By: Charlotte Spears ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer
Eight years ago, the Davidson administration delayed a professor’s tenure. The motivation behind the deferral of Dr. Hun Lye, a Buddhist faculty member of color in the Religious Studies Department is unknown due to the confidential nature of tenure proceedings. Dr. Lye subsequently decided to withdraw from the process.
The event ignited debates and protests among students and faculty who viewed the act as racially discriminatory against the professor, and it drew into question the hiring and tenure process at Davidson.
According to Dr. Fuji Lozada, Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Dean of Faculty, the hiring process begins when the chair of an academic department submits a request to the Dean of Faculty for a tenure track proposal. The Faculty Hiring Advisory Committee collects the proposals and makes a recommendation to the Dean of Faculty and the president of the college. Once the proposal is reviewed and approved, a search committee is created and chaired by either the chair of the academic department or a professor within the department.
According to Dr. Lozada, the search committee, consisting of a chair, tenured department faculty, and an external member, drafts an advertisement for the position. A department may receive hundreds of applications for a given position. The committee then reads and narrows down these applications. Different academic departments approach the narrowing down of applicants differently, but a committee ultimately brings three candidates to campus. The committee decides on a candidate and the Dean of Faculty makes an offer.
The tenure deferral in 2012 prompted a reaction among students and faculty. Dr. Lozada remembers students working to change Davidson’s hiring process.
“The students got angry,” Dr. Lozada said. “In fact, they came to my house, and we talked. Their anger in particular gave rise to SIAD [Student Initiative on Academic Diversity] and equity advisers.”
So, in 2012, students changed Davidson’s hiring process by creating SIAD, a presidentially chartered, student-run organization that interviews every finalist up for tenure, and equity advisers, extra-departmental faculty that are trained in diversity, equity, and inclusion and sit on search committees.
Cole Thornton ‘21 and Ramona Davis ‘21 are the current co-chairs of SIAD.
“We will have a SIAD interview where three or four SIAD members will interview the candidate, and no faculty are present,” Thornton said. “From those interviews, we will write a letter of evaluation. We don’t rank. We don’t say, ‘this is who you should hire’. We, as objectively as you can, evaluate.”
The students’ evaluation of candidates and their experience with inclusive pedagogy is “unbelievable,” according to Dr. Kevin Smith, Associate Professor of Biology.
Dr. Smith, who now works alongside other faculty in the hiring process, conducted an interview with SIAD students when he was up for tenure eight years ago.
“I remember some of the names in the room. I remember faces,” Dr. Smith said. “I remember things we talked about. I remember where we were and what I was eating, because it was such an impactful meeting to have that level of engagement from Davidson students. [The hiring process] was not just to recruit faculty but also to signal to me that if I am going to come to Davidson, I need to step up my game and make sure I am prepared to give these students the kind of experience that they are demanding.”
According to Dr. Lozada, “If you talk to any faculty member who has been hired since 2012, the one thing they will remember is the SIAD students; it’s not that it’s the toughest set of questions, it’s that it’s one way we sell Davidson. Because it’s not only that they want a job, it’s that we want them to come here.”
Since 2012, Dr. Lozada said that one critique of the adaptations to the hiring process has been that the organizations implemented to increase diversity are only present for a short time during the interview process.
“SIAD comes in at a very particular point in the process, and I’m not sure what level of certainty, how diverse and inclusive a candidate is before we get to them,” said Davis, co-chair of SIAD. “We are asking different questions than the committee. I don’t know what the department is doing to gauge inclusivity before we come into the process.”
According to Davis, candidates display a “broad range of knowledge” in SIAD interviews.
“It can be that a person has clearly thought about it or this person has never thought about it, and they are confused why they have to think about it now,” Davis said. “People don’t always react well to what we are doing.”
Dr. Lozada shared that the college only mandates that SIAD serve on tenure track searches. Visiting Associate Professor searches and other faculty searches occur without the letters of evaluation on inclusive pedagogy from students.
In addition to SIAD, the equity advisers were also implemented as a part of the hiring process after the 2012 event that sparked debates and protests.
Equity advisers are faculty members trained in diversity, equity, and inclusion every summer and participate as non-voting members of the committees. Equity advisers sit on the committee from the point an advertisement is drafted up until finalists are brought to campus.
