BY JENNY DEVRIES
Over the past academic year, Drake conducted a climate assessment that resulted in a campus-wide survey in February 2015. Now, Drake is taking the results and turning them into a plan that hopes to influence the future of Drake.
This plan, called the Quality Initiative (QI), is a document written for Drake’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The QI is the school’s project during this cycle of accreditation.
An aspect of the plan identifies a need for diverse faculty, staff and student body.
Interim Provost Joe Lenz has moved forward with hiring 22 faculty members to help reflect the makeup of the general population.
“The QI was designed to address the campus climate and diversity of the campus,” Lenz said. “It’s something we’ve been looking at and talking about for years and years, but now not only are we going to talk about it, we’re going to do it.”
Because demographics of college campuses are changing, Lenz said the university must change as well.
“We’re seeing an increase in numbers among underrepresented groups at colleges where, for those students, college hasn’t necessarily been the traditional route,” Lenz said. “If we’re going to succeed, to recruit the numbers we need, we must do a better job of recruiting from more diverse populations.”
Keith Summerville, Interim dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, acknowledges that creating a strong group of professors is important, but is only one aspect of the initiative.
“The way I see it, the QI is leaving footsteps in all operations, all facets of the university, the professoriate just being one,” Summerville said.
However, as its first goal, improving the diversity of staff and students will begin with an emphasis on representational diversity.
The process of selecting a candidate for an academic position can be complex.
Currently, it begins with a committee of faculty within the department and a member from another program. Many committees include students, though it’s not required.
The position is posted and the narrowing-down process begins with phone interviews and ends with two candidates coming to campus, taking over 48 hours of campus interviews.
The last step in the selection process ends with the committee submitting a recommendation for the hire.
“As an institution dedicated to creating an exceptional learning environment, we should directly involve students in the decisions about who we hire in that environment,” Summerville said.
One of the worries when deciding new faculty is bias. Lenz isn’t worried, however, and has faith in the process.
“The search isn’t giving preference, it’s trying to overcome traditional practice,” Lenz said. “In general history, traditionally, we had to fill a position, and looked for a replacement of the predecessor instead of looking at the institution’s needs.”
Professor Renee Cramer, a member of the Strategic Diversity Action Team, argues bias is necessary as well as unavoidable.
“Bias is such a loaded term. We’re biased about everything,” Cramer said. “Being race-conscious isn’t as problematic as trying to be race-blind; we are perfectly within bounds as academic departments to hire a person who contributes the most to the intellectual life of the institution.”
Another change applies to the application process. Lenz said advertisements will now read, “Drake University is dedicated to building a culturally realistic community committed to teaching and working in a multicultural environment that strongly encourages applications from minorities, women and people with disabilities.”
And for Summerville, a multicultural environment isn’t one that just administration want to see.
“I think there’s a clearly articulated want from students, colleagues and alums to diversify along representational lines,” Summerville said. “Representational diversity is only a piece of the pie. We need a more multicultural sensitive campus and to ask ourselves, are we doing enough?”
The HLC document outlines faculty of color, Cramer said, because it’s constrained and focused on visible representational diversity. But the efforts of the QI are broader.
“You get a person with the goal of visible diversity, but you also get intersecting identities,” Cramer said.
After hiring, the next issue is retaining the faculty.
“Hiring faculty won’t be effective if we don’t also have an environment that retains faculty of color,” Cramer said. “That’s going to take an enormous amount of effort, but I’m confident that Drake’s leadership is fully on board.”
Lenz says that administration will be looking to outside organizations to help the transition process after orientation for new faculty.
“We’ll look at organizations outside of the university that begin the mentoring, and help faculty at Drake, but also connect them with faculty at other universities,” Lenz said.
The administration has chosen outside organizations, according to Summerville, because organizations that rely on their own operational philosophy do not invoke permanent change.
“You never create a climate of disruptive change that creates a new cultural fabric that allows the institution to a higher level of performance,” Summerville said. “Imagining that academia will always have the answer just by looking at itself is not going to create cultural evolution within an organization.”