Lay the Groundwork

Start Conversations Early

The meeting at which you hope to decide to extend a job offer is not the time to begin raising concerns about faculty diversity. It is better for the dynamics of your department or program and for the outcome of the search to lay the groundwork for discussions about diversity goals early, and to continue having these discussions throughout the hiring process.

Start conversations early – ideally, in the spring preceding your search, at the time of the staffing request.  This is a chance for your department or program to assess the demographics of its faculty and students, and to have discussions about diversity and inclusion that can become part of its long-term planning. How do your faculty demographics compare to those of the discipline, and especially to those of newly minted Ph.D.s in the discipline?  If your discipline has very small numbers of Ph.D.s from traditionally underrepresented groups, how can you improve on these numbers? (For this, and for long-term planning around hiring, see Know Your Academic Unit and Your Field and Diversify Your Pool.) What do your majors look like compared to the Williams student body as a whole?  Are there worrisome patterns? (For instance, are students from underrepresented groups disproportionately withdrawing from introductory courses and/or failing to go on from those courses to take further courses in your discipline?) The Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity can help you acquire and interpret these data.

Fully discuss what strengths a candidate might be able to bring to your unit: exciting scholarship, obviously, but also, intellectual approaches and experiences not yet represented in your unit, experience with or a particular interest in inclusive pedagogy, and so on.

Continue these conversations throughout the hiring season, first, as you work to build a robustly diverse pool, and then, at each point that the unit or search committee narrows the pool of candidates. The goal is to make sure that you give adequate, fair scrutiny to all applicants, especially including applicants from groups traditionally underrepresented in your field.  At each point that you winnow your pool, it is important to screen to include candidates who bring diversity to the pool and to have full discussions about your reasons and strategies for doing this. (See Diversify Your Pool and Conduct the Search).

Suggestions for inclusive and productive discussions of candidates

  • Don’t assume consensus about disciplinary norms and standards. The more homogeneous a unit—in demographic terms, but also, generationally, methodologically, and so on—the more consensus is likely to be assumed about what “a good candidate” looks like; the more diverse the group, the more contested evaluative judgments can become. In some disciplines, moreover, subfields that engage issues of gender, race, ethnicity or class can be critical of the dominant norms of the discipline: scholarly work in these subfields can look anomalous (e.g, “theoretical” in a field dominated by empirical research; “historicist” in a field dominated by formalist approaches) (see Know Your Academic Unit and Your Field). It’s important, then, that your unit be knowledgeable about the work being done in the field and self-conscious about how it makes its judgments, and that everyone involved in the hiring process, especially untenured faculty and/or faculty from underrepresented groups, feels comfortable participating fully in conversations about the aims of the search and the relative strengths of candidates.
  • Be open to a spectrum of career paths. Candidates who acquired their degrees later in life, or who attended historically Black institutions, or who worked part-time when their children were young, or who found their way into advanced research through attending regional institutions, may have exciting contributions to make to the College.
  • Avoid invoking a monolithic idea of “quality.” Sometimes we tend to discuss candidates based on an assumption that they are aligned along a linear hierarchy of quality: top, second, last, etc. But our experience as teachers and scholars shows us that in fact there are many different kinds of “top” quality work. When judging candidate quality, it is important to bear this richer notion of quality in mind.  It helps to recall your earlier discussions about what you want from this search—a candidate who brings new experiences and forms of expertise to your unit, who broadens, not reproduces, what you already do.
  • Be wary of the language of candidate “fit.” Obviously, you want to hire a candidate who will ultimately thrive in a liberal arts environment, but the desire and ability to thrive could potentially exist in candidates from many different kinds of educational backgrounds. Leaning too heavily on ideas of “fit” can skew decisions toward candidates who are the products of liberal arts or Ivy League environments and/or who seem already to have a high comfort level with the traditional pedagogical culture at Williams. If your commitment is to stretch that culture and to make your unit a better “fit” for diverse groups of students, beware of these presumptions. In conversations in advance of the interview process, do not assume that any candidate “is not really interested” in being in a liberal arts environment, and strategize about how you can present your unit as a welcoming and supportive place to all candidates. (See Conduct the Search).

These conversations can be difficult to have (although they get easier with practice!). Members of a hiring unit may hold disparate opinions about the importance of diversity goals with respect to other aims, and/or about proper and fair practices to achieve diversity goals; and everyone’s awareness of the range of opinions in the room can serve as a disincentive to air these issues before the eleventh hour. The Office of Institutional Diversity Equity is very happy to consult with hiring units at any point, and to help facilitate conversation about diversity goals.