In this interview, Angela Street, a director of Research Advisory Services at EAB (formerly known as the Education Advisory Board), discusses institutional policies, actions, and commitments that support the retention of faculty of color.
Sheena Daree Romero, HigherEdJobs: Research from EAB indicates that “BIPOC faculty are more likely than white peers to be disengaged in their roles.” Why is this?
Angela Street, director of Research Advisory Services at EAB: I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re less engaged; the engagement is there if the right support and opportunities for growth are in place, especially in relation to the specific challenges faculty of color face. Apathy isn’t there when support is present. Faculty of color don’t always have the same opportunities for formal and informal mentorship, and unwritten rules around promotion and tenure create an additional barrier. If you’re not in the right circles, you’re not having those informative watercooler moments, and that can make it all the more challenging to grasp what’s really expected to advance.
Romero: What happens, between the initial recruitment and onboarding and later promotion and tenure evaluation processes, that helps explain why some BIPOC faculty leave their institutions and positions?
Street: When it comes to the student experience, we often talk about the importance of building community and cultivating a sense of belonging. This matters for faculty and staff, too.
Openness to collective thought, ideas, and contributions all impact retention. So does the immediate environment. Colleges and universities in locations that aren’t heavily populated by people of color can be less attractive than places that offer a surrounding community, sense of culture, and place to identify outside of work and off-campus. So, the need for belonging is all the more important in these places.
A lack of inclusion in diversity of thought and perspectives in the system itself is another factor. How are research projects that matter to people of color being supported on an institutional level? Are journals where faculty of color have published or are interested in publishing recognized in the promotion and tenure evaluation processes? The journals that are more widely known and recognized aren’t always inclusive, overlooking lesser-known journal publications can contribute to a cycle that makes it more difficult for faculty of color to get ahead. The central need is redefining what is considered “excellence” and who defines it.
Romero: One of your areas of expertise is in student retention and success. What sort of connections do you see between student and faculty retention?
Street: The gap between faculty of color and students of color is certainly lacking, meaning there are fewer faculty of color than there are students of color. As activist Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be who you don’t see.” Representation matters. If you can’t see yourself in those roles of leadership, or in particular majors, then you’ll gravitate to what you can identify with, and that’s often people. Not having diverse faculty and staff can isolate students, leaving them with no one to understand their plight. Retaining faculty of color is an integral part of student success for students of color.
Romero: How might institutions better support faculty teaching, research, and service?
Street: When it comes to promoting equity and career advancement, there are three main areas to prioritize:
- Redesigning promotion and tenure policies to broaden and clarify expectations so that faculty following them understand and have direction.
- Ensuring committee members are champions for best practices and understand how to identify and challenge bias. Georgia Tech has an incredible training program for members of faculty committees. ADEPT 2.0, or Awareness of Decisions in Evaluating Promotion and Tenure, helps faculty committee members recognize and avoid bias in the promotion and tenure evaluation process through a virtual simulation. EAB also offers its partners the option to participate in a facilitated simulation, wherein participants act out a promotion and tenure process and discuss whether tenure should be offered with a focus on eliminating bias.
- Improving the management of faculty workload. Faculty burnout is real. From mentoring students of color and participating in committees where a BIPOC perspective is needed, to sitting on panels, faculty of color do a lot beyond their agreed workload and have to run faster and jump higher to be competitive with their counterparts. In addition to their agreed workloads, faculty of color are frequently expected to do things on behalf of their cultures and identities, and too often, this labor goes unrecognized. Some institutions have a great workload agreement and have established a multi-step process wherein faculty and department chairs create workload forms and input their course loads, with consideration to course size and whether it’s been taught before, will require more research to create, and/or has teaching assistant support. Applying similar workload agreements to work activity, research, and service helps ensure that chairs fully understand just how much faculty are contributing.
Romero: What are some best practices, institutionally and/or departmentally, when it comes to implementing policies and actions that promote BIPOC faculty retention?
Street: It’s helpful to address some of the main things that go wrong in the evaluation process, starting with unclear requirements, narrow definitions of success, and misalignment with institutional goals. Faculty may think, “The work I do is transformative for the institution — I mentor students on the verge of dropping out. I design hiring processes… What is excellence? Who gets to define it? How does it take into account the invisible labor faculty of color engage in?”
The University of Windsor is one institution that has a clear framework explaining criteria for tenure and includes examples of multiple options of work that counts, including publicly engaged academic work, letters from community partners, and a broader understanding of impact and success. The University of Oregon maintains an excellent rubric that helps faculty interpret equity and inclusion statements for tenure, promotion, and review.
Romero: Are there any resources you’d recommend for people in leadership positions at institutions interested in taking action to attract, engage, and retain their BIPOC faculty?
Street: Minnesota State has a system-level goal of closing student equity gaps and requires a statement of commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, intentionally giving faculty of color a chance to highlight and showcase work that might have otherwise been overlooked. This practice benefits students and faculty alike.
Enrollment and retention are words that come up a lot when we talk about student success, and both are equally important when we’re talking about faculty. If you can get them there, that’s great, but if you can’t keep them, well, that’s not great. The retention focus is certainly something of equal importance to recruitment.
Two resources worth reviewing include: