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MSU seeking more diverse faculty, staff

November 25, 2012

Mississippi State University established a committee to increase its recruitment and retention of minority and female faculty and staff during its October Faculty Senate meeting.

The committee’s joint chairs are MSU Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Peter Ryan and MSU Office of Diversity and Equity Programs Director Tommy Stevenson. Provost Jerry Gilbert said MSU needs this committee to ensure it is taking a smart approach to recruiting minorities and females to its faculty.

“I think we do a pretty good job of recruiting both minority and female faculty, but the purpose of the committee is to help us with best practices that we can communicate to our search committees, our departments and our colleges,” Gilbert said, “so we can do the things we should be doing to accommodate and welcome these folks into the campus.”

Gilbert said the same best practices would apply to international faculty. As a rural campus, MSU faces challenges in the minority and female recruitment arena that urban campuses do not, he said, so Starkville and other area communities also play a role in MSU’s plan.

“That is another thing, interfacing with communities around us to make sure our faculty and staff ... feel a sense of belonging and unity with the community, both within the campus and in the municipalities around the campus,” Gilbert said.

One key goal, Stevenson said, is to raise diversity in faculty and staff to levels closer to the diversity of MSU’s student body, where African Americans account for as much as a quarter of enrollment.

“We have had great success in attracting a diverse student body over the past 47 years, since Dr. Richard Holmes became the first African American to enroll at our university. MSU is the most diverse predominantly white land grant institution in the U.S. and the most diverse university in the SEC,” Stevenson said. “We have not had the same level of success in recruiting African American faculty members, but that is a high priority. The university’s five-year strategic plan that was finalized this semester establishes as one goal ... an African American representation in our faculty of 7.5 percent, up from the current level of just over 4 percent. That is an ambitious and challenging goal, which we are pursuing aggressively. The strategic plan also calls for raising the percentage of female faculty to 42 percent, up from the current level of a little under 39 percent.”

Stevenson said African Americans also make up about 7 percent of MSU administrative employees, 12 percent of professional staff and about 16 percent of all employees. The latter figure includes technical, skilled, clerical and maintenance positions, he said.

“Ultimately, we would like to see our faculty and staff, as well as our student body, reflecting the overall demographics of the state as a whole,” Stevenson said.

This effort to boost MSU’s diversity is the latest of several, Stevenson said. In March, MSU held its second biennial Diversity Conference, hosting University of Maryland in Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski, he said, and MSU created a standing Diversity Committee for faculty, staff, students and alumni last year. He said MSU is also making adjustments to the financial incentives for African American faculty members.

“For 20 years, Mississippi State maintained a separate fund to support salaries for African American faculty members and academic administrators,” Stevenson said. “The current pool of $1.25 million wholly or partly supports more than 20 positions, with a couple more to be added next semester. Originally, the funds were permanently assigned to newly hired individuals. In recent years, we began transforming the account into a revolving fund that provides departments hiring African American faculty with 100 percent funding for the first year’s salary, 75 percent for the second year, and 50 percent for the third year. This transitional incentive has stimulated additional recruitment and hiring of African Americans.”

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