When a position at Shippensburg University (SU) needs filled, a search committee is formed under the SU Search Process Guide. Section I of the guide states the committee “must be approved by the Human Resources Office and should include race and gender diversity.”
According to Aaron Dobbs, Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF) chapter president, the search committee process “can be an onerous, months-long process.”
“When we talk about diversity, we need to include representatives and proponents for diversity that we want to see in our institution, our faculty and our search committees,” Dobbs said.
SU has demonstrated due care, ensuring that search committees for new positions include racial and gender diversity; however, faculty and staff have reported that this requirement is regularly filled by the same small group of racial minority faculty and staff. Faculty and staff of color wishing to stay anonymous shared with The Slate that they are asked to serve on search committees at a disproportionate level when compared to their white counterparts.
According to former APSCUF Chapter President Kara Laskowski, “If nobody in your department meets the search committee diversity requirement, you must find a diverse member outside of your department to serve on the committee.” Laskowski also added that certain faculty are “serving on one search committee after another or multiple at a time, often outside of their discipline for a long period of time.”
Megan Silverstrim, director of Communications and Marketing at SU, said, “The university has not been made aware of any negative implications to current faculty or staff who have agreed to serve on search committees.”
Serving on a search committee is optional, and faculty and staff may decline to serve on a search committee; however, tenure-tracked faculty looking for promotion or staff concerned about maintaining their job amidst staffing reductions rarely turn down the request. This is particularly true in racial minority faculty and staff, who have expressed under the condition of anonymity that not accepting such requests could result in other negative consequences.
The largest problem with this unintended side effect is that it takes a substantial amount of time and effort from individual members that they no longer can put toward scholarship or other promotion-building activities.
“When you are asked to spend time on service to a committee because of your skin color or sex (gender), which reduces your time for scholarship, and yet still are not recognized for that work, how does that feel,” Laskowski said. “Not coincidentally, this work is disproportionately performed by women and [people of color].”
From interviewing other faculty members, they have repeated the general message that their issue does not lie as much in serving on committees more frequently to fulfil this requirement, but that their contributions impact their ability to research, serve students or conduct other promotion-generating scholarship.
One potential solution identified by racial minority faculty and staff is to broaden the policy to specify other types of diversity, reflecting the broader emphasis on intersectionalities that Manuel Ruiz, assistant vice president for Inclusion and Belonging, has emphasized regarding the Campus Climate Survey results.
This is an area that Laskowski mentioned is worthy of further exploration, saying, “Specificity is important but by limiting it to two factors, there arises the risk of limiting other potent and salient types of diversity.”
Those interviewed reinforced Dobbs’ comments regarding the importance of diversity in search committees but expressed these concerns as a prevalent unintended consequence on faculty and staff of color.
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