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Report to study faculty diversity

After six months of research, interviews, discussion and reflection, a task force advising the University on its next step to increase faculty diversity will conclude its work next week.

The Task Force on Faculty Diversity, commissioned by Provost Peter Lange, has not yet finalized the details of the recommendation it will submit March 15. Members said, however, that the focus will be on three major aims: recruiting superior minority faculty members, retaining such faculty, and encouraging minority students to enter less popular academic disciplines.

Although they hope future efforts will include other minorities, task force members said they are focusing on black faculty. "We do include a discussion of diversity to cover broader things," said Weitao Yang, a chemistry professor. "However, the task force recognizes that our main goal is to increase the African-American presence in the faculty on campus."

A variety of possibilities - ranging from methods that have previously worked well at Duke to those at other universities - remain under discussion as task force members strive to recommend a strategy to recruit excellent professors. One frequent suggestion encourages a more active, vigilant outreach.

"[We want] to help the search committee be more proactive and creative in ways in which they recruit the pool of candidates," said Gregory Jones, dean of the Divinity School and a task force member. "This can include placing ads internationally, for example - not just assuming the same places for placing the ads last time are the right ones for the next [candidate pool]."

Members also stressed the need for creating a more inviting environment to retain minority faculty members once they arrive at Duke - an atmosphere that some professors say does not currently exist.

"We believe retention issues are important because many people feel that our climate is not conducive to minorities," said Vice Provost for Academic and Administrative Services Judith Ruderman, a member of the task force.

Rex Adams, chair of the task force and a professor at the Fuqua School of Business, suggested practical ways to establish a more nurturing community "in order to help young talent get along and do well."

"It ranges from mentoring programs to being sensitive to [faculty] parenting issues, that tend to occur at the same time as important career decisions, to simple things like having exit interviews to see why we failed," he said.

Many task force members said they hope their final recommendation will suggest the implementation of an ongoing feedback system. Members also talked to both long-term and new faculty members to identify particular issues that need attention and improvement.

The third focus of the report stems from a more long-term vision. To have superior minority faculty members to recruit, there must be excellent minority scholars who want to become faculty members. But many minorities, ranging from African-Americans in financial economics at Fuqua to women in the physics department, are underrepresented in numerous disciplines - a "pipeline issue" task force members also want to address.

"This is a pre-recruitment issue - you've got to have a diverse faculty in the pipeline from the earliest education years in order to have one to hire," Ruderman said. "From the earliest stages, you have to attend to grooming students to go into academics [professionally]."

Members have discussed possibilities including summer programs, mentorship and internship opportunities to allow minorities to consider a Ph.D. in a particular line of work.

The task force, established in September 2002, aims to further progress already made by the Black Faculty Strategic Initiative - a 10-year effort to increase representation of black faculty on campus. The BFSI, which ends this fall, has already reached its goal of doubling the number of black professors at Duke compared to 1993. However, task force members stress that they do not intend to water down the efforts of the BFSI, but continue its vision.

"There is a need to see [the BFSI's] work as having made significant progress, but there's still a long ways to go," Jones said. "The task force has seen our work as building on the work of the BFSI and strengthening it as we look to the future."

The task force will disband after submitting its recommendation, but members said they hope another committee will continue their efforts in diversifying the campus, and expand their primary emphasis on black faculty to include other minorities, such as women. Members pointed to President Nan Keohane's Gender Initiative as one such step.

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