Bowdoin faculty is considering a proposal that would create a specific mechanism for increasing faculty racial and cultural diversity.

The proposal would authorize the allocation of "special opportunity positions," or SOPs?new tenure-track faculty posts for exceptional minority candidates.

Instead of being filled through a conventional national search, SOPs would be created on a case-by-case basis through the nomination of extraordinary candidates. These positions would be in addition to planned faculty expansion.

An ad hoc faculty group, chaired by Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd and Professor of Economics John Fitzgerald, drafted the proposal. The group was charged with finding ways to increase faculty diversity.

Normally, departments have a certain number of faculty positions, and new members are only hired when others leave or retire. SOPs would allow the College to hire minority faculty members even if there are no vacancies in their program.

The SOPs would "provide another recruiting tool to try to get faculty from these historically underrepresented groups," Fitzgerald said.

Candidates for SOPs would have to meet certain criteria. According to the draft proposal, potential hires would "move the College toward its goal of greater diversity, enhance the curriculum, of commensurate quality to candidates hired in national searches."

Nominated candidates for SOPs would go through numerous evaluations before being appointed by the Dean for Academic Affairs, in consultation with the president.

The ad hoc group introduced a draft of the proposal during March's faculty meeting. The group then synthesized a final version, which will be introduced in April. The faculty will vote on it during its May meeting.

At the March faculty meeting, Mills said that "hiring in the ordinary course has not resulted in us having a diverse faculty." He said he is "very enthusiastic" about the prospect of SOPs and is confident that he can raise the funds necessary to put the program in place.

"Where there's an opportunity to bring somebody extraordinary to the school, we should have the mechanisms in place to allow us to do that," Mills told the Orient this week. "The issue today is whether the faculty want to have that process in place."

If the proposal passes, Judd would report on its progress annually to Mills, as well as to both the trustee and faculty oversight committees on multicultural affairs.

According to Fitzgerald, the ad hoc committee will remain in existence through the summer. It will also address the issue of retaining minority faculty members once hired.

Slow Progress

Currently, Bowdoin has a total of 23 minority faculty members out of a total of 199 (four of those are part-time)?some 11.5 percent. In 2001, the College had a total of 21 minority faculty members out of 186 total positions, or 11.2 percent.

The other Maine liberal arts colleges have similar numbers. Bates College has 25 minority faculty members out of a total of 189 members, or 13.2 percent, and Colby has 24 minority faculty out of 226, or 10.6 percent.

Other colleges have been more successful in their recruitment of minority faculty members. About 20.8 percent of Amherst College's faculty are members of minority groups, compared to 17.4 percent of Williams College's.

Randolph Stakeman, who recently retired after 28 years as a professor here, said that Bowdoin's efforts over the years have met with mixed success. Stakeman, who is African-American, was also an associate dean of faculty from 1990 to 1993. Faculty recruiting was his primary responsibility.

"There were some times when we had a few faculty of color, and there were a lot of times, like now, when we don't have many at all," he said.

Stakeman said that SOPs are a good idea, "as long as it's something the department wants to do."

One thing that has improved, Stakeman said, is the possibility of retention of minority faculty members.

"With the growth of Portland as an urban area, it's gotten a little bit better over the years," he said. "I think that a lot of those stereotypes about Maine...aren't true. If people would give it a chance, I think they'd be pleasantly surprised."

A Complex Process

At Bowdoin, academic departments are in charge of faculty hiring, though the process takes place under the auspices of the Dean for Academic Affairs.

According to Judd, the College also has numerous other initiatives and practices in place to promote faculty diversity.

First is Bowdoin's participation in the Consortium for Faculty Diversity in Liberal Arts Colleges (CFD). Through the consortium, the College hires a number of minority graduate or post-graduate fellows.

While at Bowdoin, these fellows continue their own scholarly work, and also teach either one or two classes. There are two currently at Bowdoin, and next year there will be five.

In addition, Judd said that she ensures outreach efforts to minority candidates during searches for new faculty members. She said that she instructs departments to appeal to the "broadest possible pool of candidates, reaching out to graduate programs, professional societies, and networks."

While there are no explicit policies in place to ensure the recruitment and hiring of minority candidates in normal searches, Judd said that increasing faculty diversity is a priority of the president and trustees, and that this would ensure the continuity of present efforts.

Judd also said that the faculty Oversight Committee on Multicultural Affairs would make sure that those efforts persist.

"That's one of the places where the questions of continuity will be raised," she said. "If we don't get [to a desirable level of faculty diversity], or back away, that will be raised by multicultural affairs."

Stakeman, the retired professor, emphasized the importance of consistency in the school's efforts.

"It's not a one-shot deal?it's a thing you have to be committed to do for the next 50 years," he said. "You have to keep doing it?you can't do it for five years and then stop."