Student Leaders: Diversity Proposal Remedies “Unsafe Academic Environments”

Under pressure from student leaders, the Pomona College faculty voted last week to include a consideration of a professor’s “attent[ion] to diversity in the student body” in the College’s criteria for promotion and tenure.

The move follows the circulation of an open letter in support of the addition which received hundreds of signatures and the backing of several high-level officials in the College’s student government, including the current and former Student Body Presidents. According to the letter, the new language will ensure that faculty members must demonstrate a sufficient commitment to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in order to be a successful candidate for tenure, promotion, or reappointment.

The letter also praised the motion as a significant step toward the realization of Pomona College’s diversity objectives as laid out in a document released last year by the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity. According to the letter, the new criterion will help to alleviate the “unsafe academic environments” which have had a deleterious effect upon “students’ well-being and everyday lived experiences” by making diversity one of the top considerations for faculty advancement, thereby recognizing that “meeting the needs of a diverse student body” is “an essential component of exceptional teaching and service.”

Under the former guidelines for promotion and tenure, faculty members were required to demonstrate “intellectual leadership” (i.e. “good teaching”); “professional achievement” (i.e. scholarly productivity); and “effective service to the College,” its student organizations, or to professional organizations. The new guidelines qualify “good teaching” as teaching which “is attentive to diversity in the student body” and adds a requirement that faculty members seeking promotion should demonstrate competency or excellence at “fostering an inclusive classroom” in addition to the superior teaching skills which the College’s promotion criteria already mandate.

Potential candidates for advancement also must “specifically address their efforts to create and maintain an inclusive classroom.” These efforts might involve, as the new guidelines suggest, the “inclusion of scholarly and other works emerging from the perspectives of underrepresented groups” in the courses taught by the candidate or “any other classroom practices that support inclusivity and diversity.”

Student reaction to the change has been generally positive. The open letter in support of the new language has garnered hundreds of signatures from Pomona College students. “I support this criteria,” said one supporter, who asked to remain anonymous. “I appreciate the lengths to which the campus faculty and student body went in order to get input and consensus from so many people before implementing this criteria.”

Others, however, are less pleased with the new policy. “Professors should be hired and later given tenure because of their teaching abilities,” another Pomona student told the Independent. “When it comes to promotion, identity politics should be left at the door.”

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