Diversity leads to the best solutions, speaker says

By Katie Vloet
U-M Law

Diversity among faculty at institutions of higher learning is essential because "we cannot achieve excellence without diversity," said Abigail Stewart, a speaker at the Michigan Law School's series on diversity.

"If you want to have the best solutions, then you have to have a diverse group," said Stewart, Sandra Schwartz Tangri Distinguished University Professor and director of the U-M ADVANCE Program on October 5. The talk was co-sponsored by the Law School's Program in Race, Law & History and facilitated by Professor of Law Laura N. Beny.

The program Stewart leads, ADVANCE, aims to improve the U-M campus environment for faculty in four general areas:

- Recruitment: development and use of equitable faculty recruiting practices

- Retention: preemptive strategies to prevent the loss of valued faculty

- Climate: improvement of departmental climate for faculty, staff and students

- Leadership: development of leadership skills that allow academic leaders to encourage positive departmental climates.

ADVANCE's efforts have been associated with significant changes in the recruitment and retention of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) faculty positions. For example, as a proportion of all science and engineering tenure-track hires, 13 percent of all new hires were women in the pre-ADVANCE academic years of 2001 and 2002, compared with 32 percent in academic years 2003-2014.

The goal of recruiting and retaining increasing numbers of faculty of color has been more challenging to achieve, she said. "It turns out to be more complicated to move that needle," said Stewart, past director of the Women's Studies Program and the founding director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. ADVANCE offers numerous resources to faculty and has worked directly with the Law School's hiring committee.

One of the ways ADVANCE tries to affect recruitment and retention practices at the University is by making faculty and leaders aware of their unconscious biases. During workshops, she said, ADVANCE leaders instruct faculty members to be aware of such biases ("You don't want to have them, but you still do," Stewart said), and to be willing to change. Departments that have acknowledged problems with their recruitment and retention practices have been the most willing to change-and have been the most successful at advancing diversity efforts, she said.

The ADVANCE Program began in January 2002 as a five-year, National Science Foundation-funded project promoting "institutional transformation" with respect to women faculty in science and engineering fields. The program has since expanded to promote other kinds of diversity among faculty in all fields.

Michigan Law's Diversity Talk series, co-sponsored by the Law School's Program in Race, Law & History, invites University leaders to discuss the future of diversity at Michigan with the Law School community. On Nov. 16, LSA Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Angela Dillard will speak about diversity and curriculum. The final talk will be given by University President Mark Schlissel on Dec. 7.

Published: Thu, Oct 15, 2015