Article Image
Gabi Levy / Columbia Daily Spectator

In order to inspire lasting change and shape the fundamental culture and climate of departments, a cohort of faculty and administrators have convened to tackle pervasive issues of harassment and discrimination within Arts and Sciences.

In order to inspire lasting change and shape the fundamental culture and climate of departments, a cohort of faculty and administrators have convened to tackle pervasive issues of harrassment and discrimination within Arts and Sciences, introducing bystander training workshops and revising hiring and promotion policies to enforce ideas of diversity and inclusion to create a “culture of respect” within academia.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on Equity and Diversity, an advisory committee for administrators within Arts and Sciences, aims to act as a “central faculty governance body working to foster diversity and equity in the scholarly, pedagogical, and administrative practices in Arts and Sciences,” according to its mission statement. Its creation followed a 145-page equity report by the Policy and Planning Committee, which outlined significant concerns about Columbia’s ability to sustain long-term growth and existent support systems for women and underrepresented minority faculty members.

The committee seeks to confront systemic and cultural issues of discrimination and inequity, which the PPC’s report revealed were not being adequately addressed by current University infrastructure. The majority of women in PPC’s report said they had experienced at least one instance of discrimination by their colleagues at Columbia, and almost one third reported experiencing at least one instance of harassment by their colleagues across Arts and Sciences, though only 23 percent of women who said they experienced harassment reported it.

[Related: Up against the invincible: A professor was convicted of sexual misconduct. Why is he still on campus?]

Last July, the committee also released its strategic plan on how to accomplish its mission, with a focus on three specific aspects: structural changes that prioritize culture within Arts and Sciences, diversity recruitment, and creating an inclusive and equitable climate.

Though the committee is centered on faculty-related affairs, committee chair Kathryn Johnston anticipates it will impact campus more broadly. Multiple faculty members on the committee cited pressure from graduate students as a significant factor behind many of these initiatives.

“We’re in a difficult transition, and it’s not unique to Columbia. It’s a transition where the importance of differences and the strength of differences have been recognized by most people,” Johnston said. “A culture change is on the horizon, but change is hard.”

Tackling a culture of harassment and discrimination

Rather than changing the system for reporting and handling incidents of harassment and discrimination, the committee aims to address fundamental cultural issues by “enhancing climate in a way that limits bad behaviors,” according to Laura Kaufman, the former chair and a current member of the committee.

To do so, the committee is looking for engagement from within departments, including encouraging departments to establish their own internal structures—such as a committee on equity and diversity—to address specific issues that cannot be examined with blanket initiatives.

According to Kaufman, the committee has worked to create a “network of people” who can discuss their efforts and learn from one another. Johnston added that this will provide any individual faculty member interested in addressing diversity and inclusion in a department with a community.

“We need engagement from everybody, and that means all faculty, not just people sitting on the committee, and all students, and all administrators,” Johnston said, noting that the day to day about “cultural growth and sensitivity [will] allow Columbia to be the excellent university it should be.”

Diversity as a part of life, not an add-on

One of the principal goals of the committee is to ensure policies within Arts and Sciences, including those that deal with hiring, tenure, promotion, awards, prizes, and department reviews, take into account diversity and inclusion. According to Johnston, the key part of these adjustments will be looking at departments’ review systems for full-time non-tenure track faculty and ensuring that diversity and equity are spelled out in the same way and in the same wording across all documents used within Arts and Sciences.

“The idea behind this is making diversity and inclusion as a part of life as opposed to an extra thing,” Johnston said. “Then it stops being an add-on.”

The increased focus on diversity initiatives follows Columbia’s over $185 million in dedicated funds to hiring diverse faculty. Despite these funds, however, faculty have pointed to the need for diversity to be more ingrained in the hiring process and department culture overall, versus a semesterly reminder for departments to find a diverse hire. According to Arts and Sciences’ released diversity statistics, the percentage of full-time Latinx faculty has stagnated over the past decade, while the percentage of full-time black faculty has decreased.

Putting the money where the mouth is

At the start of the spring semester this year, the committee also launched their Arts and Sciences Equity and Diversity Events Pilot Program, calling for proposals from departments for events that the committee would provide funding for. Arts and Sciences has allocated $20,000 for the program for the 2019-2020 academic year, which aims to encourage faculty to address these issues from within their departments. It ended up funding six departmental projects, including two in the physics department.

One of those projects invited the American Physical Society's Committee to assess their department’s culture and provide feedback for improvement. Graduate students in the department also proposed a community roundtable which would invite speakers to lead conversations on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

However, despite the allocation of these grants in the past year, according to economics professor and committee member Dan O’Flaherty, there remains a lack of standardized criteria for the grant’s distribution as well as success rate information for previous grants.

“The attitude right now is let’s try something we think might work and see whether it works,” O’Flaherty said.

Looking outwards

The committee has also hosted a series of events and workshops to allow faculty to engage in conversations on diversity and equity.

It has invited speakers, like feminist writer and scholar Sara Ahmed and hosted a celebration of the life of former English professor and Institute for Research in African-American Studies Director Marcellus Blount. In April, departments were invited to a “Day of Equity and Diversity Programming,” to send representatives to a workshop and discuss existing programming within departments.

A month later, the school’s Office for Faculty Development and Diversity partnered with the Ombuds Office and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action to run a bystander intervention workshop for faculty. Last year’s training saw almost 50 faculty across Arts and Sciences participate in activities, which included discussions about scenes based on microaggressions that occurred among faculty.

However, one of the key challenges facing the committee remains a lack of engagement and communication with other faculty, as the committee remains without a website due to a lack of administrative support, according to Johnston.

She went on to state that though these workshops are highly encouraged for department chairs due to their influence over hiring and promotional procedures for their department’s faculty, change must start from the ground up.

“[Faculty chairs] don’t have that much power,” Johnston said. “They’re just faculty members who are helping out for a few years, concentrating on the chairs is a little misleading, because ultimately you need faculty within the department to take responsibility collectively.”

Lead story editor Gavrielle Jacobovitz, can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter at @gavriellej_.

Senior staff writer Shubham Saharan can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter at @ShubhamSahara18.

Committee on Diversity and Equity A&S harassment diversity discrimination
Related Stories