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January 20, 2005

One on One

John Cooper

The dean discusses efforts to diversify the faculty, administration in Arts & Sciences

In fiscal year 2000, the percentage of women hired as tenured or tenure-stream faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences was a paltry 23 percent, and there were no new Hispanic, African or African-American hires.

“That year, I was not very happy with at all,” said Arts and Sciences Dean N. John Cooper. “That was the point at which I started to pay particular attention to this issue. We now have a strong and continuing focus on diversity concerns.”

Current efforts toward increasing the percentages of faculty and administrators who are women and minorities include developing a formal school-wide statement, due out this spring, that echoes general University policy on why Pitt values diversity, the dean said.

(The statement also will reaffirm the school’s position in light of the Supreme Court’s Michigan law school admissions decision allowing institutions to consider race as one factor in admissions, Cooper said.)

Other A&S efforts include an informal survey completed last fall measuring the interest of current women faculty in becoming administrators; faculty diversity recruitment strategies that provide “checkpoints” during the hiring process, and increased emphasis on career development programs.

“You’ve come to me at a very opportune time to talk about all this, because there are a number of efforts going on related to diversity,” Cooper said last week in an interview with University Times staff writer Peter Hart.


University Times: Can you provide a brief overview of faculty recruitment efforts directed toward diversity?

Cooper: Promoting diversity has been a University philosophy for some time, but it’s also a philosophy that the University has been articulating more and more clearly, including the Provost’s statement on diversity [issued] in 2002.

I’ve been paying particular attention to faculty diversity, through the processes such as the review of recruitment requests from departments that every year each department sends us for positions they’d like to recruit for. They’re required to explain to us the areas they’re concerned about and ways in which they hope to address those. For example, there might be a subdiscipline in the department where there was traditionally a more diverse pool than currently and that might cause you to look at that.

There’s a second step that’s very important. Once you’ve allowed a department to advertise, they typically do preliminary interviews at a national conference and then the department asks for permission to bring the leading candidates to campus. At that stage, in accord with the University’s formal affirmative action procedures, we look very carefully at the diversity of the pool of candidates they’re bringing to campus.

We do say sometimes: “There must be some people out there who don’t happen to be white men – look harder.” Many times that results in identifying additional candidates and we do get the desired goal. It’s another checkpoint in this process.


Do recruitment issues vary by department?

Very much so. There are a couple disciplines where it’s hard to recruit generally, like economics and chemistry, that may have standing vacancies. This is not because of the lack of new Ph.D.s, but because of very competitive markets. A lot of universities are hiring very aggressively and, for both economics and chemistry, it is not simply an academic market. Fresh chemistry Ph.D.s may be choosing to go into industry or those in economics to Wall Street.

We did have chronic vacancies in computer science for five years, but since the collapse of the bubble, and with the changes in the information technology industry, computer science no longer is in that category. Also, departmental processes vary. Arts and Sciences bylaws require that there be a faculty consensus on important recommendations, such as for first appointment, or who is going to become a professor.

Some departments require that there be a two-thirds vote for faculty action. Some departments have a custom of having a vote, and then re-voting as a way to invite those in the minority to join the consensus, and those are different ways of thinking about consensus. I have no interest in telling people how to think about consensus, though I agree very strongly with the principle that key faculty actions should evolve by consensus, by which I do not mean unanimity.


One of the groups that has been under-represented in the academy is women. Are there specific plans to change this at your school?

We’ve looked very carefully at that, yes. In many of the social science departments there are fewer women than one might expect, and in natural science departments some have relatively small numbers of women even though in some of these disciplines a significant percentage of fresh Ph.D.s are women, which is one of the things we look at nationally.

We look at the available pool. We look at the National Science Foundation statistics for numbers of women in the sciences, for example.

Even in departments where significant diversity already exists, we talk about ways to make sure they’re not missing qualified women candidates or qualified minority candidates.

Typically, within the discipline there is a particular communication vehicle through a national society where you can get access to, or advertise your opening to, minority candidates.

I have some recent data on positions filled, which we include every year in our planning document. (See chart.) As you can see in the chart, the pattern of recruitment in some years earlier was not very diverse. Then in ’03 we had an all-time high in the percentage of women coming in, so our focus has paid off, and we’ve also been running around 8 percent over the last few years for African and African-American hires, which is well above the historic representation of faculty.


How does University recruiting policy differ from a quota system for hiring faculty?

Thinking about quotas would be a way to very rapidly damage the quality of the recruitment, and we do not intend to compromise the quality. It would also be illegal, based on Supreme Court decisions. And you can see from the scatter of the numbers over the last few years that we certainly don’t have any quota system.


