Search committees that recruit teaching and research faculty at Virginia Tech will have new tools and resources to help them minimize the effect of unconscious bias in the selection process.

Search committees typically consist of four to six people who review applications for an open position and narrow the candidate pool. They play a key role in determining which candidates are referred to the department’s faculty and invited for an interview.

Beginning this year, all search committee members reviewing applications for teaching, research, and AP faculty positions will complete an online diversity training course developed by DiversityEdu. The online module is similar to the DiversityEDU course required for all new students, with additional information supporting the faculty recruitment process.

On Aug. 15, 70 faculty members previewed the course during an AdvanceVT/InclusiveVT retreat focused on hiring and retention of underrepresented faculty.  Presenters from the Advance Purdue Center for Faculty Success led discussions about running effective search committees, recruiting a diverse pools of applicants, and engaging in difficult conversations about unconscious bias. The faculty participants, who included several department heads, were nominated by their deans because they will likely be involved in search committees this year.

The retreat was coordinated by Menah Pratt-Clarke, Virginia Tech’s vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for diversity.

“This is about building a community of colleagues that are committed to thinking about, talking about and doing the work of diversity with others,” Pratt-Clarke said. “It’s about a first start, sharing tools, ideas and then going back into the departments with others to talk more and develop strategies for change.”

Mike Ellerbrock, a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, participated in the retreat and served as a group discussion facilitator. He described the conversations as “extremely open-minded and creative.” He also expressed a feeling of urgency shared by many of the faculty members present.

“Somehow we’ve got to figure out how to move the culture forward,” Ellerbrock said. “You can’t tackle complex problems without a diverse approach.”

Several emphasized the need to recruit senior faculty members who can serve in leadership roles and accelerate the pace of change. During her presentation to the group, Virginia Tech Alumni Distinguished Professor Lucinda Roy said, “The fastest way to grow diversity at Virginia Tech is to recruit senior women and minority faculty. Their presence will attract other underrepresented faculty.”

Retreat participants were asked to continue the discussion with their departments and lead diversity conversations for the search teams on which they will serve. According to Pratt-Clarke, this is one of many efforts underway to translate the university’s aspirations for increased diversity and inclusion into meaningful change.

“The vision that guides my work at Virginia Tech is one of sustainable transformation,” Pratt-Clarke said. “How quickly can we strategically and systematically review, revise, realign our policies, practices, processes, procedures, and ways of conducting business to create institutional transformation around diversity and inclusion.”

For more information about DiversityEdu and inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech, visit InclusiveVT.

Written by Eric Earnhart

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