First Rutgers Diversity Forum 2014

Check out the photos from the First Annual Diversity Forum!


Report From the First Annual Rutgers Diversity Forum

The first Annual Forum of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) attracted a cross section of the Rutgers community.  In a day of vigorous discourse, participants took up the complex and many-faceted question of how to advance diversity at a very large and complex university.  And, rather than a slate of policy recommendations, the day produced moments of recognition and insights. One take on the day’s collective insights and lessons is presented here. –JRS

12 Lessons Proposed at the Start of the Journey

1. Make the case for diversity. Forum participants understand that we achieve acceptance and appreciation for diversity by making the case for its value. Therefore, two questions should guide us: “How does diversity bring value to Rutgers?” and, “How does diversity also bring value to society?” The many answers to these questions will serve to further articulate and strengthen our support for diversity as a public value, but also to communicate this value to our numerous publics.

2. What does Diversity mean at Rutgers? A short film where students from every campus responded to this question revealed a general sense that students value diversity because it brings them into contact with people from different backgrounds. Discussions in the Forum, however, demonstrated that there is no simple answer to this question, because we have yet to fully address it as a community. Nonetheless, participants believe that doing so will contribute the foundation for diversity strategies going forward. 

3. Attend to the pipeline. Here there is consensus. Managing the flow of diverse students and faculty candidates coming to Rutgers requires intention.  The lesson: Pipelines are critical because they determine the pool of students and faculty candidates. Therefore, we must build, encourage, fund, and manage pipelines that bring forward undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty candidates.

4. “Critical Mass” as a recruitment goal. A segment of Forum participants suggested that reaching a “critical mass” should be endorsed as a recruiting goal. When women, for example, reach 50% of the faculty in a department, supporters of this view aver that women are likely to maintain their presence, because there will be sufficient numbers to advocate for hiring more women. Should we, therefore, seek a critical mass as a policy objective? That is, when can we feel confident that a community of minority, and/or female, scholars will sustain itself?

5. Advance diversity in tandem with scholarship. Academics, especially younger academics, questioned whether contributions to diversity would be valued when considered for promotion.  This raises an important question in the context of academic culture: How do we value faculty contributions to diversity and community participation when academic careers are shaped by high expectations of scholarly productivity? If we expect faculty to take contributions to diversity seriously, then we must balance recognition for the work of building diversity with recognition for contributions to scholarship. If Rutgers is to become an exemplar of a diverse community, then all the members must contribute. All said, there appears to be no easy way.

6. Mentoring as community. For young academics, success often hinges on the support and advice they received during their probationary years. And, yet, Forum participants heard mentoring stories ranging from neglect to formal lessons and community support. We heard a strong endorsement for more formalized and interdisciplinary mentoring.  We also heard an appeal that mentoring activities should be recognized and rewarded as part of one’s academic contribution. From Abigail Stewart of the University of Michigan, we heard about the importance of mentoring as a form of community building.

7. Innovation matters.  Rutgers can be described as a decentralized, even disaggregated, organizational culture, with legacy elements of informality that reflect its small college roots, and where highly relational, friendship networks enable innovation. Thus, we are a university where innovations often come from the bottom up. In fact, ODI's survey of diversity-oriented initiatives discovered 80+ separate initiatives and programs—and still counting. Clearly, we must nurture that innovative spirit.

8.  Coordination matters. In a university where individuals take action and innovate, they are often unaware of similar activities elsewhere in the organization. This produces an organizational culture of high innovation but low coordination. Not surprisingly, our census of initiatives aiming to expand the academic pipeline discovered 50+ active projects—most unaware of each other. A recommendation to create a coordinating council for pipeline programs received strong support from the Forum participants. 

9. From goodwill to intentionality. Serendipity and decency by themselves will not realize the goal of achieving the great diversity university. Faculty must consciously approach recruitment and retention from a diversity perspective. Administrators must learn to operationalize diversity goals within their range of responsibilities. We must orient and train ourselves by institutionalizing policies and processes.  The intentional must supersede the intuitive.

10.  Data matters. With regard to questions of recruitment and retention of faculty, there is high demand for reliable data. Consensus among a significant group of participants holds that data describing recruitment patterns, at the departmental level, is necessary for the successful implementation of policy aiming to increase the diversity of the faculty. Indeed, one widely supported recommendation seeks the development of a diversity database capable of informing recruitment and retention policy for staff, and NTTs, as well as academic faculty.

11.  Telling the Rutgers story. The Rutgers community enjoys a broad consensus on diversity as a central element of its identity. Moreover, community members share an aspiration for Rutgers to lead the nation in diversity-oriented scholarship and policy. And, the Strategic Plan calls for differentiating Rutgers among its academic peers by stressing the themes of the Plan. How, then, to tell that story as a public narrative? 

To some extent, this goal has been partially met, since students and potential students readily identify Rutgers as a place of diversity. Weaving the diversity thread into the breadth of Rutgers’ public communications will advance this goal.

12.  Now is the time. Merging with New Jersey’s medical schools, joining the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) of the Big Ten, and conducting a strategic self-examination, heighten the sense that this is a special moment in Rutgers’ 250-year history. Consequently, the community shares a broadly felt urgency to construct and implement policies that will advance:
1) recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and staff;
2) recruitment of a diverse student body;
3) reflection of diversity values in the curriculum;
4) public communication of our distinction as a national leader in research, study, and teaching of diversity. 

The moment is now.