Over the past few years and into the near future, we are experiencing an ongoing massive shift in the demographic distribution of students entering US institutions of higher education. The younger generation is more diverse racially, ethnically, culturally, and religiously than generations that preceded them into the same institutions.
These students from diverse backgrounds enrich the institutions they enter. However, their very presence highlights a contrast between their characteristics and the demographic mix of faculty. Because of a disproportionately small representation in academic professions of the same groups, these students struggle to find mentors from their own groups. This can limit the ability of the institution to fully support the intellectual development of these students. Further, having faculty from diverse backgrounds enriches the research and scholarship of the institution because they bring new perspectives to traditional areas of research inquiry.
Hence, most US universities are in an intense competition to recruit excellent faculty from more diverse backgrounds. The demand is high; the supply is lower than it should be.
The School Deans and the Provost Office worked over the Summer of 2020 to invent ways for Georgetown to be more successful in competing for the strongest academics from Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. We want to recruit a new generation of assistant professors to Georgetown and to foster their success as independent scholars and educators on the tenure track. The program, soon to be undergoing review by faculty governance, aims to recruit early career scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM related fields over the next five years. Interdisciplinary scholarship and cross-school and cross-unit/program appointments will be encouraged.
The new program will create “Distinguished Faculty Fellows” who will enter the tenure-track in a way that may help our recruiting. The program addresses a real burden. A newly-minted PhD has devoted the last years of their life to completing a dissertation that pushes the frontiers of knowledge in their field. A total commitment to this scholarship is required.
Upon entering their first academic appointment they are hit with the burdens of course preparations, student interaction, launching new research activities, and service to their institutions. The transition from this to the work of an assistant professor is a challenge for all new PhDs but is doubly difficult for many BIPOC faculty, because they often immediately encounter unusual mentoring requests from students of color. Successful recruiting of these scholars needs to be matched with successful support of their early careers.
The Distinguished Faculty Fellows will have no teaching responsibilities in their first year, and will devote their full-time effort to building their research program. Fellows will be encouraged to participate in CNDLS programs and resources for training in teaching during this year. Fellows will be mentored by two senior faculty mentors, one of whom is from another institution. Mentorship match with scholarly discipline and other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, or gender will be sought.
The provision to devote the first year to research and scholarship without teaching responsibilities will facilitate submission of manuscripts from dissertation or post-doctoral work. This will allow the new Assistant Professor to gain a solid start on establishing their research program and enhance competitiveness for grants and fellowships.
Fellows’ first year does not count towards their tenure probationary period. The first year as “distinguished faculty fellow” is followed by the beginning of their tenure-track appointment.
The long-term outcome we seek is the formation of a cohort of BIPOC faculty who will serve as role models for BIPOC undergraduate and graduate students, diversify interdisciplinary scholarship and curriculum, and enrich the intellectual community at Georgetown.
The School deans are devoted to increasing the diversity of Georgetown faculty as a way to enrich the formation of our students and advance the research of the institution. This is but one step in that direction, but an important one.