GW Diversity Cluster Hire

President Thomas LeBlanc and Provost Brian Blake

Members of the GW community have long asked for a serious and sustained commitment to a much more diverse faculty. It is time that we are heard.

Petition by
Washington, District of Columbia

To: President Thomas LeBlanc and Provost Brian Blake
From: [Your Name]

In the summer of 2020, the wave of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder prompted universities across the nation to ask themselves whether they are adequately fostering diversity and combatting racism on their own campuses. For many, including George Washington University, an honest answer can only be “no.”

GWU is celebrating its bicentennial this year, something we can all take pride in. And yet, in its two hundred years of existence in a diverse, cosmopolitan city, it has never made a substantial, meaningful, and consistent effort to recruit and retain faculty of color. At best it has pursued a patchwork approach, involving special opportunity hires and occasional regular hires from individual departments committed to diversifying their ranks.

Sadly, that haphazard approach has failed. Our faculty should reflect the composition of our nation and our students, but, instead, it is overwhelmingly white. The university’s underrepresented minority faculty have hovered around 8-9 percent of all tenured or tenure-track faculty over the last decade. And we have recently lost some of our most valued Black and Latinx faculty members to other university competitors, including Brandeis, Emory, Northwestern, CUNY Graduate School, The University of Maryland, Arizona State, and Duke University. The faculty members have cited many reasons for their decisions to leave us, including the absence of a robust community of Black and Latinx faculty, and of faculty working in Black and Latinx Studies; a perceived lack of commitment to/support of Black and Latinx Studies, notably, the chronically underfunded Africana Studies Program; the sense that this is not a university dedicated to anti-racist practices, especially in comparison to market basket schools; and the belief that the extant structures for addressing faculty of color’s particular issues are weak and ineffectual.

In urgent need of a different approach, we propose the following three fundamental steps as a start:

1. Diversity Cluster Hire: The university should support and fund a cluster hire of eighteen (18) Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented faculty over a three-year period. These faculty would be housed primarily in CCAS; they would be tenure-track or tenured in the vast majority; and they would, in many cases, study issues of racism and antiracism in some form.

2. Resources for Faculty Development and Retention: The university should invest substantially in faculty development and community building efforts to support the success and retention of faculty of color.

3. Africana Studies Support: The university should support a fully funded Africana Studies Program that will assume department status within the next three years. Furthermore, the university should hire a new director for this department-to-be and give them the opportunity to hire some of their own faculty.

Taking these steps would enrich the university in multiple ways.

They would be a fitting start to GW’s next two hundred years, a clear signal to the university community and well beyond that the university commits itself to diversity, equity, and inclusion, not as fashionable buzzwords but as core values that are thoughtfully integrated into everything we do. At a time of unprecedented concern about systemic racism, other universities have launched bold and forward-thinking anti-racist campaigns, involving hiring more than forty faculty members in some cases, despite the punishing costs of the pandemic.

They would further the excellence of our faculty research, not simply by adding more voices to the various conversations we are having within and across disciplines, but by broadening and recasting the research questions we ask, the methods we pursue, the concepts we employ, the knowledge we produce, and the worlds we help to shape.

They would further the excellence of our teaching and curriculum and enhance student experience by greatly expanding undergraduate and graduate students’ opportunities to take classes which they can think about the role race plays in the defining issues of our time, including climate change and environmental justice, immigration and demographic change, political polarization and the future of democracy, and structural inequalities in health care, the criminal justice system, and more. Many of our students want more courses on these always-timely subjects, especially when taught by Black, Latinx, and other faculty of color. They also want to study the vital contributions people of color have made to history, government, literature, art, science and other fields of endeavor.

They would improve our ability to attract and recruit the very best students and faculty going forward, and would improve our reputation as a premier institution of higher learning that can compare favorably with our peers.

Members of the GW community have long asked for a serious and sustained commitment to a much more diverse faculty. It is time that we are heard.