Over the past year, the University of Rhode Island has made significant efforts to diversify its pool of staff members.
Just 10 months ago, Fernando Guzman, the university’s director of diverse faculty and staff recruitment and retention, made it his personal mission to attract faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds to URI.
“Many universities across the country talk about wanting to diversify their faculty,” Guzman said. “But they don’t create positions like mine.”
He’s only worked in one other university where the leadership has created a position for the same purpose. Retention and recruitment of diverse faculty is a national issue, and Guzman said that it’s his and the university’s goal to tackle this problem. Â
His job fully encompasses recruitment, attracting faculty members that are from “historically underrepresented groups” like LGBTQ, women and ethnic groups. Once the faculty is hired, his other priority is to retain the faculty members, particularly by helping them to get on tenure tracks. This is especially important because the more staff members who earn tenure tracks also have a say in who gets hired in the future.
“My job is to work with human resources, affirmative action, and search committees, to help craft the job descriptions so that we can have language in there that can attract diverse candidates,” Guzman said.
That’s the recruitment portion. The retention aspect focuses on making sure URI maintains an open and welcoming environment for professors. Guzman works to make this happen through one-on-one meetings, emails and keeping the communication lines open between staff and the university administration.
Guzman said that this year, between eight and 10 professors in historically underrepresented groups were hired. He roughly estimates that URI is about 13 percent diverse faculty, and he has every intention to help that number grow. Also this year, there are between 50 and 55 teaching positions available at the university.
During his own job interview to start his own work at URI, he was asked “what percentage do you think should be diverse hires? And I said one hundred percent.” When asked if he thought the goal was realistic, Guzman replied, “of course.” According to Guzman, students certainly reap the benefits of having diverse staff members.
“Especially in student organizations,” Guzman said. “They need a faculty mentor, but there’s only one black faculty member, or there are only two latinos…and they keep getting tapped out.”
While working at another university with a low diverse faculty percentage, Guzman said he saw the American Indian Association on campus struggle while searching for a faculty advisor. He said they had to ask a black faculty member to be their advisor because they wanted a person of color to mentor them. He doesn’t want students to have to think “is this all we have to pick from?”
Guzman said there are a multitude of reasons to place emphasis on a diverse staff, not only for students but also for the faculty. He said that campuses with fewer diverse staff members tend to be overtaxed because they feel obligated to be hyper involved across the university.
Because they’re one of the few diverse staff members “they feel they need to be advisor for a certain club or organization, teach courses in this area and go to [students’] events at night,” Guzman said. “I see where they are spending a lot of time involved in the community and it takes time away from tenure track and focusing on research.”
In his experience mentoring and working with other faculty across the nation, Guzman said that he sees that students do better at school when they have faculty members they relate and talk to, particularly in diverse populations. Guzman said that he places a high importance on hospitality.
“We want a welcoming environment,” Guzman said. “If there’s no one in my classes who looks like me, there’s no one here that looks like me, so is this a welcoming place?”
Attracting more diverse faculty works as the start of a domino chain. More diverse faculty attracts a more diverse student population. Â
“The way I describe it is, when you go to someone’s house you won’t go back if it’s not welcoming and you don’t feel good,” Guzman said. “We have to let people know that they’re welcome here.”