Here’s what Northeastern is doing to make faculty leadership more diverse

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The United States is growing increasingly diverse. But, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, most faculty positions continue to be held by white professors.

This lack of diversity is even more obvious among faculty leaders, such as academic officers, vice provosts, and deans. According a 2013 study by the American Council on Education, only 14 percent of senior leaders at four-year institutions were faculty of color.

“We need much more diversity in our academic leadership to reflect our diverse student body,” said Debra Franko, Northeastern’s senior vice provost for academic affairs.

Franko, along with colleagues at Northeastern and six other Boston area universities, has received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to help close this gap.

The group is building a leadership training program for minority faculty in science, technology, engineering, and math. The new program will be based on Northeastern’s Research and Leadership Development Initiative, which is a leadership training program open to mid-career faculty.

“It’s important for us to make intentional decisions to recognize faculty of color and to put them in positions where they have the opportunity to develop leadership skills,” said Jan Rinehart, the executive director of Northeastern’s ADVANCE Office of Faculty Development.

The program curriculum will be developed over the next several months by an oversight committee comprised of a diverse group of academic leaders from Northeastern, Boston University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Suffolk University, Tufts University, and University of Massachusetts Boston. The first cohort, a group of 20 to 25 faculty from the seven institutions, is expected to start around May 2019.

“Our leadership program makes the most of the richness of Boston,” Franko said. “We have so many institutions of higher learning concentrated here. We don’t always capitalize on that.”

The goals of this program go beyond leadership training, said Rinehart. She and her colleagues want to help minority faculty connect with each other across institutions.

“If Boston can build a network and connect those isolated faculty members, then we have created a model for other densely populated cities,” Rinehart said. “They, too, could join as universities and lower this isolation and increase the visibility and academic success for their minority faculty.”