Mellon grant to support ‘innovation’ hiring

By Keely Savoie

To fuel transformation in practices for hiring underrepresented faculty and map new interdisciplinary fields in the arts and humanities at Mount Holyoke College, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the College a five-year, $900,000 grant for “Incubating Inclusion and Innovation in the Liberal Arts.” The grant supports new search practices to identify and hire two faculty members who will enrich the diversity and enhance the academic ingenuity of the Mount Holyoke community.

Jon Western, Mount Holyoke’s vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, envisions the grant as an opportunity to “think about creative new directions in humanities and humanistic social sciences.”

“There are two things that we are doing with this grant,” said Western, who is also the Carol Hoffmann Collins ’63 Professor of International Relations. “One is focusing on curricular innovation—how do we think about our fields in ways that reflect the changing world? The second is ensuring inclusion—how do we establish practices at Mount Holyoke that can be adopted going forward to incubate an intellectually dynamic faculty that truly reflects the diversity of our student body?”

The grant underscores Mount Holyoke’s longstanding and deeply held commitment to diversity in service of academic excellence. In addition to the Multicultural Community and College Life Committee that addresses issues of diversity and inclusion, Mount Holyoke is part of the Consortium for Faculty Diversity that comprises 43 liberal arts colleges. The College also has a long-established Faculty Affirmative Action Committee and has developed new workshops and materials for hiring committees to promote inclusive hiring practices.

To initiate the hiring practice, two faculty seminars have been formed, one associated with each new position. In the seminars, Mount Holyoke faculty members convene with outside experts to explore and define the specialization being supported by the positions.

“We have to open up the set of questions that we are asking in our disciplines and about  the world,” said Western. “We want to think about alternative ways of conceptualizing our fields of inquiry. If we ask broader and more diverse questions, we will find exceptional scholars who can approach the curriculum in new ways—and this will give all of us more insights into an increasingly complex and dynamic world. We all benefit from this.”

Through its additional provisions for mentoring and faculty development, the grant will provide the new faculty members with the means and support to succeed in the profession and at the College, Westen said.

“This grant also will help us refine our faculty recruiting and hiring practices. We are committed to a holistic approach—from the conceptual stage, through the job offer, and into the first years of appointment—that builds a diverse faculty that is reflective of our student body.”

One position, a shared appointment between the critical social thought program and the gender studies department, is for an expert in feminist and queer of color theory.

“We are trying to think about power and oppression that goes beyond the traditional ethnic studies framework,” said Iyko Day, chair of the critical social thought program and associate professor of English. “We want to challenge liberal understandings of race that perpetuate rather than dismantle social inequities.”

The second position, in the religion department, seeks a candidate who focuses on religion in contemporary public life: in corporations, law, journalism, ethics, globalization, immigration, public policy, science, and the environment.

“We wanted to make sure we had a broad job description, because that gives us a lot more flexibility to ensure that finalists represent the diversity of our campus,” said Michael Penn, chair of the religion department and William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Religion. “Whoever we hire will have an expertise in their training and research, and their teaching and will provide diverse perspectives.”

One of the  faculty for these newly created positions is slated to begin in fall 2017 and the other in fall 2018. They will catalyze interdepartmental collaboration and enhance the faculty’s ability to respond to student interests and needs.

The Mellon Foundation grant will complement a $1.2 million grant from the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) for three new faculty positions in the Women in Data Science program at Mount Holyoke.

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