Columbia University has committed to investing $30 million to enhance the diversity of its faculty through the recruitment of outstanding female and underrepresented minority scholars.
The plan, announced earlier this month by President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost John H. Coatsworth, will focus on recruiting new faculty members and postdoctoral candidates to more closely reflect the composition of the national pool of qualified candidates. It also includes a small-grants program for junior faculty designed to contribute to their career success.
Half the cost—$15 million—will come from Columbia’s central budget, while the remainder will be matched by individual schools participating in the effort. The work will be directed by Professor Andrew Davidson, vice provost for academic planning.
“A diverse University community is essential to achieving academic excellence,” said Bollinger and Coatsworth in a joint statement. “Fostering the uninhibited exploration of competing ideas and beliefs—expressed by people of different backgrounds and perspectives—makes possible the distinct brand of scholarship, learning, research, and public service that are Columbia’s reason for being.”
Columbia is one of the most socio-economically diverse of leading universities. According to the University’s undergraduate admissions office, the current first-year students in the College and the Engineering School are 47 percent women and 57 percent are students of color. Fifty-two percent are receiving financial aid and 14 percent are first generation college students.
The current University-wide effort builds on initiatives dating from 2004 that were spearheaded first by Professor Jean Howard during her tenure as vice provost for diversity initiatives, and then by her successor, Professor Geraldine Downey. Their efforts were aimed primarily at faculty recruitment in the Arts and Sciences. Now, under Davidson's direction, the focus will turn to increasing faculty diversity at all of Columbia’s schools.
Recognizing that enhancing diversity is a fundamental academic responsibility, each school has developed a three-year strategic plan to enhance diversity tailored to its particular needs. According to Bobbie Berkowitz, dean of the School of Nursing, “the diversity initiative announced by the Provost’s Office is a major source of support for the actions we have under way.”
The school is focused on recruiting underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities to tenure-track faculty positions as well as outreach to increase the number of underrepresented minority students. She added that the school is also searching for an associate dean for diversity and culture.
The engineering school “is committed to attracting, retaining, and supporting a faculty that reflects the rich diversity of our student body,” says Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora. “This next phase enables us to make strides toward that commitment.”
One aspect of enhancing diversity is expanding the pipeline through programs that encourage students from underrepresented groups to consider graduate school and, ultimately, academia as a career.
Columbia’s effort will involve recruiting postdoctoral applicants as well as providing some support for predoctoral and Ph.D. students from underrepresented groups.
Davidson noted that the University-wide plan is the result of active engagement, over a number of months, with deans and other leaders at each of the schools.
“The funding strategy and program elements are designed with a few goals in mind," Davidson said. "They include flexibility in light of the different circumstances of each school, responsiveness to what the schools told us about their challenges and priorities, and collaboration, as marked by the cost-sharing approach we’re taking. We all have a stake in this work and a role to play.”
In the coming weeks, the Provost’s Office will issue calls for proposals, which will continue on an annual or biannual basis for the next three years. A committee of senior faculty members will be appointed by the Provost to help guide the process.