Monday, June 07, 2021

Diversity and Equity in Recruitment and Retention

by Sherri Conklin, Gregory Peterson, Michael Rea, Eric Schwitzgebel, and Nicole Hassoun

[cross-posted from The Blog of the APA]

How philosophers hire, tenure, and promote faculty in the U.S. likely contributes to philosophy’s low overall demographic diversity. For example, a recent study shows that the proportion of women in tenure track positions is lowest in the most prestigious positions and programs, and women are especially underrepresented at the highest professorial ranks (Conklin, Artamonova, and Hassoun 2019; see also the Academic Placement Data and Analysis site). The underrepresentation of Black and disabled philosophers on the tenure track is even greater (Tremain 2013; Botts et al. 2014). Such disparities reflect a structural problem in the discipline: The fundamental questions of philosophy are of just as much relevance to people depending on their race, sex, ability, and so forth; and we believe that people in academically underrepresented groups have lots of value to contribute.

Although the APA and other organizations are pursuing active initiatives in the United States and abroad to improve the diversity of the discipline, for example through diversity grants and workshops, little has been done discipline-wide that focuses directly on improving faculty recruitment practices in the U.S. (See for example, MAP, the BPA/SWIP Best Practices Scheme, and the APA’s Diversity Resources Page.)

The Demographics in Philosophy project has collected and collated data on underrepresentation in the discipline since 2015. Here we detail a list of potentially diversity-enhancing faculty recruitment and retention practices. We developed this list of suggested practices from a review of the literature, surveys and other relevant data, and panel discussions on diversity during and after the 2018 and 2019 Pacific APA meetings.

So far, we have:

        Collected and analyzed data on underrepresentation of women faculty in philosophy at 98 institutions between 2004 and 2020.

        Conducted a survey of 75 philosophy departments to evaluate current hiring and recruitment practices.

        Collaborated with the APA Committee on the Status of Women to host an open meeting at the Pacific Division APA with the department chairs and representatives from 19 philosophy departments to discuss existing practices and possible improvements.

        Organized a series of blog posts on diversity in philosophy departments at The Blog of the APA.

Changing the hiring, tenuring, and promotion practices in even of a few dozen influential philosophy departments might have a large impact on the discipline. Improvements in diversity in graduate recruitment must be matched by corresponding improvements in tenure-track career opportunities and subsequent career advancement.

We invite you to collaborate with us in discovering and supporting practical and effective methods of improving the diversity of faculty in academic philosophy.

Practices to Consider for Improving the Diversity of Philosophy Departments


  1. Diversify hiring and tenure committees to include more people from underrepresented groups.
    • Appoint a diversity officer who will be responsible for ensuring each applicant is reviewed equitably.
    • Commit to inclusion with influence. However, also be cautious about creating disproportionate burdens on members of underrepresented groups, especially if those burdens do not come with public recognition. So, consider relieving diversity officers, and members of underrepresented groups, of correspondingly difficult committee related obligations in asking them to take on these roles or otherwise compensate them for their efforts.


  1. Reconsider what constitutes a “well-rounded” department. What topics, approaches, and interests have been neglected but deserve representation?
    • If your department is unfamiliar with a desired research area, reach out to experts in other philosophy departments, or in other disciplines, for feedback on assessing candidates.


  1. Hire faculty using approaches and evaluation methods that encourage and appropriately value applicants who would contribute to your department’s diversity.
    • Advertise positions in areas likely to attract a wide diversity of applicants.
    • Include language in the job description signaling interest in applicants who contribute to the department’s diversity.
    • Encourage application from diverse candidates, including reaching out to people in diversity-relevant venues such as the Up-Directory and other diversity focused blogs and associations.
    • Use clear criteria of evaluation that minimize the likelihood of bias and favoritism.


  1. Create post-docs aimed at recruiting philosophers from underrepresented groups or philosophers who work in underrepresented areas of philosophy, for the purpose of supporting their academic development and eventually competing to hire them.
    • Provide the requisite mentorship.
    • Make your commitment to a potential hire explicit.


