Harper College tackles diversity among faculty
By Tracy Gruen
August 30, 2013 - After forming a task force and conducting a survey on the school environment for ethnic minorities, officials at Harper College in Palatine say they have a plan in place to help foster diversity among the faculty.
"The board had noticed that our student body was growing more diverse," said Trygve Thoreson, an English professor at Harper College who served as a co-chairman of the diversity task force formed by college President Kenneth Ender. "They were wondering whether or not the faculty or staff at Harper reflected that amount of diversity."
Thoreson said that about 34 percent of the student body and 30 percent of the community fall into ethnic minority groups, but only 20 percent of Harper teachers do so.
"We hadn't reached the level where we were reflective of the community," said Kenya Ayers, dean for academic enrichment and engagement at Harper College.
Ayers said that Ender spoke with some minority employees who said that they didn't always feel fully involved in the life and work at the college.
The school wants to help increase diversity among faculty to reflect the diversity in the community and among its students, officials said.
"We have a lot more immigrants settling here," said Phil Burdick, chief communication officer at Harper College.
Ayers said Harper aims to help minority employees feel welcome and develop a sense of belonging. Another goal is to retain more employees.
The task force was charged with examining the attitudes and beliefs in employees related to race, equity and inclusion. The second step was to examine the best practices of other community colleges, officials said.
Of 1,200 employees, about 600 people responded to a survey on the topic. The survey asked about respondents' values and what an environment would be like where diversity was the norm and inclusion was thriving.
Thoreson said their study showed that more minority employees than non-minority employees felt that isolation or discrimination were more of an issue on campus. But employees from groups across the campus seemed to support a culture of diversity and open communication.
One of the recommendations generated by the task force's report was to create a new position: special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion.
This position will be filled by a rotating tenured faculty member, officials said.
Michelé Robinson, the current dean of business and social science, will begin a three-year stretch in the position in January of 2014.
In the role, Robinson will work on attempting to attract Latino and African American scholars, among others, to the Harper College faculty through a fellowship. The program will provide mentoring from seasoned faculty members.
Robinson will also be responsible for collecting and following up on bias incident reports filed by employees who feel they were victims of discrimination.
Staff will also receive cultural competence training in order to become more sensitive to issues related to diversity.
Ayers said data also revealed that diverse employees are leaving the college at a higher rate than non-diverse employees.
Officials found some other community colleges hire an outside company to conduct exit interviews when employees leave, so they are considering that option at Harper.
Ayers said they want to find the best way to find out information from exiting employees about their reasons for leaving.
"It's a message of no tolerance of mistreatment of any employee at Harper College," Ayers said. "Harper has always been very successful in measuring its progress in a number of areas, and this was an area that we've been looking to measure our progress in."