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Barnard's President's Taskforce on Diversity is expected to take approximately 18 months to create a list of recommendations to improve diversity on campus.

Last semester, Barnard President Debora Spar announced the creation of a President's Taskforce on Diversity, which aims to improve all aspects of diversity at the college. But the effort comes nearly a decade after Barnard's first charge to produce a systemic diversity plan.

The task force joins the Committee on Faculty Diversity and Development created in 2009 as another mechanism to improve diversity at Barnard. Its goal is to provide administration with a list of concrete items the college can act on to increase campus diversity.

According to Provost Linda Bell, it will take the taskforce approximately 18 months to finalize their list of recommendations. It is unclear how long implementation of any of those recommendations may take.

Although the task force is new, its mandate—to define diversity and come up with a list of action items—is not. A series of both internal and external reports, beginning in 2008, recommended that Barnard execute those two tasks. Eight years later, they have yet to be completed.

Though Chair of the sociology department and FDD Dean Debra Minkoff said she believes the task force will ultimately fulfill this mandate, she also said that she expects the process to take time.

"No student is going to see something change while they are here. It's going to be hard," Minkoff said. "Change is slow and it is arguably slower here that many of us would like to see."

But among faculty, lingering doubts remain as to whether the task force will be able to compel concrete, institutional changes, with some citing insufficient administrative support of past efforts.

"This is an issue that's been studied to death and it's studied cyclically—about every three years that we do another look at or survey of how people feel on campus," Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Ann Whitney Olin professor of Africana and women's, gender, and sexuality studies Tina Campt said. "There's a request to identify the problem, and then what next happens is we do a study to identify that problem, that study is then submitted to the administration with proposals and suggestions for action and then nothing happens."

There has been tangible success on the development side—a faculty mentoring program, junior faculty panels, new faculty orientation, and professional development workshops.

There have been successes on the diversity side too, like the cluster hire in the Africana studies department in 2010 and the development of a set of codified protocols to improve diverse faculty hiring processes.

Using these protocols, anthropology Chair and former FDD member Paige West said that in a recent search for a linguistic anthropology faculty member, the department worked with the FDD and ended up with an immensely diverse pool of applicants.

But the committee's work has met roadblocks that have limited its efficacy over its eight years of existence.

Jessie Liu / Staff Designer

When asked for her estimation of FDD's concrete victories in her three years at Barnard, Bell said the "discrete" changes are a formalization of the role of FDD dean, greater attention towards faculty mentoring, significant advocacy for support for and retention of diverse faculty, and understanding the importance of having a statement for diversity.

"They've worked on a website, they have a set of documents and doctrines now in place, so they're making progress," Bell said.

Cycle of studies

Faculty interviewed by Spectator expressed concern that efforts over the last 10 years to assess and discuss faculty diversity often failed to compel action.

"It's felt as if the recourse is always consultants and studying on the side of the administration and that is frustrating especially for those of us who have been pushing for this for years," Nancy Worman, the Chair of the Classics Department said.

In 2008, a study required by the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues Initiative recommended that Barnard create a systematic plan to address real deficits in achieving diversity.

No such plan was created, although the study did spark the creation of the FDD, and Barnard created three faculty lines in the Africana studies department shortly thereafter.

Two years later, in 2010, Barnard conducted a self-study as part of their reaccreditation process that concluded that the college needed to "take concerted action to address what the college believes to be existing major deficits in diversity on campus."

In response to the self-study, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the association that reaccredits the college, called upon Barnard to follow the recommendations of its own 2008 study.

"A report in 2008 called for 'a clear statement of the College's position on diversity with a detailed, systemic plan for promoting and sustaining diversity at Barnard.' However, the College has not yet produced such a plan," the report said.

The response also advised that Barnard quantify a series of "concrete working goals."

But, according to faculty interviewed, the college has yet to create such a plan.

When asked this week if in the eight years since the initial report such a plan had been created, Bell declined to comment because it was conducted before she was at Barnard.

"Difficult Dialogues predates me so it's really hard for me to comment on it specifically or what it advocates," Bell said. "I was schooled in the doctrine, I've read and embraced it.  We have strengthened the committee … they've worked very hard to create a set of documents and testimonials to how much we care about these issues."

The 2010 self-study also stated that "the college community agrees that Barnard has not yet arrived at a useful working definition of what diversity means to the college."