“We come in as an unbiased and impartial perspective,” said Dr. Smith, who is currently an equity adviser for a search committee in the Health and Human Values Department. “We come in and make sure we are following equal employment opportunity laws, and we are working toward identifying the broadest, most diverse applicant pool possible. We are looking for ways that different applicants can succeed and making sure that our mindset and idea of what a successful faculty member has been doesn’t dictate what a successful faculty member will always look like and be like in the future.”
Dr. Cort Savage, professor and Chair of the Art Department, was one of the first equity advisers at Davidson.
“Equity advisers are people that sit on the committee to observe the hiring practices just to make sure that we are dotting all our ‘i’s and crossing all our ‘t’s with respect to legal issues regarding hiring and also trying to cast a clearer light on implicit bias,” Dr. Savage said.
According to Dr. Savage, they help the committee determine reasonable and unreasonable questions, analyze how deliberations take place, review how the committee is discussing an individual, and keep an eye on the overall candidate pool to make sure all people are recognized.
However, many faculty acknowledge that there is room for growth in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion when bringing faculty to campus. SIAD is a student-run, volunteer organization. With a membership of about 20 students, the organization is unable to interview and write evaluations for every finalist brought to campus. There are eight tenure track searches this year; therefore, three finalists for every position would mean 24 meetings for SIAD, in addition to the visiting associate professor interviews they elect to take on. But according to Davis, SIAD shouldn’t be the only force dealing with inclusive pedagogy.
“In theory, it would be great if SIAD was involved in all areas of the process, but we can’t do that,” Davis said. “It would be great if there were SIAD-like organizations or initiatives, groups, processes at every stage that involve students or faculty. But SIAD can’t do everything, especially on a volunteer basis. I think that you need a series of organizations and groups with that same commitment to diversity and inclusion when it comes to pedagogy at every stage of the [hiring] process.”
In addition to believing that more outside organizations are necessary for the hiring process, Davis also emphasized that the role of ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion shouldn’t fall into the lap of just marginalized groups.
“A lot of times what happens is the marginalized people of color, students, and faculty, are taking on the burden of trying to do all of that, and the reality is we can’t do all of that,” Davis said.
Davis hopes tha,t in the future, consulting work will play a larger role in at different stages in the hiring process
“They could bring in multiple people that are trained in doing this to do this work,” Davis said. “They could bring in professionals, not to do SIAD’s work, but you could bring in people to do different versions at different steps of the process.”
According to the May 2nd, 2012 issue of The Davidsonian, when SIAD was founded, five of the seven most recent denials of tenure were for faculty of color.
“We saw what happened before SIAD; a high percentage of people who were being denied tenure were people of color,” Davis said. “The role that we play in the process would not be served otherwise unless you just happen to have faculty that’s well trained.”
Diversity is particularly hard to come by in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments. Davidson doesn’t publicly break down statistics about race at the academic department-level because departments are small enough that individual staff could be identified. However, Dr. Smith and Davis agree that STEM departments at the local and national level “have had trouble making progress.”
“I think some of the problem is our own making,” Dr. Smith said. “I think there are far too many search committees at Davidson and elsewhere who have this idea that if we just continue doing everything we have always been doing, these candidates are going to magically appear and fill in the ranks, and we are going to catch up.”
Davidson has struggled in general with diversity and inclusion. Of the 14 Liberal Arts Schools that outrank Davidson College overall according to U.S. News, 13 of them also outrank Davidson in the website’s “Campus Ethnic Diversity” index.
“We have far, far more Ph.D.s of color than we’ve had at comparable times in the past, and the rate is accelerating,” Dr Smith said. “Yet those Ph.D.s aren’t making it into faculty ranks. The candidates are out there; we need to be doing a better job of changing our search procedures and doing a better job of identifying those candidates if we are going to resolve these issues.”
Dr. Kevin Smith believes that recent adaptations to the hiring procedure are “necessary but not sufficient.”
“The question of, ‘what’s sufficient?’ I don’t know, because we haven’t reached sufficiency,” Dr. Smith said. “I think we need to be changing a lot of minds, and more people on the committee making the hiring decisions to break out of their molds and models on what they think a successful candidate looks like, and that’s gonna take a lot more time. We are talking about culture change.”
According to Dr. Lozada, the reason for continued critique of the hiring procedures is not just so that students of color and of different marginalized groups feel better, although he acknowledges that is one factor.
“It really is for that when y’all get out there in the real world, you have to be equipped to work in a global, multicultural world, and we want to make sure that you can lead and serve others in a disciplined way,” Dr. Lozada said. “We want you to have this skill so that you can make good in the world. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a resource for students.”