  1. Re-evaluate your department’s perception of prestige.
    • Refine the notion of prestige by getting a clearer understanding what counts as the top journals or conferences in the subfield relating to the applicant’s specialty.
    • Instead of focusing on prestige, focus instead on the quality of the applicant’s work, how interesting or relevant it is to their sub-specialty, and how relevant it is to the job description requirements.

          Consider removing markers of prestige when making hiring and tenuring decisions.


  1. Agree in advance about what the department is looking for when hiring new faculty.
    • Evaluate whether your conception of “core philosophy” and/or the mission of your philosophy program needs updating and discuss what you are looking for in a “good candidate”.

          These definitions should include expectations about, for example, the number and quality of publications to prevent holding different applicants to different standards.

    • Before considering applications, identify how items in the job description will be weighted for each applicant.
    • Develop clear guidelines for the evaluation criteria and adhere to them.
    • Take special care to ensure that any non-anonymous parts of the review process do not omit, or unfairly disadvantage, applicants from underrepresented groups.
    • Attend to your regional context as well as the overall global context (e.g. the importance of including adequate geographical and indigenous representation in your department).
    • Re-evaluate applications with high diversity ratings to determine whether bias played a role in excluding the applicants from getting an interview or in the interview process.


  1. Consider giving diversity-related contributions more weight when evaluating applicants.
    • Keep in mind that being a member of an underrepresented group in philosophy can require additional labor, burdens, stressors, and expectations, which is often not recognized.
    • Keep in mind that philosophers from underrepresented groups are often expected to take on a disproportionate amount of service work in addition to their research.
    • Consider requiring and scoring diversity statements.


  1. Sustained efforts to increase diversity in your department may be required.
    • Use each new hire and new tenure case as an opportunity to increase diversity in your department.
    • Revise your practices until you adopt practices that work for your university and department context.


  1. Develop formal policies for managing the needs of diverse groups.
    • Ensure appropriate disability related accommodations are in place.
    • Support mentoring and provide support networks for people you hire from underrepresented groups.


  1. Learn about the issues that underrepresented colleagues typically face so that you can advocate more effectively with difficult colleagues for faculty retention and promotion.
    • Diversity and excellence are not divergent aims.  Diversity is a component of excellence.
    • Practices employed by hiring and tenuring committees likely play a substantial role in the problem of underrepresentation in philosophy.
    • Keep in mind that managing underrepresentation in philosophy will help with philosophy’s relevance at a time when the value of the humanities is contested.


  1. Collect data on diversity relevant hiring practices, e.g. applicant and hiring rates for members of underrepresented groups, tenure and retention rates, hiring committee composition, etc., and track progress in increasing diversity in your department.


  1. Evaluate progress at regular intervals and revise practices accordingly.
    • Work with researchers to isolate and implement evidence-based practices that increase diversity in academic philosophy departments.


  1. Officially adopt and implement these diversity-promoting practices to move from good intentions to good practice.
    • Widely publicize your department’s targets and commitment to promoting diversity.
    • Inform all committee members and bind future committee members to uphold these standards.
    • Publicly and explicitly adopt diversity-promoting practices, helping to create a culture of concern that enhances the department’s reputation for welcoming diversity, attracting more diverse applicants.

We hope that departments will pledge to increase diversity in our profession, but even if we are able to recruit a more demographically diverse faculty, recruitment is not enough. Philosophers from underrepresented groups must be valued and supported no less than philosophers who fit more comfortably into the mainstream culture and demographics of academic philosophy, and they must be given the support and resources necessary for them to flourish despite potentially greater burdens and obstacles, including potentially higher service and mentoring demands that follow from being called upon to represent their group.

The perception that diversity and quality are competing considerations can be especially toxic, inviting the perception that some people are hired primarily because of their contributions to diversity despite being lower quality. Better is a view on which “quality” is not always defined by contributions to what is currently mainstream and on which part of what constitutes group-level quality in a department is diversity and difference in viewpoint, interest, methods, and life experience.

Promoting diversity, if done well, will expand the pool of job candidates and the range of perspectives represented in your department. It should reduce provincialism and groupthink, add new sources of fertile ideas, provide a broader range of models for students, and extend the reach and relevance of academic philosophy.

Suggestions, objections, and contributions welcome at More data on women in philosophy are available here:

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