Creating a Diverse University Search Committee

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

ATG’s recent Brown Bag presentation “A How-To in Diverse University Hiring” highlighted a successful case study from University of Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering & Science. Jahzara D. E. Mayes, EdD, and Katherine Snyder, PhD shared how they successfully overhauled the college's hiring process to prioritize equity and inclusion. Other colleges at the university are following suit. As an NIH-funded ReBUILDetroit institution, one of the key goals of the college is to attract and support students who are underrepresented in the STEM disciplines. It follows that is important to build a faculty body representative of the students they are trying to recruit. The faculty hiring process is a critical piece of transforming institutions to be better prepared for more a more diverse university ecosystem. That's what we focused on in this discussion.

For useful insights, strategies and suggestions, watch the Brown Bag video with Dr. Snyder, dean of Detroit Mercy's College of Engineering & Science and principal investigator of the Detroit ReBUILD program, and Dr. Mayes, certified Search Advocate and assistant director of the Institutional Development Core for ReBUILDetroit.

As always, after the presentation we turned off the recording to allow for an open and frank conversation.

A few themes surfaced in the presentation and following discussion:

First and foremost, as Dr. Mayes pointed out, when starting on this journey, “pack your patience.” Creating a truly inclusive and diversity-minded program requires a lot of time as you work through questions such as who should be involved at different stages of the process, how to disseminate your decisions, and ways to make the search process as inclusive as possible.

Dr. Snyder pointed out that it's a "search committee, not a waiting committee," and underscored that committee members should work their networks for active recruitment into the pool, not just wait for responses to a posting.

To start, they agreed that each committee should have at least 2 search members who identify as female, at least 2 who identify as being part of an underrepresented racial group, a trained Search Advocate, and at least one person outside the department. To avoid taxing the same individuals repeatedly, they expanded the invitations to staff members. Other recommendations are to require unconscious bias training for all members of the search committee and request it for all members of the department doing a search.

About the Search Advocate

In the video, Dr. Mayes gives an excellent overview of this crucial role. This search committee member, specifically trained for the Search Advocate role, works to ensure equity in the search process by participating from preplanning through debrief. This encourages accountability on the team and helps keep them on track when implicit or structural bias shows up. This Advocate also supports the team in slowing down, going deeper into what diversity means in context, and keeping the committee meetings equitable, inclusive, and productive.

An early important element is developing rules of engagement: how will we interact with each other? How do we evaluate the input we receive from stakeholders and other organizations? How will we ensure our communications, both internal and external, are clear and consistent?

Using an Agile approach to support an inclusive process

One way to begin to ensure that your process is as diverse as possible is to adopt Agile meeting techniques for your group discussions. Designed to flatten structures and bring equity to participants, an Agile meeting can take different forms according to the group's needs. One useful format is the “unmeeting.” Simply defined, an unmeeting is a structure that gives each person in attendance an equitable amount of time and agency to ensure that the quietest voices are heard equally to the loudest. There are many variations of unmeetings, but the characteristics shared by all are the rules designed to promote inclusion. These are as follows:

  • A facilitator who is not the most influential person in the room. Their responsibility is to keep the meeting moving in a positive direction by providing a safe container where agreements are explicit and crafted together and ensuring that the format is adhered to.

  • A scribe to write down important items. This ensures that if a discussion needs to be tabled or closed because of time, it’s captured.

  • A timekeeper to ensure all voices receive equal attention.

Here’s a detailed look at how this was practiced by one CTSA group.

References and Links

If you’re in the process of creating a policy for university faculty recruitment and hiring designed to attract a more diverse pool of candidates, here’s a list to explore. These were all important resources for University of Detroit Mercy's College of Engineering & Science's process creation.

Rising Above Cognitive Errors: Guidelines for Search, Tenure Review, and other Evaluation Committees by JoAnn Moody, PhD, JD

Moody Rising Above Cognitive Errors list

Virginia Commonwealth University Strategies for Successfully Recruiting a Diverse Faculty

The University of Michigan in conjunction with the ADVANCE Program (NSF funded) has many resources about hiring practices, faculty mentoring, and climate:

The StratEGIC Toolkit (NSF funded) out of University of Colorado Boulder also has some resources:

NRMN (National Research Mentoring Network) Unconscious Bias Training

National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity

OSU (Oregon State) Search Advocate Program

The National Pan-Hellenic Council, affectionately known as “The Divine Nine” as a target for position advertisements

For ideas about making your meetings more equitable and inclusive:

Agile Alliance

Ten Simple Rules for Hosting an Unconference (from PLOS Computational Biology)

Unmeeting Event Guide (CTSA proceedings)

Liberating Structures

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