Georgia State University has the potential to become a nationally recognized model for leadership in building a diverse and inclusive faculty. With one of the most diverse student bodies of any public research university in the nation, Georgia State naturally identifies increased faculty diversity as an institutional priority. We are situated in the heart of Atlanta, within walking distance of the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the center of one of the largest African-American populations in the country, and in a destination city for growing populations of immigrants from across the globe. These advantages of student diversity and institutional location present ideal conditions for building a more diverse body of faculty. In the University Strategic Plan, Goal 4, Initiative 3 affirms Georgia State’s commitment: “Be a nationally recognized model for leadership in inclusion.” The initiative continues:
Georgia State is one of the most diverse universities in the nation, a community of faculty, staff and students from varied racial, ethnic, socio-economic and lifestyle backgrounds. Its campus is a laboratory that includes everyone in building understanding, tolerance and concern for others, qualities that are central to human progress. In the heart of one of the world’s global centers, the university has an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how diversity can be a catalyst for change and inclusive growth (Appendix 1).
In light of these advantages and goals, the efforts to recruit, engage, and retain underrepresented minority (URM) faculty members at Georgia State must improve. We refuse to be content with being average in this respect, when our goal is to be a national model. To reach our full potential, Georgia State must bring to bear its institutional spirit of innovative programming and take full advantage of our city’s magnetic pull, by emphasizing our connections to Atlanta. These connections include various communities in Atlanta as well as partnerships with local and state government, non-profit, finance, health, science and technology, and industry sectors.
To provide guidance and spur activity in this important domain, President Becker and Provost Palm established the Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty on November 3, 2017. The commission was given the charge to recommend “programs and strategies to strengthen, distinguish, and diversify Georgia State University’s faculty. The Commission is charged with addressing Goal 4, Initiative 3 of the GSU Strategic Plan which states that the university will be a ‘nationally recognized model for leadership in inclusion.’ (Appendix 2)
Accordingly, the Commission undertook a series of activities aimed at providing recommendations to advance diversity and inclusion during recruitment, to build a community that welcomes and engages all our faculty, and to build our capacity to retain a highly successful and diverse faculty:
- Commission members reviewed university and national data, as well as literature on national trends, best practices, and innovations in the areas of recruitment, engagement, and retention;
- Four members went on a study trip to the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, known for making innovative inroads in the areas of the Commission’s charge;
- The Commission hired Dr. Damon Williams, a consultant, to perform a qualitative, focus-group-based study of the lived experience of Georgia State faculty members from various demographic groups, with emphasis on diversity, engagement, and inclusion; and
- Commission members discussed, drafted, vetted, and revised its recommendations, as presented here.
While diversity can take many forms, the Commission focused mainly on racial and ethnic diversity, noting that this is where the need is currently most pronounced, based in part on Georgia State’s increasing national profile related to student diversity. Not only does Georgia State need to hire more underrepresented minority (URM) faculty members, but also Georgia State can do more so that faculty members all feel welcomed at all levels, are fully integrated into the life of the university community, and are properly oriented, supported, mentored, developed, and ultimately retained. Our ability to increase our students’ success is proof that we have the ability to build and retain a more diverse faculty if we bring the same level of commitment to this task.
The visit to UMBC elevated our understanding of potential transformative approaches and led us to brainstorm more broad and innovative possibilities. Moreover, the Commission’s consultant identified nine major themes that reflect the experiences of a diverse array of faculty participants. African-American faculty, in particular, feel over-taxed, under-supported, and often unwelcome and invisible. There was the sense among many participants that a “crisis of community” exists at Georgia State. Other themes express a desire for a more visible commitment to faculty diversity by university leaders, increased transparency from the administration and the continuing culture shock associated with Georgia State’s relatively recent consolidation. By answering the call to elevate diversity and inclusion, the university can strengthen the bonds of community and ensure that the lived experience among all faculty is inviting, supportive, and efficacious.
Based on institutional data, national trends, investigative work on new and validated approaches, and our own internal focus group study, the Commission’s recommendations and initiatives articulate a new strategy, consistent with the trajectory of an innovative university that aims, as our Mission Statement articulates, to “solve complex issues” and “tackle the challenges of an urbanizing nation and world.” Commission members share the view expressed by many faculty in the focus groups that there is an urgency for Georgia State to act on these issues now—to do more to hire, welcome, engage, and retain a diverse faculty.