Is there also a movement in Arts and Sciences to encourage current women faculty to become administrators?

We’re always interested in identifying the qualifications of people we might be trying to recruit into administrative positions, as a general rule.

But, in particular, we had an informal survey in the fall of women faculty, which was one effort to get us some more information about qualified women from the faculty and measure their interest.

We did become concerned this year that we did not have any chairs of [the 30] departments who were women. We did look into that in conversations with chairs and with faculty.

One of the things we discovered, surprisingly to me, is that the faculty as a whole were unsure about the process of how chairs were selected and appointed. We got a clear sense that in some departments faculty did not feel they understood the process, and we’re addressing that now. At this point we are in conversation with [departmental] governance committees for departments to have effective bylaws that would make their governance processes more transparent.

Second, we need to make this clear to new faculty. The newest assistant professor would be easily informed coming in about how decisions are taken in the department, who is involved in decisions and what opportunities there would be for them to be involved. That puts a burden on administrators to explain to people what the process is all about.

I do anticipate taking this imitative to a faculty meeting later this term and also in discussions with chairs and program directors later this month.

We’re also open to helping faculty with career development, and hope to expand our efforts on that. For a small group of faculty, this may include career development courses for administrators.

Some of these courses are geared toward women in academia. But there are [logistical] problems. A course at Bryn Mawr, for example, is a one-month residential course, which does not fit in with the career patterns on many of our colleagues.

Currently, there are no formal programs offered at the University, but we’re looking into options to invite two or three people to come and lead courses here in the summer.


What do you advise a faculty member to do regarding seeking administrative positions?

The obvious thing to do is contact their chair, but I would also be delighted if they also contacted Dean [James] Knapp [A&S associate dean for faculty affairs} if they have interest in that.


Do many of these strategies for increasing the number of women also apply to minorities?

None of the things I’ve been talking about apply uniquely to women. But any single one of these groups has unique problems. And women faculty also have unique problems.

All faculty, for example, are subject to the “dual-body” problem, or partner-placement problem. It is the single most difficult issue we face in recruiting any time, but especially for recruiting women. I could easily hire 50 percent more people every year if I could arbitrarily create positions to accommodate their qualified partners.

And I’m only talking about qualified people with qualified partners.

Two things that help us in Pittsburgh are the medical school and the strong legal profession Downtown, because those can offer employment opportunities for partners.

But every circumstance is different. What we do is try to connect candidates to the people who know where the opportunities are in their field. We do that every year, and sometimes we can pull it off, and sometimes we can’t. Of course, it’s a national problem.


Do you benchmark other universities for their male/female faculty ratios, or number of minorities?

We do some benchmarking, looking at the number of women in the various disciplines, for example.

Benchmarking is useful, but I do believe it’s more important that your career development is such that all faculty have the opportunity to succeed. That’s something we can control internally.

Mentorship programs are particularly important and can have a significant impact on women faculty and minority faculty in the environments in which they are in the minority, because you connect them with someone who is committed to helping them to succeed.

We require departments to have a mentorship program, and we’re going to be revisiting some of those to strengthen them by talking about what they’re doing and how they can improve. Mentorship also can be an important recruitment tool, especially for women who are seeking support from colleagues.


Are women and minority faculty at Pitt expected to participate as mentors?

In the sense of required to? No! Mentors are not necessarily women or minorities. You have to be careful with that. You want to be respectful of those who happen to be in a minority category, because you don’t want to ask them to provide more service than you ask of other people. That’s not what diversity is about. I think that’s a very important consideration.

Also, requiring a mentorship program for departments is different from how mentorship should be done, because most of it is very discipline-specific.


Provost Maher announced last month that there would be an increase of 21 tenured positions in Arts and Sciences. (See related story on page XX.) What does that mean for your school?

We use the standard category in academe, tenured and tenure-stream, which covers recruitment into the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, professor and the occasional distinguished professor. The bulk are assistant professors.

We probably will have more people hired this year, but it will not be 21 more. We’ve been hiring at this very rapid pace over the past several years, as we’ve been working through the impact of the [1998] faculty early retirement program.

Now we’re actually through it, so the overall numbers of positions filled have stabilized in the last three or so years.

If you take FY01, for example, that year we had 54 searches and 27 filled positions; this year, we had 47 searches and 24 filled positions, so about 50 percent is typical of what we succeed in filling each year.

Those positions remain open for the next year, but it is not by and large the same 50 percent that is not filled from year to year.

We have target sizes for the faculty in each department and those are based on balancing the opportunity for excellence in scholarship, the impact on the undergraduate program, and the quality of graduate education in those departments – all those factors Once you’ve decided there should be a position and it’s not filled, of course you try to fill it the next year.

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