Colgate Amplifies Efforts to Diversify Its Faculty

Back to All Stories

Representation matters. 

Colgate University’s student body is wonderfully diverse, drawn from 78 nations and 48 states as well as a spectrum of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They want to learn from, collaborate with, and be mentored by faculty who reflect their geographic, racial, and experiential diversity. 

The University’s Third-Century Plan highlights the importance of diversifying the faculty in order to bring to classrooms, studios, and laboratories a greater range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Colgate’s administration and faculty are doing just that, drawing on national best practices and creating their own innovative approaches to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in tenure-stream hiring.  

“It’s hard to imagine yourself succeeding in a field if you’ve never seen someone like you working in that field,” says Associate Dean of the Faculty Lesleigh Cushing, who is the Murray W. and Mildred K. Finard Professor in Jewish studies and a professor of religion. “And having a more diverse faculty actually benefits all students. Students who are exposed to different perspectives and worldviews are getting a better education. As graduates, they are more ready to interact meaningfully with coworkers and friends with different backgrounds and worldviews — which primes them to be active and engaged citizens of a global society.”

Since the 1970s, Colgate has been a voluntary affirmative action employer and provided an annual report on race and gender in faculty hiring. Through the years, it has significantly expanded its DEI efforts. “Colgate has a number of initiatives to work with faculty search committees to be thinking really proactively and ensuring that we’re building a candidate pool that is demographically diverse,” says Maura Tumulty, associate provost for equity and diversity. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘How can we do a good job of finding people who would excel at the world-class research that Colgate supports and the high-touch teaching that we do?’”

To that end, Colgate is a member of the Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD), an association of liberal arts colleges that offers postdoctoral fellowships to scholars who would contribute to the diversity of its member institutions. “It enables us to identify talent earlier in the pipeline,” Tumulty explains. Colgate’s current CFD fellows, Jessica Davenport and Taryn Jordan, have accepted tenure-stream positions at Colgate: Davenport in the religion department and Jordan in the Women’s Studies Program.

The Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NASC) has increased the intentionality and quantity of its in-person outreach to raise awareness of the opportunities a liberal arts college such as Colgate can offer diverse applicants in contrast to larger research institutions. “The encounters we have at conferences serve as a pre-interview, where we can give potential candidates a sense of the amazing intellectual community we have at Colgate,” says Krista Ingram, professor of biology and director of the NASC. “We have been able to significantly increase the diversity of our hiring pool that way.” 

Several NASC departments — geology, biology, physics — have joined national working groups that share best practices for DEI efforts. “They’re finding out what works at other schools and then developing it for Colgate-specific programs,” Ingram says.

That’s just one component of the multi-prong approach to creating a diverse pool of candidates for open positions in the physics department, which also ensures that notices of hiring opportunities are sent to HBCU department chairs. “We offer an informal conversation to share more about what kind of university Colgate is and what we’re looking for in our applicants,” says Linda Tseng, assistant professor of environmental studies and physics.

Physics also includes detailed guidance on its website for applicants seeking to submit strong teaching, research, and diversity statements. The department offers specific prompts: What are your goals for students? What will your lab look like? How will you provide an inclusive environment to students in your classroom and laboratory? 

“We wanted to make sure everyone has a fair shot of knowing what we are looking for in a candidate,” says Beth Parks, associate professor of physics and astronomy. Parks described this inclusive approach in a letter to the editor of Physics Today; her letter appears in the current issue. She encourages other physics departments to clearly communicate what they seek from applications. “Applicants who receive clear guidance can write more effective applications,” Parks wrote, “which should increase equity in the hiring process.” 

Colgate’s physics department also takes the added measure of reading applications “blindly.” Each applicant is assigned a number. The hiring committee first reviews just the research, teaching, and diversity statements and ranks applicants on that information alone, before reading more personal information such as the cover letter, CV, or letters of recommendation. 

“In many ways, I felt like I was getting a truer read on applications than I had previously,” says Rebecca Metzler, the associate professor of physics who championed the approach. “I could focus in on their experience.”  

NASC faculty are sharing their successes in discussion groups with colleagues from not only their own division but also campuswide. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time there’s a candidate search,” Ingram says. “We’re understanding that we can learn a lot from the successes of other departments.” 

Hiring of diverse faculty is only part of the equation; retention is another. In 2020, Colgate joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD). This independent association provides professional development, training, and mentoring opportunities to faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from more than 450 colleges and universities. The NCFDD resources reinforce other mentoring opportunities offered within each academic division as well as by Colgate’s Faculty Diversity Council. “We want to make sure that all our hires have the support that they need to make it through the tenure process,” Tumulty says.

“We look for candidates who we believe have the ability to succeed as high-impact teachers and scholars at Colgate,” Cushing says. “Then, we offer a wide array of professional support — from competitive start-up grants to mentorship networks, formal programs and informal conversations, discretionary research opportunities, and pedagogical funding — because we want to retain the excellent people we hire. When we welcome a colleague, we make a long-term investment.”