Eye on the future: Faculty Diversity Action Plan

WHAT: In 2011, the University implemented an Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence, outlining a five-year initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining, and mentoring faculty from a wide  array of perspectives and backgrounds with renewed energy.

FAST AND FOCUSED: Lynn Hollen Lees, vice provost for faculty, and Joann Mitchell, vice president for institutional affairs, led the effort of creating the plan, knowing President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price wanted it to be written and implemented as quickly as possible. “While we have had a lot of activity and successes in opening up the undergraduate and graduate population to more diversity, we had been less aggressive and less targeted in approaching faculty diversity [in recent years],” Lees says. Lees and Mitchell began working on the action plan in the late winter of 2010. They completed it in May 2011. It was issued in June.
THE BIG PICTURE: The main goals of the plan are to build a faculty that “reflects the pool of exceptional, qualified applicants nationally in all fields,” and to create a community “where all feel welcomed, supported and have equal access to networks for mentoring and research.” The University demonstrated its strong commitment to the plan by earmarking $50 million in central resources to the effort, and calling for the 12 schools to collectively match that amount.

NEW PROFESSORSHIPS: One of the major keys of the plan is the appointment of 10 new Presidential Term Professorships—described in the plan as “exceptional scholars, of any rank, who contribute to faculty excellence and diversity across the University” by 2016. The Pew Charitable Trusts gave Penn $2 million to support the professorships. Three have been appointed: Benjamin Garcia, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Perelman School of Medicine; Chyke Doubeni, associate professor-clinician educator in the Perelman School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health; and Enrique G. Mendoza, professor of economics in the School of Arts and Sciences.

TO EACH ITS OWN: In addition to calling for University-wide initiatives to increase faculty diversity, the plan called for each school on campus to devise its own action plan, with its own definition of diversity. “It’s a much broader concept of diversity that embraces not just race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality,” Lees explains, “but also cultural diversity, religious diversity, intellectual diversity. The schools decided for themselves what areas of diversity they want to emphasize. For example, one aspect of diversity in the Nursing School is the hiring of more men.”

STAYING ON POINT: One year ago, professor John L. Jackson was named Senior Advisor to the Provost for Diversity, a three-year appointment serving as a key strategic advisor to the Provost on diversity initiatives. Jackson is a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences. “I’ve been trying to stress that these school-specific plans should not be seen as a one-shot deal,” he says. “The whole point of this plan is to begin an ongoing conversation about diversity in the schools and across schools.”

ALL ABOARD: Both Jackson and Lees are optimistic that the action plan is being embraced with enthusiasm, and that it will succeed. “What this really is about is trying to make sure everyone is talking to one another in an effective way to make diversity real,” Jackson says. “To make sure we are thinking about all the angles inherent to the issue of true inclusion.”