Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Diversity Hiring

I’m on the horns of a dilemma here, and I’m hoping that crowdsourcing the problem might lead to a sustainable solution. Wise and worldly readers, I’m counting on you!

Like many colleges, my college's faculty does not reflect the demographics of either its students or its community. Bluntly, it's a lot whiter. The disparity is largest on the faculty side.

The Board of Trustees has made a public commitment to diversifying the college. However, opportunities for hiring are fewer and farther between now than they once were, with the recession-driven cuts in state aid. The pincer movement of 'a drive to diversify' and 'a paucity of openings' means that the college has to take a serious shot at candidates from underrepresented groups whenever it can. That’s proving harder than one might expect.

The teaching load here is typical for community colleges in this region, which is to say, it's not for the faint of heart. And while the benefits are good, the starting salaries won't blow the doors off.

Even in this economy, we've had trouble recruiting minority faculty. We've made offers, but we keep losing out to places with higher salaries or lower teaching loads. Minority candidates are in much higher demand than others, so even in this market, they can command offers far sweeter than what we can muster. And faculty salaries here are determined by a pretty mechanistic collective bargaining agreement.

We've exhausted the low-hanging fruit. We advertise in venues likelier to attract minority applicants. We have racially mixed search committees. We screen job posting language carefully to ensure that nothing in them creates unnecessary barriers. The low-cost, nonconflictual stuff is already done.

Which means, in practice, that the available options are few.

One is to simply make the salary offers the contract allows, and to hope for the best. When we get turned down, turn to whomever else is available. It's legally clean, but in practice, it makes an already very white faculty that much whiter. It winds up placing a value of 'zero' on diversity, with predictable results.

Another would be to go above the grid and simply endure the grievances. If paying an extra, say, 5k will make the difference, and the Trustees have determined that the difference is worth making, then so be it. The advantage of this approach is that it stands a greater chance of actually recruiting people. The disadvantages, though, are several. For one, it virtually guarantees protracted legal battles with the union. For another, it stirs up resentments that tend to get ugly fast. And at a really basic level, it raises the question of just what, exactly, the candidate is being paid for.

The union, of course, would prefer that we simply raise the entire salary scale until the whole thing is high enough that we can recruit without premiums. But that's a budget buster, and it would actually freeze the existing imbalances in place. It's both unaffordable and unhelpful. It's a nonstarter.

(And please, don't start in with the usual “bloated administrative salaries” crap. We've already shed administrators, and I'm looking now at the fourth consecutive year at the same salary.)

Which means that the second option is rapidly becoming the preferred one. Without it, recent results have shown, the racial gaps will simply continue to grow.

But if we go with the second option, the question of magnitude becomes real. So, wise and worldly readers, is there a reasonably elegant and sustainable way to improve our minority hiring results within the confines of limited resources and a vigilant union? I’d honestly like to know.

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