Faculty Diversity Conference Draws Liberal-Arts Leaders to Muhlenberg

The conference reinforced the College’s pledge to attract, hire and retain a diverse professoriate and to share best practices with peer institutions.

By: Meghan Kita  Friday, December 7, 2018 08:57 AM

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University of Maryland, Baltimore County, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III delivers the keynote address at the Expanding and Welcoming a Diverse Professoriate conference at Muhlenberg.

Expanding and Welcoming a Diverse Professoriate, a conference funded by a Mellon Presidential Grant awarded to President John I. Williams, Jr., took place November 9 and 10 in Moyer Hall. Conference attendees included administrators, faculty and staff from 17 liberal arts institutions including Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College and Franklin & Marshall College.

“Our diversity strategic plan and the most recent strategic plan commit the College to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and staff,” says Muhlenberg College Provost Kathleen Harring. “The vision for this conference developed from that goal and the work that the Provost Office has been doing for the past three years, including working with our diversity hiring consultants to establish practices to diversify our hiring pools across all departments. We are also committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse student body, and we know that students from underrepresented populations are more likely to attend and thrive at institutions where there are diverse faculty and staff mentors.”

The conference began with a keynote address from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III called “Inclusive Excellence and Our Liberal Arts Mission.” The next day consisted of three plenary sessions, each followed by opportunities for discussion.

In the first, a panel including Harring, former Skidmore College Provost Beau Breslin and consultants Linda Marchesani of LSM Consulting and Pat Romney of Romney Associates discussed their experiences with changing the hiring process in order to draw a more diverse pool of candidates. (Romney Associates has been the College’s partner on attracting, hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff community.)

Next, Kiernan Mathews, executive director and principal investigator at the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke. In his talk, “Developing a Culture to Support Wellbeing and Success,” Mathews shared insights from COACHE research.

The final panel included Bucknell University President John Bravman, Wooster College President Sarah Bolton and Amherst College Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones in conversation about institutional change and commitment.

"I have been to countless meetings promising to diversify the professoriate, but Expanding and Welcoming a Diverse Professoriate stands out for its focus, its detail and its message of hope,” Mathews says. “Provost Harring sequenced the speakers just right, and just as important, got the ‘right people’ in the audience and got them motivated for institutional transformation.”

“Seven of us from Franklin & Marshall drove up to Muhlenberg for the conference on Expanding and Welcoming a Diverse Professoriate. Our excursion turned out to be a great investment,” says Franklin & Marshall College President Barbara K. Altmann. “We have now met as a team on our campus to prioritize the list of possible actions items we brought back, strategize what we can easily and quickly incorporate into existing structures and hone our longer-term goals.”

The conference ended with closing remarks from President Williams, who commented on the importance of creating a “cultural critical mass for minority populations. It is easier to thrive in a foreign culture—and in many ways, that’s what we are talking about—when you have an outlet or resource that makes you feel the comfort and reassurance of that with which you are familiar culturally.”

Unfortunately, as Williams noted, that presents a chicken-and-egg conundrum for predominantly white institutions: How can one attract and retain community members of color to create a critical mass when the critical mass doesn’t already exist?

“I wish it were otherwise, but there is simply no single playbook for increasing diversity and inclusion on our campuses,” Williams told attendees. “Which is why, as we leave here today, I am putting the onus on all of us, collectively. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to continue to communicate and collaborate with one another in order to succeed—as we must. To form a powerful network where we can share our successes and our challenges.”

He concluded: “We cannot do this work alone. None of us is large enough to provide cultural critical mass on our own. We need to work and learn together and as we do so, I am optimistic we will succeed in meeting this most important challenge, together.”