Thus Spake Zuska
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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Columbia: Diversity Leader or Poacher?

Columbia University has announced:

the dedication of $15 million to jump start a new recruitment campaign and to accelerate other ongoing efforts to diversify its faculty..The University seeks to add between 15 and 20 outstanding women and minority scholars to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences over the next three to five years..."These funds allow us to bring on board a critical cluster of new talent...that in turn may help us recruit other scholars from underrepresented groups," said Jean Howard, who was appointed Columbia's vice provost for diversity initiatives in September 2004.

Zuska gives two cheers for Columbia, and a half round of applause. 

Why am I damning with faint praise?  Because what Columbia has announced is that, in effect, it is going on a big, nation-wide poaching expedition. 

Yes, Columbia's recruiters are coming soon to a university near you!  And they are looking for YOUR professors!  Has your department taken the time to nurture and develop the talents of a young Hispanic female engineer?  Maybe an African-American male chemist?  Have you shepherded them through a few grant cycles and seen them tenured? Then have Columbia's recruiter's got a deal for you!  Well, actually the deal is for that young professor you and your colleagues invested so much time and energy in, and they will lure her/him away with promises of a much higher salary than you could ever counter with there at Rural State U., not to mention the lab space, equipment, and so on. 

If you are lucky, Columbia will just go poaching at the other Ivies and Big Research U.'s, finding it hard to imagine that talented individuals exist outside that sacred realm.  They will leave alone the places where departments are actually investing in and developing their faculty from hiring all the way through tenuring and beyond.  

This latter idea is one that Columbia ought to seriously consider, rather than just trying to buy "outstanding" diversity on the quick.  Why aren't they hiring top young talent and nurturing them into tomorrow's leaders?  Why only go after already proven profs?  If you ask's to quell the unease and circumvent at least some of the protesting that would otherwise accompany the diverting of so many dollars to diversity.  "Look," they can say, "we aren't sacrificing quality, we're getting proven talent.  We aren't lowering our standards."  Because, of course to hire black women or Hispanic men or scholars who came from the working class or who in any other way did not fit the established "quality" to lower standards.  Unless they've already been stamped as worthy.  

I suppose if if I were a decision-maker at Columbia, I'd be tempted to go this route, to stem opposition and ensure success.  

But if I were a leader, I'd hire the young ones and and make the deans and department heads responsible for their success.    

2:59:19 PM    comment []

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