I think there are only half a dozen faculty of color on our faculty. … Feeling isolated and invisible comes with the territory. … [F]eeling isolated and invisible in our city is unavoidable. Unless we do things like change the way we evaluate faculty, at least think about what role gender and race play in student evaluations, that’s going to be a problem. … [O]n a largely white Protestant campus, many of our students come in without significant diversity experience themselves. They relate well to young white men teaching their classes, despite the fact that we have a majority female population. People [faculty] have trouble in classrooms here if they don’t fit that profile.Chairs in our study reflected a high degree of sophistication when defining optimal diversity for their departments. In some cases, their understanding of diversity moved beyond traditional definitions of the broad palette of diversity to implicate notions of power, privilege, and social stratification. Chairs of psychology, sociology, educational leadership, and women’s studies were particularly aware of the impact of differential power based on demographic differences. Some had done groundbreaking work in the field of diversity themselves. For example, a white female chair of higher education in a western public research university identified two distinct strands in the definition of diversity:
When I think about diversity I think about it in two ways. One is equated with difference, in terms of race, in terms of class, in terms of sexual orientation, and also even diversity of ideas and disciplinary differences. … Another component of diversity goes way beyond difference, in that, when I think about diversity I also really think about power and privilege difference and sort of underlying constructs that go with diversity that privilege certain groups over others. …Yet despite this level of sophistication among individual chairs, our overall findings indicate that the implementation of diversity in higher education still remains, to some degree, uncharted territory. The area of department chair leadership is a prime example. Institutions of higher education often may not have clearly identified a clear and cohesive institutional strategy that recognizes, supports, and operationalizes the chair’s critical role in diversity transformation. As a result, the chair’s diversity journey can be compared to setting out on a lonely, dirt road rather than a paved highway, without clear directional signs and a lack of certainty as to where and when he or she will arrive at the destination. Such journeys are inevitably bumpy, at best, without the guidance of institutional markers and resources to guide the chair toward an institutional destination. Further, our research indicates that four key reasons account for stalled diversity change at the institutional level:
I’ve been to a lot of these department chair workshops. And I have never been to one that ever had a session on what we are talking about. I think it is a big mistake. I think there is a perception that because we are in academia and because we are professors that we have had these conversations, and that’s not true. … Even if you may have a kind of enlightened position, there’s a whole other realm of dealing with this institutionally as a chair, deans, provosts, and boards of trustees. …Clearly, the role of department chairs in diversity progress transcends discrete activities such as hiring new faculty and instead encompasses a broad array of responsibilities with direct impact on student learning outcomes. In this regard, a white female chair in an undergraduate public college recommends a proactive approach that does not merely deal with isolated situations as they arise, but addresses underlying issues and problems before they arise through institutional policy:
When you see a problem and point it out, that feels negativeand sometimes there is nothing that you can do. You can try. But one of the things that does work pretty well or at least better (it’s a lot of work, though) is to try to find policy solutions to the problems that you perceive and try and prevent them in the future.While in the past, institutions of higher education may have seen administrators as the galvanizing force in diversity progress, we argue that the academic department chair is likely to be the real locus of such change. For this reason, resources and programs that support the department chair’s leadership role will, in turn, promote inclusive campus environments that support the access and success of diverse students. Edna Chun and Alvin Evans are award-winning authors and HR and diversity leaders in higher education. Two of their books, Are the Walls Really Down? Behavioral and Organizational Barriers to Faculty and Staff Diversity(Jossey-Bass, 2007) and Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education(Jossey-Bass, 2009), were recipients of the prestigious Kathryn G. Hansen Publication Award by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. Recent books include Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education(Paradigm, 2012),Creating a Tipping Point: Strategic HR in Higher Education(Jossey-Bass, 2012), and The New Talent Acquisition Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy in the Private and Public Sectors and Higher Education (Stylus, 2014); the latter was recently awarded the Silver Medal in the Axiom Business Book Awards. Their forthcoming book, Department Chairs as Transformative Diversity Leaders: Building Inclusive Learning Environments in Higher Education (Stylus, 2014), will be released later this year. Edna Chun is associate vice chancellor for HR at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Alvin Evans is associate vice president for human resources at Kent State University.