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UMBC efforts show diversifying higher education faculty is essential - and achievable | READER COMMENTARY

Katherine L. Seley-Radtke, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a medicinal chemist working on an antiviral treatment for coronavirus. September 17, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
Katherine L. Seley-Radtke, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a medicinal chemist working on an antiviral treatment for coronavirus. September 17, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun) (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

A recent Sun commentary addressed the lack of faculty diversity in higher education (”The ivory tower of academia: Higher education lacks racial, ethnic and economic diversity,” April 30). In Maryland, the proportion of faculty from underrepresented minority groups is 17%, far from the 45% of the general population. However, important efforts at University of Maryland, Baltimore County are yielding real results. Through the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, for example, UMBC increased the number of tenure-track women faculty in STEM by 70%, with a 180% increase in the number of women full professors in STEM between 2003 and 2020.

We are members of UMBC’s Executive Committee on the Recruitment, Retention and Advancement of Underrepresented Minority Faculty, created in 2010 to build on the success of programs like ADVANCE. This group includes tenured underrepresented minority faculty who partner with the administration to address the faculty diversity gap.

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Nationally, as one moves along the academic career path, the numbers of underrepresented minority scholars decrease at each stage. This has many causes from racism within academia to the lack of diverse role models, publishing opportunities and financial support. Recognizing this, our committee developed a program to recruit underrepresented minority scholars prior to their entrance into a professorial position to bolster their chance of success and to support their experience.

The Postdoctoral Fellows for Faculty Diversity program reaches out to a broad pool of talented applicants and provides extensive mentoring and other forms of university support to fellows. We focus not just on welcoming them to UMBC, but enabling their successful transition to faculty positions.

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The program, launched in 2011, has been a resounding success, bringing in 18 postdoctoral fellows in disciplines ranging from dance to history to geography and environmental systems. Already, 17 have transitioned to higher academic positions, 11 of them at UMBC.

When underrepresented minority scholars become faculty, they often face challenges that go unrecognized, from isolation and microaggressions to disproportionate service burdens. To address these issues, in 2015 UMBC launched Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence (STRIDE), modeled on a program at the University of Michigan. Faculty from majority groups serve as STRIDE fellows, working with their peers to raise awareness of and address issues impacting the recruitment, retention and promotion of underrepresented minority scholars.

STRIDE has contributed to shifting attitudes and practices across campus, changing how search committees approach hiring and recruitment, how job interviews are conducted and how promotion packages are evaluated.

Making systemic change is challenging because it requires honest self-interrogation and rethinking the status quo. But this work is both possible and essential. With a shared focus and institutional commitment, we can welcome, nurture and support talented faculty of diverse identities and backgrounds for the benefit of all.

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Ivan Erill, Brandy Harris Wallace and Carlos Romero-Talamás, Catonsville

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