Improving faculty diversity at EKU

Eastern Kentucky University, while being among the largest universities in the state, ranks very low in terms of diversity among faculty members. Roger Cleveland, director of faculty diversity and development, had made it a goal to expand the number of racially diverse faculty members on campus. 

“I just wanted to get it out there on the radar, let people know what we’re doing. Everyone has a role in recruiting and retaining diverse faculty,” Cleveland said. 

Cleveland has just begun working with other departments on campus to identify why the university has not been able to develop a diverse range of faculty members, and what steps can be taken in the future to foster diversity in the future. Cleveland has been giving presentations to departments like the Provost’s Office and faculty senate to get the word out about the issue.

The first step to developing the plan is to work with many other departments to identify the cause of the lack of diversity, whether it is an issue with how the university recruits faculty or an issue with retention. 

“We were about at 6 percent in terms of ethnic diversity [among faculty]. Schools like Western or Louisville are maybe at 10 percent. And this is due to a number of reasons,” Cleveland said. 

One larger issue that has been identified is that very few regional universities have a large amount of diverse faculty due to there not being a large pool to choose from in the state. This creates a much more competitive environment for hiring. Cleveland also states that the amount of diverse faculty also depends on the subject area of teaching, where some disciplines tend to have a smaller amount of diversity among those that meet the requirements for teaching. 

Another issue pertaining to competitive recruitment is the way that faculty is hired at EKU. When diverse professors are in high demand, each university must make a stronger effort to seek out these members of the recruitment pool in order to hire them. As it stands at EKU, the hiring process is mainly done by the department that is seeking new hires in conjunction with the Provost’s Office. Advertisements for the position are posted on various forums for higher education. The process does take a lot of time, however, and that is one of the changes that the university is considering to make. 

“We are looking at ways we can enhance the hiring process and make it quicker,” said Jennifer Wies, associate provost. 

The hiring process may be changed to be quicker, but the goal of the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion aims to create a plan in which possible candidates for teaching here that are diverse will be placed in mind when hiring. 

“The other piece [of gaining a diverse faculty] is really having a very intentional plan of trying to recruit a more diverse faculty. Being very intentional and committed to having a plan is one of the issues,” Cleveland said. 

Having a diverse range of faculty can be beneficial to the university as a whole, both in recruiting students and in the experience that enrolled students have while on campus. Faridah Awang, a professor in the College of Business, was born in Malaysia and has studied in the subject of international business for 32 years, gaining her PhD from Southern Illinois University. She is the first Malaysia-born American to earn a full professorship in her academic field in the U.S. and has taught at EKU since 2002. 

Awang feels that having a diverse range of faculty can benefit students by exposing them to different cultural viewpoints early in their professional development, which will make them a better candidate in their future career. 

“I think the onus is on each faculty member to recruit whenever a position comes open.  More specifically, being intentful in recruitment so that diversity initiatives are championed,” said Awang in an email statement. 

The Department of Diversity will continue to work with the Provost’s Office and other departments to better formulate a plan to foster diversity among faculty on campus.

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