Faculty diversity ekes up at KU

Administrators credit revamped, more extensive hiring protocol

Kansas University professors are still mostly white, but slightly less white than they were a few years ago.

Administrators say it’s a sign that a recently revamped and more exhaustive hiring process is helping KU meet a long-term — and highly challenging — goal of increasing faculty diversity.

Instead of relying only on applications and resumes to choose three finalists, for most faculty hires, to bring to campus, KU’s Hiring for Excellence protocols add another layer, said Mary Lee Hummert, vice provost for faculty development.?

Now search committees first narrow the field to nine applicants, who are then interviewed via phone or in-person, such as at conferences, she said. From that pool — which ideally will have 10 percent diversity — KU invites three finalists to campus.

With the idea that candidates have more to offer than just what appears on paper, Hummert said the effort has improved hiring quality overall.

“What we’re finding is that, along with that, it also seems to increase the probability that diverse applicants will be hired, or at least reach campus,” Hummert said.

“To fully appreciate what an individual has to offer, it requires looking at and considering more than just their record.”

In a campus dispatch earlier this spring, Provost Jeff Vitter said Hiring for Excellence was key to making “real and lasting progress on diversity hiring.” The initiative began following campus-wide workshops in 2011.

“Enhancing” faculty diversity is one goal of KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan. The plan doesn’t indicate hard percentage goals but says numbers of minority faculty members will be one way the university gauges progress.

By the numbers

Whites still make up the majority of KU professors, 76.6 percent as of fall 2014, according to data obtained from KU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning and calculated by the Journal-World.

However, since fall 2012, the percentage of white professors shrank 1.5 percent while the percentage of minority professors grew — if only slightly — in almost every race/ethnicity group.

Between 2012 and 2014, KU hired two to five additional professors in each of the following race/ethnicity groups: black, hispanic, multi-racial and American Indian/Alaska Native. That increased each group’s percentage of the whole by less than half a percent.

KU’s percentage of nonresident alien professors decreased less than half a percent. KU still lists zero Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander professors.

Asians remain the second largest percentage of KU professors, accounting for 9.6 percent in 2012 and growing to 10.7 percent in 2014.

For these figures the Journal-World calculated numbers for professors, associate professors and assistant professors. KU’s faculty also includes lecturers, librarians and faculty administrators.

Few ‘black chemists’

There are obstacles to increasing faculty diversity.

One big challenge is a smaller candidate pool.

While Asians are a minority group, they’re not considered an “underrepresented” group in higher education, said Blane Harding, director of KU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

He thinks it’s even more important but more difficult to recruit blacks and hispanics. Harding said the percentage of people in those groups with doctorate degrees is low, and all the universities want them.

“How many black chemists are out there?” Harding said. “I guarantee you it’s really small, and they’ve got options.”

And some of those options can offer more money than KU, said Ola Faucher, KU’s director of human resources.

“It’s hard for us to compete, salary-wise, for qualified candidates of diversity,” she said. “It’s hard to compete with places like Stanford and UCLA.”

Faucher said another hiring challenge KU faces is its Midwest location.

“We don’t have the kind of diversity that exists on the coasts,” Faucher said. “Whether it’s accurate or inaccurate, (some candidates’) perceptions kind of go along with ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the perception that Kansas is still not seen as diverse.”

In that sense, diversity begets diversity.

Nate Thomas, KU vice provost of diversity and equity, said ensuring KU is a welcoming place for faculty of color is critical for recruiting, hiring and retaining them.

He said candidates who visit campus want to know, “What’s my life going to be like in Lawrence, Kansas? Who am I going to be able to be connected with?”

Recruit, identify

Faucher said most faculty job candidates complete the optional diversity profile questionnaire with their electronic applications.

That information enables human resources to give the provost’s office a breakdown of minority candidates in their pool of semifinalists. Upon request and on a confidential basis, Faucher said, human resources can tell the provost’s office an individual candidate’s race/ethnicity.

Recruiting minority candidates often happens long before the application process, however.

Hummert said KU advertises jobs in a variety of places, including publications targeted at underrepresented groups.

Deans and departments do a lot in their respective fields, she said. They network with potential future faculty members, including bright graduate students at disciplinary conferences, for example.

“We always have our eyes open,” Hummert said.

Thomas said KU’s Langston Hughes Visiting Professorship, which he co-chairs, provides another trail to KU. The program invites faculty of color to campus, and some stay.

Students gain

KU is applying Hiring for Excellence to administrator searches, as well, Hummert said. Going forward, a goal is to use it for more staff hires as well.

The process takes longer and costs more than the old way, she said. But having diverse faculty is important for students.

“This is the world that they’re going to live in,” Hummert said. “We have to appreciate and work with individuals from different backgrounds, different races, ethnicities, religions … the university is the ideal forum to discuss these issues.”

Harding said a diverse faculty helps attract and inspire students of color.

“Students want to see themselves in the classroom,” he said. “Students want to see somebody that looks like them.”