The standard job ad for the standard department at a standard American university includes a standard phrase about Affirmative Action. Amherst College (which is in Amherst, but is a distinct institution from UMass Amherst) is doing more. Their recent job ads for all fields tell prospective applicants that the student population at Amherst College has completely changed during the last ten years, and that any future faculty member will be expected to mentor and teach a broadly diverse student body. Is this a change that only rich private institutions can afford?
Carolyn (“Biddy”) Martin, President of Amherst College
Here is an excerpt from a current ad for two tenure-track positions in Chemistry.
“Amherst College is one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country. Forty-four percent of our students identify as domestic students of color, and another 10 percent are international, with non-U.S. citizenship; 17 percent are the first members of their families to attend college. Fifty-one percent of our students are women. Amherst is committed to providing financial aid that meets 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated need, and 58 percent of our students receive financial aid. Our expectation is that the successful candidate will excel at teaching and mentoring students who are broadly diverse with regard to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion.”
And here is an excerpt from their ad for two tenure-track positions in Computer Science:
“Within the last decade, Amherst College has profoundly transformed its student body in terms of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and nationality. Today, nearly one-quarter of Amherst’s students are Pell Grant recipients; 43 percent of our students are domestic students of color; and 10 percent of our students are international students. We seek candidates who will excel at teaching and mentoring students who are broadly diverse with regard to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and religion.”
I am trying to figure out what each of us – every single one of us – could do to make our field more diverse. My last posts focused on mechanisms that seem to be at work in personnel decisions and evaluations at every level: we exaggerate the achievements of some people, but not others, and we overlook the shortcomings of some people, but not others. That’s one way of shutting people out.
Here I want to reflect on biases that affect fields of investigation. Why is it that my own department only has a single person who is a specialist on variation? Why is it that we never tell ourselves that we might need a second specialist in that area? Could that ever be a priority? Why do we consider some areas essential, but not others? Why is it that SULA (Semantics of Underrepresented Languages in the Americas) has had so many participants from underrepresented groups from the very start? What’s wrong with a department, a conference, a journal, or an undergraduate or graduate program that puts its emphasis on the documentation and investigation of underrepresented languages and dialects (Swarthmore College does this, for example)? Is it true that you can’t do, or learn how to do, cutting edge theoretical work while working on an underrepresented language? Could we make the group of linguists more diverse by putting more emphasis on work on underrepresented languages? Placing low priority on a whole field of investigation is another way of shutting people out. That’s another area where every single one of us could make a difference. What’s holding us back?
Source: Nature, October 26
” ‘Things are not what they used to be.’ How often those in the older generation use this phrase to scold the morals, attitudes and behaviour of younger rivals. And yet, how often do the same people, often in positions of power and responsibility, deny the changes in circumstance that newer generations complain about with justification. So, let’s be clear: young scientists today face a harsher, more competitive, stricter, more dispiriting workplace than their bosses and senior colleagues did at the same stages of their own careers. Things are simply not the same as they were back in the day. They are more difficult. In a special issue, Nature examines the problems and the possible fixes.”
Michel DeGraff recently drew my attention to a provocative article by Marybeth Gasman in the Washington Post (“An Ivy League professor on why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color”). The most thought-provoking message I took away from reading the article was that we should watch ourselves, both when we exaggerate achievements, but also when we overlook flaws and blemishes and when we make exceptions and excuses. We exaggerate the achievements of certain people, but not others. And we overlook or excuse the flaws of certain people, but not others. I have seen this mechanism at work (with various kinds of biases, including race, gender, national origin) in personnel actions for hiring, renewals, tenure, promotion, awards, disciplinary measures or annual evaluations of colleagues, but also when we assess the achievements and problems of our students. These are the kinds of situations that are a routine part of our professional lives. These are also the kinds of situations where every single one of us could make a difference. What’s holding us back?
Excerpt from follow-up article by Marybeth Gasman in the Washington Post: “I received more than 6,000 emails after my essay about diversity in faculty hiring was published in the Hechinger Report and The Washington Post. Most were from people of color telling me their stories, many of them gut-wrenching and sad. One African American woman wrote, “despite having terrific credentials and applying for over 200 faculty positions, I have been denied for a faculty position over and over, making me wonder if pursuing a PhD was worth it. … I wonder if I should discourage other African Americans from doing so.” People told me my essay made them cry.”