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UR to launch conference to boost diversity

Rochester Business Journal
February 19, 2010

The University of Rochester will hold a first-of-its-kind conference for the school in April to address efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the faculty, giving members of the university community a chance to weigh in and ask questions about the initiative's progress.

The event is part of the second phase of an initiative begun three years ago and is the result of a report released in December. The report included 14 recommendations to improve the university's culture and make more resources available for faculty members.

In 2006, President Joel Seligman appointed a task force on faculty diversity, and the following year the university created the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity to implement the task force's recommendations.

The latest report included recommendations intended to go beyond the operational issues raised in the first phase, but it said some concerns remain, such as creating a more welcoming and family-friendly atmosphere.

The diversity conference will raise the profile of the university's efforts, said Vivian Lewis, acting vice provost for faculty development and diversity and acting deputy to the president. It eventually would become an annual conference, much like an event at the University of Michigan that has helped push diversity efforts there, Lewis noted.

"Places that are successful at increasing diversity need a component where leadership stresses the importance of it," Lewis said.

The UR conference will have two parts. In one, university leaders will discuss individual plans to increase diversity in the faculty. Another virtual conference will let people throughout the university submit comments or questions via computer or postcards.

Seligman said the latest round of initiatives focuses on strengthening the university's culture, responding to issues raised in the report. The report included three case studies of anonymous faculty members, some finding a helpful and supportive atmosphere but others feeling isolated.

"This is chapter two of an effort to take a campus whose heart was always in the right place, but make it more effective in being inclusive and diverse," Seligman said. "The initial recommendations were a number of institutional plans that we put into effect, but we realized that wasn't good enough. The heart of this isn't just briefing people on the right way to engage in recruitment; a big part of it is cultural."

For the report, the office completed in-depth interviews with 94 faculty members-mostly from underrepresented groups-across the university's six schools. Three town-hall-style meetings were held in conjunction with the interviews.

Of the 14 recommendations included in the report, Seligman singled out eight to be implemented on a fast track in the next 18 months, saying the others require more study.

The recommendations that will be implemented first include:

n Ensuring consistency in promotion and tenure standards at the department chair level, including recognizing community-based research and community service;
n Establishing a part-time position to assemble a centralized listing of potential grants promoting diversity;
n Holding a series of leadership workshops for newly appointed academic leaders;
n Apprising faculty of individualized assistance available;
n Giving additional support to universitywide events celebrating diversity, such as the Presidential Diversity Awards;
n Expanding support for the Special Opportunities Fund from $500,000 now to $600,000 a year in 2010-11 and $750,000 in 2011-12, with up to one-third available for visiting faculty members or postdoctoral fellows to expedite hiring of qualified underrepresented faculty; and
n Ongoing meetings with new underrepresented faculty and an active listening tour in 2012-13 similar to the town-hall-style meetings of 2007.

The changes would be augmented by a greater focus on professional development and personal needs of faculty, Seligman said. These areas constitute the focus of the six remaining recommendations. Some initiatives, such as establishing a mentoring program, are being studied.

Seligman called for reports this academic year on programs to prepare graduates and postdoctoral fellows to become faculty members and on ways to support faculty in participating in external programs such as Higher Education and Resource Services. Other initiatives would address the needs of dual-career couples and augment child care for faculty and staff.

Some plans will need more in-depth study before they can be implemented, Seligman said. A recommendation to address family-friendly policies must be studied by the university's legal counsel to ensure that any policies are consistently applied.

"The reality is schools and programs are all different, so a standard that might work in one setting might not work in another," Seligman. "Part of the challenge is that we would like to have the same standard, so we have to deal with what is a complicated playing field."

Progress on increasing diversity and inclusion among faculty has been slower, Seligman said, in part because the university slowed its hiring during the recession. But he has adopted a long view of the initiative, saying it is not likely to produce any quick fixes.

"This is not going to be easy or happen fast, but it is something I'll be devoted to as long as I'm university president, and it has the full support of the board and university leadership," Seligman said. "It will make the kind of progress that will be incremental, and after a number of years people will look back and say this real-ly made a difference."

2/19/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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