U hosts faculty diversity conference

by Bryce Haugen

Administrators, professors and higher-education experts from across the country gathered at the University last week to discuss diversity among faculty.

The three-day event – billed as “Keeping Our Faculties” – featured nationally renowned speakers and roundtable discussions. During the symposium, which was held at the Radisson Hotel Metrodome, approximately 300 attendees discussed ways to recruit, retain and advance minority faculty members.

“The last few days we have fed off of each other’s energy and commitment for a common cause,” said College of Liberal Arts Dean Steven Rosenstone, who summarized the symposium’s conclusions during his closing remarks Saturday afternoon.

“I will leave this room this afternoon with many new ideas, with a new sense of urgency Ö and with a new commitment to promoting faculty diversity,” he said.

Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration, who served on the symposium’s national advisory board, used his remarks as a call to action.

“None of us can do this alone,” he said. “We need to build teams across our universities.”

Previous “Keeping Our Faculties” symposiums were held at the University in 1998 and 2002. Jones said the success of the third conference means the University will consider hosting a fourth.

During his summary, Rosenstone said ways to retain minority faculty members include closely monitoring their workload and ensuring they don’t feel isolated.

“Actively recruiting a diverse pool (of faculty) is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

Rosenstone said a fundamental problem in recruitment, though not an excuse, is that socioeconomic inequities often prevent minorities from getting their doctorates.

“In a lot of cases, our (faculty) pipeline is leaking like a sieve,” he said.

Universities must work on strategies “to grow our own” minority faculty, he said.

Some attendees said the conference gave them ideas to try on their own campuses.

During the conference, participants looked at various universities’ research on ways to promote diversity among faculty.

Yolanda Trevino, assistant dean for Indiana University’s graduate school, said she liked the tactics.

“It required us to be forward-thinking,” she said. “What are we doing today that will allow us to reach our goals?”

According to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, 13 percent of all University of Minnesota faculty are members of minority groups.

Students also offered their views on faculty diversity.

First year genetics student Nhan Trinh, who is Indian, said he’s happy the University has so many minority faculty – including two of his professors.

“An Indian teacher can relate to an Indian student a lot better and help them get through classes if they’re having difficulty,” he said.

But 30-year-old returning student Michi Foreman, boxer George Foreman’s daughter, said she sees a serious shortage of minority faculty.

“This is a good school,” she said. “But it could be a lot better.”

– Jared Roddy contributed to this article.