Six years later, it appears that such a definition still has yet to be clarified.

"When you say, 'have we achieved our goal, have we gotten close to our goals'—I don't feel our goals have been well defined," Bell said.  "It's slow progress … it's hard to know what we really mean when we say diversity or when we say diversity and inclusion."

Desire for leadership and resources

In 2014, FDD conducted its own study to gauge faculty perspective on the issue of diversity.

"One of the key findings was that a lot of faculty really care about diversity here at Barnard, a lot of faculty perceive that it's not a high priority for administration and we see that as a problem," Education Program Chair, FDD member, and task force member Maria Rivera Maulucci said.

Members of the committee said that in order to create concrete change, FDD needs both the financial and intellectual support of the administration.

"I think it's going to take strong leadership and the board of trustees on board with President Spar's vision for increasing diversity and growing the faculty," said associate professor of art history and current FDD member Elizabeth Hutchinson.

Such leadership and vision are crucial to affecting sustained institutional change, according to Hutchinson.

"Not like every 10 years let's put a few more brown people on the faculty and then forget about it for five years," she said.

A break in the cycle

In recent months, there have been signs of progress that some faculty members hope mean that Barnard will work to enact high-level change.

In December, FDD gave a list of recommendations and asks regarding the administration's involvement in increasing faculty diversity to Spar and Bell.

The recommendations include prioritizing diversity in the capital campaign, setting specific goals for hiring faculty through the creation of new faculty lines, authorizing cluster hires, the creation of a discretionary fund to promote faculty retention, promoting diversity issues in curriculum, and diversity training for faculty and staff.

West said that she believes the largest barrier is the lack of funding to hire enough faculty to do the work that Barnard must do to redress the dearth in faculty diversity.

"We've increased the number of students over the past couple of years and I think that's wonderful," she said. "But I think that not increasing faculty numbers works to create some barriers to doing everything that students need done."

As institutions across the country race to diversify their faculty, the feasibility of hiring faculty that identify as historically underrepresented minorities has become increasingly difficult and competitive—particularly for schools already struggling to allocate funds to create new faculty lines.

"Barnard is an institution that is always struggling with resources. …There's always going to be constraints around what's viable financially," Ann Whitney Olin professor of religion

Elizabeth Castelli said. "But then you have to set some priorities and decide certain things are more important than other things and to get behind the things that you think are most important."

Barnard's current capital campaign creates the opportunity for the college to take the lead on diversity and articulate its commitments to donors, Castelli said. The request to include diversity initiatives in the college's capital campaign, currently in its quiet phase, was also recommended in the 2010 Middle States self-study.

"Those two things seem to be really crucial at this moment," Castelli said. "The articulation from the senior leadership of the institution that this is something that we are not only committed to studying and talking about but actually embedding in the fabric of our institution and doing so by putting resources behind it," she said.

Bell said that she supports all the initiatives suggested by the FDD.

"I'm very supportive of [the initiatives] and the president is as well," she said. "Often things like that, they aren't even about resources, they're about prioritization. It really is a moment when these items are being prioritized."

While Minkoff agreed that diversity is being prioritized, she stressed that it will be important for the committee's work to be financially supported as well.

"There are some bigger ticket items that we on the FDD at least are hoping that one of the outcomes of the task force is a willingness of the board and the administration to allocate resources or raise the resources needed to move forward on those items," Minkoff said. "A lot can be done within the resource world that we live and within the structures that we live in. I tend to think that it's both about priority and additional resources and I think most faculty would agree with that."

FDD's recommendations will be introduced to the President's Taskforce on Diversity with the hopes that when all the key players are in the room, a greater understanding of the need for these recommendations from the beginning will aid their progress.

"You need a lot of core players talking and engaging and really understanding," Bell said. "It's one thing to get a document and say these are the things we want you to do versus being part of the dialogue that produced that document. Because the level of understanding and the intensity of the understanding is just different."

With this understanding, faculty hope that the college's commitment to sustaining increased diversity will become a core tenant of Barnard's mission.

"It would be great if we could emerge in let's say five years—let's think long term—as leaders in this area," Rivera said. "As opposed to, 'what are institutions doing about this, what are other institutions thinking about this?' wouldn't it be nice, instead of following, if we started really leading."

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

cauveri.suresh@columbiaspectator.com | @cauverims

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