By Nwando Achebe, Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor, Faculty Excellence Advocate, College of Social Science

In 2018, the College of Social Science (CSS) launched two major faculty diversity initiatives, namely, the Dean’s Research Associate Program, and the Dean’s Distinguished Senior Scholars Program. Both programs aim at promoting an inclusive scholarly environment in which outstanding scholars in the social sciences who support the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the academy are hired and retained.

Through an exceptionally collaborative process, which involved input from members of the CSS Dean’s Advisory Board on Diversity and Inclusion (DABDI), the Director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, the Office of General Counsel, the CSS Dean, and CSS chairs and directors, a procedures document for “creating inclusive environments that recruit, retain, and advance faculty diversity” was crafted. This document outlines in detail the procedures that CSS departments/schools which wish to participate in this initiative must engage in to ensure consistent ongoing support of the new hires. It also requires that chairs/directors share a comprehensive long-term plan to support potential diversity candidates within their respective units.

The Dean’s Research Associate and Distinguished Senior Scholars Program competitions unfold in multiple stages. The first stage asks that participating departments/schools submit two documents to the College. The first document is a one-page statement about the unique qualifications of the potential recruit. This document demonstrates that s/he is an outstanding scholar who is interested in an appointment at MSU and will support the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion at MSU. The second submission is a five-page document that highlights demographic information on minoritized faculty and students in their units. It also identifies the support structures available for underrepresented faculty in the department/school.

An external job advertisement is posted by CSS to outlets that reach diverse candidates. Departments/Schools are also encouraged to advertise these positions in their discipline-specific outlets. The job advertisement begins with a statement that foregrounds MSU’s commitment to inclusive excellence, and all job candidates are asked to submit a required three-page DEI statement. A review of applications is done by a subset of DABDI members who form the search committee, department/school chairs, and members of their department/school advisory boards. A list of finalists is then interviewed via Zoom and recommendations are made to the Dean for offers.

The Dean’s Research Associate Program is not your regular Postdoc Program. Our Research Associates are paid assistant professor salaries (with corresponding support packages), have a minimal teaching load (1-0), are mentored and supported, and participate in our Dean’s Research Associate Development Institute (DRADI), with the goal of transitioning them into tenure-system positions at Michigan State. DRADI’s raison d’être is grounded in literature which suggests that the most important factors necessary for a successful transition into the tenure stream for postdoc fellows are quality training experiences, productive research and teaching programs, mentorship, support for career independence, and a sense of professional identity.[1] Indeed, the postdoc years are the optimal time for fellows to receive this support, as well as training that expands their research skills, develops independence, and shapes their career trajectories. Thus, to address this need, DRADI is designed as a structured, comprehensive, and holistic training institute, which combines research training with pedagogical training and academic professional development opportunities to aid in preparing our research associates for the responsibilities of an academic tenure-stream faculty position at MSU.

The Dean’s Research Associate Program is presently in its second year, and once transitioned, the seven scholars hired during these two years will substantially diversify the African American (5), Native American (1), and Arab American (1) CSS faculty pipelines by 27.8% and 33.3% respectively (no figures for Arab American faculty). As part of the Dean’s Distinguished Senior Scholars Program, we have identified, and are presently recruiting, three senior African American faculty in the departments of Geography, Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), and History. If successful, these hires will represent an additional 16.6% increase in African American faculty in CSS. These hires, like those of the Research Associate Program, go through MSU’s academic hiring process, including posting an external advertisement in consultation with the Faculty Excellence Advocate.

[1] Rybarczyk B. J., Lerea L., Whittington D, Dykstra L. Analysis of Postdoctoral Training Outcomes That Broaden Participation in Science Careers. Gibbs K, ed. CBE Life Sciences Education. 2016;15(3):ar33. doi:10.1187/cbe.16-01-0032; Faupel-Badger J. M., Raue K., Nelson D. E., Tsakraklides S. Alumni perspectives on career preparation during a postdoctoral training program: a qualitative study. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2015;14:ar1.