It’s Time for Swarthmore to Commit to Faculty Diversity

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On February 6, 1998, the Swarthmore College faculty met, discussed, and passed—unanimously—a resolution to “increase the number of faculty of color.” Over a decade later, Swarthmore College is stagnating in this endeavor. While there has been incremental movement towards the fulfillment of this resolution, it is clear that efforts to do so have not reached their full potential. Consequently, we, the IC/BCC Coalition, seek an active, renewed commitment to the goal of increasing faculty diversity at this College.

We have engaged in multiple conversations with various channels in the administration with a view to revive that commitment, but have found the response less than satisfying. We believe that still more “dialogue” prevents actual engagement with the issue when there are so many concrete, immediate options to work with. Faculty diversity was universally endorsed as a necessary goal by the College faculty over thirteen years ago; now is the time for the administration to explicitly express sustained commitment to that goal, as well as develop a realistic strategic plan to realize that goal.

Faculty diversity was an issue of high importance in 1998, and it remains just as relevant today. In the original resolution that was passed, Swarthmore College faculty affirmed: “For the sake of furthering Swarthmore College’s community and educational values, the faculty endorses that all Departments and Programs in the College, with the help of the Administration, take necesary [sic] and appropriate steps so that within a decade we may see a significant increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of faculty hired in tenure-track positions well distributed in all three Divisions of the College.”

Attached to the 1998 resolution was a background document (not voted on by the faculty) outlining the motivations for increasing the number of faculty of color. This included emphasis on the fact that “we do not mean to imply that hiring more Asian/Pacific/Asian American faculty (for instance) is important only to the Asian/Pacific/Asian American students enrolled… [rather,] community and educational values will be strengthened for all of us.”

This is a timeless contention. Increased faculty diversity provides benefits for both underrepresented students as well as the community overall. Swarthmore College cannot proudly claim that 40% of the Class of 2014 are domestic students of color, as the College did in the October 2010 edition of the Swarthmore College Bulletin, without making congruous changes to the composition of its faculty. Unfortunately, while the absolute number of minority faculty members went up 8.5% between 1999 and 2009, as a percentage of total faculty, minority faculty declined from 20.5% to 17.3%, according to the Equal Opportunity Office (EOO).

This is an unacceptable trend judging by the College’s own mission of “mak[ing] its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society.” Students cannot reach their “full intellectual and personal potential” (also from the mission statement) without an understanding of the diversifying and globalizing world around them. Thus, there are three simple, concrete steps that we propose to the College administration at this point in time:

First, consultation of the EOO must be institutionalized in the hiring process. This is an easy and logical first step towards increasing faculty diversity. Currently, its involvement is not mandatory. Though the College obviously cannot make hires based on, for example, race, the EOO’s input needs to be heard if the College is serious about faculty diversity.

Second, we encourage the College to start looking beyond the so-called “elite” schools in hiring searches. This will both help with the basic issue of racial diversity as well as provide a wider range of scholarship being done by potential hires. Additionally, the IC/BCC Coalition has identified the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program, which seeks to assist students of color with a demonstrated interest in pursuing PhDs in the arts and sciences, as an avenue where Swarthmore can make a firmer commitment. It is, after all, a program our institution already has ties to.

Third, structural changes are needed to improve understanding and communication between the faculty, administration, and students. Though we are grateful for the open doors that professors and department offices have always offered us, simply walking through these doors on a student-by-student basis does not provide a measurable system to gauge student interest in curriculum offerings. Even the involvement of students in visiting professor hires becomes distorted if students are not able to make it to lectures and meet-and-greets. Thus, we suggest institutionalizing forums where students can express their interests and faculty members can respond. Candidate professors’ lectures could be posted online. Basically, formal avenues must be provided to students to solve our collective action problems. Furthermore, departments would be held accountable if dialogue becomes formalized and transparent.

We are not asking for more diversity for diversity’s sake. Our mission is to create the most enlightening and supportive environment for the students on this campus. Faculty of color are simply one aspect of this mission; we also desire faculty who have a demonstrated interest to being active members of this College community and engaging thoughtfully with students and administration alike. By the raw numbers our faculty diversity falls short of the 18% minority figure at other leading coed liberal arts colleges such as Williams and Amherst. But increasing faculty diversity also requires a culture of accountability and transparency.

The ethos of social concern and community building sets Swarthmore College apart from comparable institutions. It is time for the administration to affirm that commitment.

James Mao ’12 and Hanna King ’14
IC/BCC Coalition

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