College Must Foster Faculty Diversity
Issue   |   Wed, 10/26/2011 - 02:18

Around this time of the year, the admissions office is busy rifling through applications from all corners of the world. The process is carefully constructed and refined to choose students with the intention of creating the best possible environment at Amherst. Undoubtedly, diversity thus factors into the admissions process, but only in the context of the skills and achievements already presented by each applicant.

Faculty hiring should take place through a similar procedure. If the intent of the admissions process is to create a diverse learning environment, it naturally follows that faculty should be chosen with the same criteria as the students they hope to teach. Tenured faculty play an even greater role in shaping the prestige and atmosphere at the College, as they continually impact those factors for decades after students graduate. It is critical, therefore, that the College chooses its educators with great care.

Dean of Faculty Gregory Call, in the most recent faculty meeting, pointed out a sad reality at Amherst: the College’s faculty, compared to those of our peer institutions, is simply not diverse enough. One example is the rate of female faculty hires, which remains consistently low at 43 percent. Perhaps even more pressing is the College’s inability to retain faculty members at the same clip as our peer institutions.

In recent decades, the student body has grown more diverse simply to keep pace with the rest of the world. Our faculty should reflect those changes. As a large number of professors are reaching retirement age, the College is in the midst of the prime years for the search for new tenure-track faculty. At this juncture, it is crucial that Amherst choose its faculty with the same foresight with which it selects its students, so as to not fall behind its peer institutions — and a changing world more broadly. Professors have expressed concerns that the College’s failure to retain more faculty of color and females is not due to a lack of excellence on the professors’ part, but rather due to a culture that undervalues them, and over time proves inhospitable. If this is the case, something must change.

We’re not simply encouraging diversity for diversity’s sake; the stakes here are much too large for a notion like that. Under any standard, a diverse faculty creates a richer learning environment for students. And better faculty retention rates for minority faculty is the only evidence that demonstrates Amherst is serious about creating an environment conducive to the success of diverse, high-caliber faculty.

We have an opportunity to select the men and women who will shape this College for the next 30 years. Let’s not waste it.