate in ways that would make for an effective and positive experience. 

Because recruitment and hiring decisions of Collegiate Fellows would take place across all LSA departments, each with its own practices and protocols, flexibility was very important.

That is, departments were asked to develop procedures for Fellow evaluation and hiring that mirrored their typical faculty hiring processes thus collaboration with departments was crucial in accommodating the needs, requirements, hiring practices, application deadlines, discretionary funding policies, and financial protocols of each academic unit. Such collaboration is critical to support equity and department buy-in.

That said, it was always expected the program would involve a learning process–requiring gradual and constant adjustments and improvement each year based on experience as well as department and Fellow input. By way of example, it was determined that application deadlines needed to be adjusted for individual departments based on disciplinary job market norms.  

Implementation

Implementation was guided by the vision of LSA leadership and the NCID team, which viewed this program as an innovative way of transforming the academic community by bringing in early career scholars with strong DEI interests, providing each of them with two years of postdoctoral support, and then transitioning them to tenure-track assistant professorships.

Recruitment and hiring took place across all three LSA divisions: the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. Collegiate Fellows were evaluated on the same dimensions typically considered for faculty in their respective departments, with the added factor of demonstrated commitment to DEI through research, and/or teaching, and/or service.

Because the program is grounded in the principles of department/faculty governance, the responsibility for enacting this vision was driven by departments and faculty at all program phases. Departments – using their own processes – evaluated all applicants to their department and nominated up to two applicants for advancement to finalist status.

Department nominees were then reviewed by an LSA Collegiate Fellows Faculty Evaluation Committee, made up of senior faculty across disciplinary divisions, chaired by the NCID faculty director. The committee recommended a list of finalists to the dean’s office for approval for campus visits. 

As mentioned above, the campus visits were set up by the departments (structured similarly to their other faculty interview visits and incorporating best practices in recruitment) after which each department made final decisions around whether or not an offer would be extended.. At the beginning of the second year of the fellowship, Fellows are evaluated by their departments for potential tenure-track offers. 

The Dean’s Office and NCID played supporting/partner roles in the program processes: assisting with logistics, marketing and management of the application review process; clarifying questions about program goals and criteria; supporting inclusive, equitable, and effective evaluation practices; and supporting departments in scholar transition after offer acceptance, including working with other college/university departments such as Human Resources (HR).

To help create the crucial community-building support for newly arrived fellows, NCID was also asked to function as one of the Fellows’ home bases and a community-within-a community on campus, developing practices based in literature on effective recruitment and retention of scholars from diverse backgrounds.

NCID-led activities helped the cohort form an additional network of support along with Fellows’ department and other campus communities. In addition, the NCID team provided direct support and mentorship to Fellows around transition and other issues.

One of the chief indicators of success is the fact that all LSA departments engaged in this program are now attracting top scholars who are highly competitive at other top institutions. Also, the DEI interests and commitments of these scholars are multi-faceted—often in ways we could not have anticipated–resulting in a general enrichment of teaching, scholarship and outreach.

Another sign of success is demonstrated in the fact that to date a majority of Fellows are transitioning from fellow status to the tenure track (either transitioning in Fall 2019 or positively evaluated for tenure track appointments to commence in subsequent terms).

Faculty hires from among the Collegiate Fellows are occurring in all three LSA divisions, and departments are seeing new synergies and collaborations as a result of the influx of Collegiate Fellows.  Due to the cohort model and NCID’s community-building efforts, the Fellows are forming close connections across many different departments and providing each other with peer support and mentoring

Progress will also be tracked in terms of Fellows recruited, experience of Fellows during the program, and success in bridging Fellows to permanent faculty positions. Other metrics will include monitoring the range of DEI expertise that the Fellows bring to our campus. Another area for evaluation will be the if and how the program has shifted the culture of participating departments related to DEI.

  • A program such as this can succeed only with a strong commitment of resources from the university. In the case of Michigan, this includes support from central administration as well as strategic use of college-level and department supports. 

  • Along with resources, a strong commitment and message of program values from university, college, and department leadership – that is, the necessity of diversity for excellence – is essential for program buy-in and success.  

  • Ensure that the program processes around Fellow selection is driven by departments/faculty, as faculty governance is at the heart of faculty hiring in higher education. 

  • Be prepared to unearth some policies that function as barriers and work to change or modify them. At U-M, examples included long-time institutional policies related to faculty hiring and compensation practices.

  • It’s important to be flexible in how the fellowships are executed, and to listen attentively and work closely with individual academic units. Be aware that every field has different hiring practices. Some disciplines do not have post-docs and simply move candidates directly into faculty positions, whereas other departments require two or three post-doctoral experiences before transitioning fellows to faculty positions. The challenge, and goal, is to have programmatic structures that work well across departments.

  • Clear communication is imperative. Make an effort to explain every important detail of the program and the process, including program goals, program features and flexibility, and what is meant by DEI-related criteria (including clarifying legal parameters).  Be prepared to reiterate the messaging as department leaders change and transition and to address/correct misinformation or misconceptions.

  • For maximum long-term impact on the campus culture, frame the program in terms of faculty recruitment and include processes and structures that help incentivize departments participating in and taking advantage of the program. A critical example is having each fellow allocated a budgeted faculty line following the fellowship period, to be finalized pending a positive evaluation by the department.  



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