Friday, February 20, 2009

Notes from the "Inclusiveness Committee"

There’s been a lot of talk on campus lately about inclusiveness and diversity. This concern ranges from diversity and inclusiveness in curriculum, to an attempt to make student activities and organizations more welcoming to minority students, to altering systemic obstacles that can impede the academic and professional progress of minority students and faculty members. As I sit in committee meetings and brown bag lunches on the topic, it occurs to me that at times, this effort to remove the systemic obstacles that minority students and faculty face can itself be an obstacle to them. I know it sounds strange, but keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.

An effort to bring about institutional change on college campuses would be pretty inauthentic if it was primarily white males sitting around discussing the changes that were needed. Obviously, to truly bring about change, you need to incorporate the voices of those who are traditionally marginalized. However, these marginalized groups generally have a smaller representation among faculty and students, so their service in committees, student groups, brainstorming sessions, etc. will be disproportionately required. For example, a black female faculty member will be pressed into service more often than her white male peers, because her perspective is underrepresented on campus as a whole. On the surface, this seems unproblematic. However, from a professional perspective this disadvantages her greatly, because all the time she spends on the (barely recognized from a tenure-perspective) committee work is time taken away from her research, writing, and other professional development. This may serve to exacerbate the fact that she is less likely to achieve tenure on the same timeline as her white male peers. Similarly, students who participate in student groups that seek institutional change are taking on a burden that their white peers don’t have to carry. On the other hand, serving in administrative bodies that seek to bring about change within an institution can be a vital means of taking ownership and being seen as an integral part of that institution. So this becomes a catch 22 for both administrators seeking to bring about change and for the individuals from underrepresented groups themselves. In this case, working to bring about the changes that will make their institution more accessible and inclusive can actually decrease their own chances of success.

So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time these past couple of weeks diagnosing this problem, but no solutions occur to my caffeine-addled brain. Your thoughts?


  1. Perhaps the time and effort faculty put into committee work should be considered from a tenure perspective. After all, they're doing a great service for the school.

    That doesn't solve the problem of time being taken away from independent publishing and research. I think the only answer there is to crack down on redundancy. The administration should be self-aware and try not to push minority faculty into contributing to more than one diversity-building project, especially if the projects are kind of similar. Collapse one of them and increase funding for the other. Easier said than done, I know, but those are my thoughts.

  2. Anonymous2/24/2009

    I agree that committee work should be given more weight in T&P considerations, especially committee work that you were asked to do. But that's a change that would most likely be a long administrative process.

    Some universities try to do cooperative brainstorming work so that the same faculty from each university aren't always having to serve.

    It is a tough issue.