Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ask the Administrator: How to Ensure a Diverse Candidate Pool?

A new correspondent writes

I work in the English department at a medium-sized but rapidly expanding community college in the Northeast. We are near a large-ish city, but we by no means have the draw of a New York, Boston, or Philadelphia.

My question has to do with ensuring a diverse pool of qualified applicants to apply for our tenure track teaching jobs, primarily in English and composition. The folks in HR, who usually handle the placing of ads, say that the percentage of applicants who voluntarily disclose their minority status is very low. I know that the hiring committee has a lot of responsibility in this area once it gets the CV’s, but it seems like our initial pool is not very diverse. Our HR puts ads in IHE and the Chronicle, the local papers, and two magazines geared toward minority academics, but they are open to suggestions. I just found this out and in response have suggested discipline specific venues like WPA, NCTE, MLA Jobs, etc (at least for the English/Comp jobs). Any advice would be appreciated.

This is a HUGE issue for those of us in less glamorous parts of the country. It’s also politically radioactive when you get to the details.

I’ve had repeated confrontations with search committees over the years on exactly this issue. Many of them have taken the perspective that there’s really no reason to do national searches for faculty. We have plenty of good local adjuncts, the argument goes, so why not just hire from folks who are already here? In some cases, they’ve even cast the argument in social justice terms, suggesting that the real issue is fairness to adjuncts.

Of course, if you only ever hire from the local pool, then your candidate pool will only ever reflect who’s already there. In many parts of the country, you won’t get real diversity unless you import it. And that doesn’t refer only to racial or ethnic diversity, either; if you stay in one small geographic area, chances are that one or a few graduate institutions will dominate your faculty. Getting people who have been trained elsewhere, with other contacts, can bring fresh perspectives.

That said, it sounds like you’re at the point where people are willing to look nationally, but they aren’t happy with what they’re finding. So in a sense, you’re a step ahead of me.

Yes, there are some publications that target academics of color. (We regularly use Diverse Issues in Higher Education, as an example.) But the ads that go there also go to more traditional venues, and the responses we get are almost entirely from the traditional venues.

Listservs can be helpful. Many disciplines have listservs for various subgroups, whether defined by demographics or by academic specialty. Listservs are generally free to use, and they have the advantage of reaching exactly whom you hope to reach. For example, I’m told that there’s one specifically for women of color in the Criminal Justice field. If you can find your way to the right listservs, the bang for the buck should be pretty impressive.

The other major issue we’ve had with diverse candidates from other parts of the country is salary. With a community college teaching load and a community college salary, it’s tough to compete with what some private four-year schools can offer. In fields where candidates of color are in high demand, it’s very much a candidate’s market. We make many more offers than we actually land.

I suspect that my wise and worldly readers have some discipline-specific suggestions, so I’ll ask for their help. Are there listservs or other resources specific to English and comp/rhet that are likely to yield higher-than-usual numbers of candidates of color?

Good luck. It’s a tough battle, but worth fighting. If the recent research showing that students of color do better with professors of their same background is correct, then there’s a real social justice need to address.

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.