External Panel Sees Progress and Challenge on Diversity

News subtitle

The Inclusive Excellence external review committee’s first report is now available.

Baker Tower with clouds and mountains behind it.
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00) 

The external review committee appointed to help Dartmouth evaluate its efforts to promote diversity and inclusion has released its first report. In the report, the committee highlights progress the College has made in the first full year since the adoption of the action plan for Inclusive Excellence—and outlines challenges Dartmouth faces as the community works to achieve the plan’s goals.

“Diversity and inclusion are important to the academic work of our community and making improvements in these areas is a high priority. This is hard work. If it was easy, we would have succeeded long ago,” says President Phil Hanlon ’77. “The external review committee is giving us an invaluable outside perspective on what we’ve accomplished and how far we still have to go.”

Keivan Stassun, who chairs the external review committee, says, “A truly great institution is unafraid of scrutiny. By welcoming critical examination of progress on the action plan, Dartmouth demonstrates its commitment to making this ambitious vision a reality. We hope that Dartmouth receives our critical assessment in that spirit of striving toward excellence.” Stassun is the Stevenson Endowed Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the senior associate dean for graduate education and research at Vanderbilt University.

On the progress side, the committee notes that the creation of an action plan in itself distinguishes Dartmouth’s current initiative from past efforts.

“Fundamentally, the very existence of a concrete Action Plan and of accountability structures is a success for Dartmouth, and provides a solid foundation on which to build toward a fully diverse and inclusive Dartmouth community,” the report says.

Other successes the report describes include “tangible gains” in diverse faculty hiring; the implementation last year of the new undergraduate house community system; the formation of a Diversity and Assessment Research Team committed to rigorous data collection and analysis; and strong leadership on the part of human resources to improve data analysis and recruitment of underrepresented staff.

The report also praises Dartmouth’s emphasis on faculty as teacher-scholars, a model it calls “a potentially powerful opportunity to enhance recruitment of diverse faculty who are prepared to advance inclusive excellence.”

At the same time, the report cautions that this model could be a “liability at tenure and promotion, if evaluation processes disfavor the teacher/mentor component to an extent that junior faculty may not realize.” In that vein, the report encourages the College to continue its internal review of tenure and retention rates.

“This is an important study,” the report says. “Lack of inclusion, and disillusionment between the rhetoric of student engagement on the one hand and the exclusive emphasis on research productivity at tenure on the other hand, can compound to discourage underrepresented minority faculty.”

Among other challenges the committee identified: ambiguity in the action plan’s accountability structure; a lack of clarity on who is ultimately responsible for faculty diversity, given the independence of the provost and the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences; and the need to keep the community at large engaged in the plan’s goals through strategic communication and opportunities to participate.

The committee describes one of the plan’s central aspirations—to increase underrepresented minority faculty to 25 percent by 2020—as “not realistic given market conditions,” and recommends a deeper analysis to set a goal the College can meet.

“We suggest it is preferable to maintain an equally or even more ambitious goal with a longer timeline, than a weakened goal by 2020,” the report says.

Coming up with a clear strategy for faculty retention, which the report advises, and also creating a plan for the initiative’s long-term sustainability are important work to do now, says Provost Carolyn Dever.

“Dartmouth’s educational and research mission depends on the diversity of our community and the extent to which everyone has the opportunity to contribute and feel like they belong here,” Dever says. “If we are to continue to prepare students for the world’s complexity, and if our scholars are to continue to have an impact on the world’s challenges, Dartmouth’s culture needs to adapt and grow.”

The report also identifies opportunities that the committee believes the College can use to meet these challenges. These include tying the action plan more clearly to Dartmouth’s existing cultural values, including the teacher-scholar model and the goals of Moving Dartmouth Forward, the College’s initiative to improve campus climate; ensuring that the new dean of the faculty of arts and sciences is fully committed to the plan’s implementation; and applying the expertise being developed in human resources to the challenge of hiring faculty.

The report suggests that Dartmouth’s academic cluster initiative, which is hiring senior faculty in 10 new interdisciplinary groups created to extend Dartmouth’s impact on major global challenges, is “a visible opportunity to advance faculty diversity; indeed, because of its visibility, this opportunity can become a liability if diversity is seen not to be a priority.” (The College recently announced two prominent hires in the cybersecurity and health care delivery clusters.)

The Inclusive Excellence action plan, announced in May 2016, is based on the recommendations of faculty, staff, and student working groups convened earlier that year. The plan calls for increased faculty and staff diversity, tangible steps to build a more inclusive community, transparency in reporting, and accountability for meeting the plan’s goals—including the creation of the external review committee, which was formed in December 2016.

The external review committee’s first report reflects findings from a campus visit on June 7. The review group met with the Inclusive Excellence executive committee, which includes Hanlon, Provost Carolyn Dever, Executive Vice President Rick Mills, and Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Evelynn Ellis. They also met with the Diversity Assessment and Research Team; representatives of the faculty; Dean of the College Rebecca Biron and Scot Bemis, Dartmouth’s chief human resources officer; and members of the faculty, staff, and student working groups whose recommendations form the basis of the action plan. Future visits will include open forums with the community.

In addition to Stassun, committee members are Kimberly Griffin, an associate professor in the Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education Policy Program at the University of Maryland; former Dartmouth trustee John Rich ’80, a professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health; and Kiva R. Wilson ’04, diversity program manager at Facebook. 

Hannah Silverstein