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  • Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Faculty in a Public University
  • Nancy Lee Wilkinson

The end-of-millennium wave of retirements hit SFSU's Geography Department early: we have hired eight new faculty colleagues in the past 10 years. This has given us all some perspective on the challenges of recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, a pair of very high priorities for our department, and I want to share our lessons learned with you today.

First, some institutional background. In fall 2005, our department included 11 tenured and tenure-track faculty, including 6 women and 5 men. At least half of the 11 faculty also fit other "diversity" categories based on their race, sexual orientation, or national origin. Our growing department and our diversity were sources of pride, but our success in attracting top-notch candidates put us at risk. The next academic year (2005–06) brought not only two retirements but two resignations. We lost one colleague to a Ph.D.-granting institution and another to a school in the east that could help reunite her with her academic spouse. This year, we have three new searches underway and have reopened our discussion about recruiting and retaining a diverse array of colleagues.

At a larger scale, although Pacific Coast Geography still seems less ethnically diverse than we might like, I'm heartened by clear evidence that we are making progress toward gender diversification. The faces at this year's annual meetings really present an amazing contrast with those at my first APCG, in Tucson in 1976, where "SWM's" (straight while males) dominated and there were very few women, people of color, "out" GLBT geographers or differently abled individuals in attendance. Now the faces and bodies are more varied. Our region has numerous female department chairs and our current APCG president is a female associate provost. There are promising signs around the country in our field as well: a female associate dean presides over the AAG and a woman geographer has just been appointed as provost of the SUNY system.

So, what have we done to bring more women into academic positions and leadership roles in the past 3 decades, and what do we need to do better? Are there lessons that we can extend to our current efforts to enhance [End Page 168] diversity in other forms? I want to share some "best practices" in recruitment and retention that have helped enrich the gender diversity of Geography departments in our region and will, I believe, continue to diversify our discipline along other dimensions as well.


  1. 1. Really search! Look for job candidates in new places, not just top-ranked or local Ph.D. programs and not just geography programs, but also interdisciplinary ones. Latin American, African, Asian, or urban studies programs produce some top-flight candidates whose baccalaureate or master's degrees were in geography. We need to remember to ask ourselves, who might want to join us, and why?

  2. 2. Retain diversity throughout the screening process. Sometimes it's necessary to focus on the person more than on the position description; my colleagues taught me that. A candidate who seems exceptionally collegial, who excites your students, and who has the potential to contribute special perspectives is worth keeping in the pool even if s/he does not fit all of the subfields or specializations penned into your ad. Think long and hard before setting each person aside. It can be helpful to have someone specifically take on the role of advocate; it would probably be even more helpful to rotate this role!

  3. 3. Avoid tokenism. Anyone would appreciate an invitation to join a diverse faculty far more than an invitation to create diversity in a department. Recognize, appreciate, and celebrate the diversity that already exists among your colleagues; they surely differ in terms of economic background, age, social class, religion, politics, or other important criteria even if they look a lot alike. Recognize that a candidate who looks different might be a mainstream voice just as often as they are an "outsider," or vice versa.

  4. 4. Spend quality time with each candidate you invite to campus. Candidates who visit will want to imagine what their lives...


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