CLAS Success in Faculty Diversification

College of Liberal Arts

by Nic Arp, director of strategic communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

In today’s increasingly pluralistic world, a graduate’s success depends on collaborating with colleagues and neighbors from many backgrounds, and a 21st century college education must prepare students to embrace cultural, racial, social, and ethnic diversity.

To create an educational environment that reflects these core values, it is crucial that a university’s faculty brings a wide-ranging mix of cultural experience and identity. To that end, the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) has had great success in recruiting faculty from self-reported underrepresented minorities—11 were hired for the 2017-18 academic year, and AY 18-19 appears to be on a similar track. 

While CLAS does not have a formal diversity opportunity hire program, Dean Chaden Djalali, Executive Associate Dean Raúl Curto, and Assistant to the Dean for Faculty Alaina Hanson have developed effective initiatives to encourage recruitment of diverse faculty.  The collegiate administration encourages Departmental Executive Officers to work with their faculty to identify strong candidates from underrepresented groups for tenure-track positions. Once such candidates have been selected, departmental and collegiate administrators ensure that the candidate has full faculty support, works in an area of expertise that fits with departmental priorities and strategic plans, and would emerge as a top candidate in any regular search. If these criteria are met, the campus interview process is expedited. CLAS also commits resources to departments for recruiting and hiring diverse candidates.

Associate Dean Meenakshi Gigi Durham, the college’s diversity officer, says diversifying the CLAS faculty is crucial to fostering a robust intellectual and creative environment for the college. 

“A diverse faculty advances excellence in scholarship, teaching, and service,” says Durham. “There’s been a great deal of research on the value of diversity to problem-solving and creative thinking. Diversity by definition generates a range of ideas that evolve from different perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, and identities—and it’s this range that sparks inventiveness and fresh approaches, the vitality that’s so necessary for knowledge production and for engaged classroom discussions.” 

She noted that the faculty needs to reflect the student body to foster successful outcomes for all students.  

“Faculty diversity matters for creating an inclusive campus climate, one in which all students feel welcome and can find mentors with backgrounds and experiences similar to their own. Iowa demographics are changing, as are those of our region and nation, and CLAS attracts many international students, as well,” says Durham. “Student success depends on working with faculty who are conducting research and teaching in areas that resonate with their passions and commitments.”

Curto emphasized the importance of collaborative recruiting among departments and administrators, noting that the success in AY 17-18 was largely due to enterprising DEOs and faculty who brought excellent cases to the college’s attention by working assiduously to identify potential hires.

One CLAS DEO who has worked with the college on “opportunity” hires is Professor Timothy Havens of the Department of Communication Studies. 

“Communication Studies has made two opportunity hires in recent years, both of which have established our department as being at the national forefront of the study of race, ethnicity, and communication,” Havens said. “Together with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Program in African American Studies, and the departments of American Studies and English, Iowa is now one of the top programs in the nation for studying African American media.”

Durham emphasized the important role faculty diversification plays when it comes to quality and reputation of a university.

“For the University of Iowa to move forward as a leading institution of higher education, we need to attract the most brilliant minds from every walk of life, especially people who have historically faced barriers to participating in academia,” Durham said. “Our students and our society will reap the benefits of a multicultural and multi-talented faculty, and many of the new faculty we’ve hired have joint appointments in more than one department which contributes to the interdisciplinary connections that catalyze great new classes and research projects in our eclectic college.”

CLAS’s efforts are helping the UI “to recruit and retain faculty and staff who possess the broad diversity essential to our research mission,” a key goal of the UI’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan.

Most importantly, CLAS’s efforts are helping to ensure that teaching and research at the UI are fulfilling a central goal of higher education—the creation of an ever more inclusive and humane society.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences