Five New FTEs Open for Black and Latinx Faculty
Issue   |   Wed, 11/02/2016 - 01:32

Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein sent an email to faculty members on behalf of the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) to announce the college’s authorization of five new tenure lines, which will be allocated specifically for senior black and Latinx scholars, on Monday, Oct. 24.

President Biddy Martin asked the board of trustees last spring to add five new professorial lines as part of efforts to diversify the faculty. The board authorized the request, raising the number of full-time equivalents, or FTEs, from 183 to 188.

The email introduced new details about how the program will function. Any academic department interested in hiring a faculty member using the new FTE positions will have to submit proposals of the candidates to the CEP. According to the committee’s email, the proposals, which are due by March 15 next year, must include a summary of how the search process was implemented as well as an assessment of the scholar’s academic and teaching strengths, and what their areas of interests will contribute to the curriculum.

The CEP will then evaluate the proposals based on the scholar’s merit and the college’s academic areas that have the greatest need and demand.

The committee, along with Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones, will also help oversee departments’ search committee processes.

According to Epstein, the five new FTE positions are a small part of a much broader effort by the administration to recruit scholars from groups that are not “particularly demographically represented on campus.” There will be 14 additional faculty searches this year, all of which will be encouraged to be “very aggressive in terms of recruiting faculty of color” into the applicant pool, Epstein said.

The five new FTEs are specifically designated for black and Latinx scholars because “those are the two groups that are absolutely the hardest to recruit and retain, and so we really want to make sure that we get those groups represented on campus more fully,” said Epstein.

Though it is a “hard decision” to designate positions to one group and not another, Epstein said that the college is committed to securing diverse faculty through means outside the new FTEs as well. “We felt like we really want to focus on those groups [now],” she said. “We are confident that we will work with faculty to get many other diverse faculty of color on campus.”

Professor of American Studies Franklin Odo, who specializes in Asian-American studies, said that the new FTEs are a step in the right direction. The college, however, should also commit to securing scholars of color who specialize in the history and studies of their ethnic affinity, Odo said.

“There are faculty members of Asian descent,” he said. “But if they have no interest in or expertise in Asian-American studies, then it doesn’t make sense to count them.”

For Odo, ethnic studies faculty are crucial for students’ education at Amherst. “I think sustained and measurable progress needs to be made,” he said. “Otherwise we shortchange … the students who are here, who either want to learn or need to learn about all of these groups that make up the United States.”

Chico Kosber ’17, a member of the CEP, said that students have played an important role in forming an impetus to diversify the faculty.

“The faculty and the administration are definitely reacting, or trying to address, student needs,” he said. “We’ve demanded more diverse faculty, especially Latino and African-American faculty, and this is a proposal that would work well to do [that].”

Diversity has been a pronounced goal of the college for years, Epstein said, but Amherst Uprising helped redouble efforts to diversify.

“[Amherst Uprising] adds additional urgency, and it’s clear we need to do it, and we will do it,” she said. “And we’ll use all the possible ways that we can do it. One of the ways is those five FTEs. One of the ways is really working with every search committee and not saying, ‘diversity only rests in those five positions.’ The point is, it should be part of the process for all positions.”

Kosber said that as an international student, one policy that he sees as fundamental to faculty diversity is the presence of international professors.

“I’ve really wanted to increase the presence of international faculty and make Amherst courses more amenable to international students and … increase the international outlook of our curriculum as well,” he said. “Growing the departments, FTEs are a great way to do that.”

Serving on the CEP has made Kosber more aware of the challenges associated with securing diverse faculty who are “at the rigor of Amherst’s level.”

“It’s a very difficult process,” he said. “I’m amazed at what our professors go through to finally teach and research here, but it also means that our faculty are of extremely high quality, and I’m very happy that … students’ voices are heard on important committees like this.”

This aspect of student voice sets the college apart from other schools and student governments, Kosber said. He added that it helps ensure that students have a part in determining what is important for their education and life on campus.

Though these new lines are an advancement in the college’s commitment to diversity, Epstein said the real solution is not in these five FTEs.

“The real answer is in getting every department and every search committee to search as broadly and as widely as possible so that we get a more diverse faculty,” she said.