Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jesus God, a Big Thirsty on Diversity, or at Least the Diversity We Talk About When We're Hiring Someone.

So, 6 people on the committee. We're big on diversity here, mostly because we're nearly completely white except for a small percentage of African-American students. But the faculty, it's like BYU or something. We're so un-diverse that it's a little scary.

We're hiring, blah blah. We get 6 questions together because we have to ask the same questions to each candidate, etc. Most of you know this. We have the diversity question. It goes like this: "What specific teaching practices do you use to promote diversity in your classroom?"

I don't know. It's a question like any other interview question. It could be a home run or a ground out.

But get this, as we decide which of our disembodied voices will ask the questions, the chair says to Kim Sun, who I must mention was born in Tucson, but whose grandparents were born in, wait for it, New York, "You should ask that question."

Good grief.

Q: How Diverse Is Your Department?
What do you think of that? Has there been a push to change it? Is there a way to talk about diversity without it seeming so odd?


  1. Good grief indeed. It sure is odd. What exactly does "diversity" mean, anyway? It seems to be a veiled reference to skin color, but what about national origin? Religion? Languages spoken? Gender?

    Our 25 full-timers are mostly white atheist women, two from Germany, with a few white atheist men, all from the U.S. We also include three Asian-American women: a naturalized citizen (our only practicing Catholic) and two born here, whose accents are indistinguishable from those of other locals.

    Adjuncts? Mostly brown. Hmm. I wonder how they see us. They hail from Argentina, Brazil (lots of teasing between those two), Mexico, and India.

    Sure, there's been a push to hire more faculty in the same ethnic mix as our students. It just hasn't worked out in the last, oh, 25 hires.

    For our last hire, many of us were rooting for one of the (atheist) Latin Americans who has taught phenomenally well for years and is active in campus politics. I never heard anything about him/her/it potentially adding to the diversity of the department; it was just that he/she/it was so respected and liked.

    Unfortunately, he/she/it did phenomenally badly in the interview and teaching demo, and hiring committees are required to consider only the information gleaned from the sanctioned hiring process. We ended up hiring a white man who turned out to be deeply involved with a Christian church. And he's doing very well; we're glad to have him.

    So we increased the diversity of the department by hiring a religious Protestant white male. Go figure.

    1. It happens. I define "diversity" as "someone who doesn't look or think like everyone else in the room."

    2. "Diversity" is a wax nose that means whatever the cool kids want it to mean, so that they can continue to believe and impose their preferred worldview...

  2. Our TT faculty (36 people) is highly diverse, being two-thirds foreign-born (from 14 different countries). That includes four from Latin America, three of them white. Such diversity is not uncommon in math, where for decades no more than about 50% of American PhDs have gone to the US-born (who often have more non-academic options available to them.)

    Frankly, it's not an issue. We hire the people with perceived best future research potential, regardless of origin. Some of them speak with accents, but none that are strong enough to be a teaching issue.

    Our "diversity" issue is with women: only 3 on the TT faculty. That contrasts with about 25% of American math PhDs going to women in recent years. Women with math PhDs from research powerhouses can write their own tickets, and generally have no reason to come to a backwater such as ours; we make offers, and they go elsewhere. It's even harder to hire black new PhDs (very few of whom are US-born); again, if they have research potential, everybody wants them.

    As for students: 85% of our undergraduate population comes from the surrounding counties (overwhelmingly white area), 95% in-state. It is perceived as a "white" school, so they have difficulty recruiting black students. My answer to the question posed to the candidate would have been : "I have no input on the demographic composition of the classes I teach, and I treat all students equally".

    Personally I am not sympathetic to race-conscious admissions. There is a place for "social engineering" of this kind, and it is the public high schools; so invest more resources there, if you want to improve the academic performance of black and Latino minorities.

    As for's comment: diversity of thinking is not appreciated in my department; people learn quickly to refrain from expressing potentially controversial ideas publicly, in the hope of being left alone.

    1. I should add some stats about our non-TT faculty: 24 full-time lecturers (11 men, 13 women), four with PhDs. All US-born and white.

      It's the same situation Stella describes: low salaries, conservative part of the country; it's hard to recruit in general, let alone people with "diversity desirability".

  3. Everyone is white. But I will be perfectly honest here. The reason for that is that we pay shit and we're in the deep south. People of color have better opportunities. They do not even apply here.

  4. The department I used to teach in didn't practice diversity. Anybody who didn't fit in was soon mobbed out of the place. I wasn't particularly surprised because that place had a lot in common with a kindergarten sandbox.

  5. Gender diversity is our big problem: Of 34 (or so) full time faculty, two are women. We have a fair number of ethnically diverse, not-white folks, but no African Americans. Most of it is a function of the field, I think--the faculty looks pretty much like a cross-section of the professional worlds we travel in. There's probably more political diversity among the faculty than in most places.

  6. My department is pretty tiny, but we're not all male, not all white, not all Christian and all over the place politically. We're all Americans and all hetro (so far as I know), but jeeze, we could all fit in a good-sized American four-door sedan, so there's only so much we can do.