Provost's Messages



Diversity is essential for an excellent university. Competition among the best universities for the best faculty, staff, and students will only be possible with an unwavering commitment to a campus that values difference and is diverse.

Improving the environment for all members of the university community, with a special focus on the climate for women and members of underrepresented groups, is critically important to Washington University. We welcome difference on this campus, in the form of gender, race, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, age, politics, philosophy, disability, and sexual orientation.

Chancellor Wrighton asked me to develop and implement a plan to strengthen the diversity of our university community. Since I assumed the role of provost in January, this has been, and will continue to be, one of my highest priorities. Next week, I will report to the Board of Trustees during their spring planning meeting on issues of diversity. Concern for this issue is truly university-wide.

During the past two months, I have sought input from several existing committees as well as a number of individuals who have been thinking seriously about diversity on both the Danforth and Medical campuses. I am impressed with the commitment that exists to this issue and thankful for the honest and open dialogue which has resulted. These meetings, as well as my visits last semester to several universities, have helped to confirm in my mind that Washington University has a real opportunity for progress and leadership in this area. Success will depend on mutually supportive actions by the administration, faculty and staff.

In trying to brainstorm an action plan based on recommendations from seven different university committees, one fact is clear: different groups wrestle with different aspects of the problem and advocate different approaches. It is also clear to me that many people are frustrated about our response to this issue. As a result, I have decided that making swift and real progress in the area of diversity is too important an issue to delegate at this point. As provost, I will dedicate a significant portion of my own time to this effort. I will appoint a small, executive work group that will meet with me regularly. This group will help me create a plan with a timeline to aggressively move forward with the following:

Faculty Diversity Goals

  1. Increase the proportion of women and underrepresented faculty at all ranks through hiring, retention and promotion.
  2. Increase the number of women and underrepresented faculty in leadership positions at WU.
  3. Ensure that we continue to pay all faculty equitably. The provost will work closely with the Senate Council to evaluate faculty pay equity on a regular basis.
  4. Foster an intellectual and administrative climate where all faculty have opportunities to contribute to the direction of the university.

Specific initiatives

In addition to forming the executive work group, I plan to regularly update university leaders on progress and enlist their help and support in this effort. In particular, I will work with individual school deans to devise plans to:

  • Develop initiatives to promote faculty leadership, with an express purpose of involving women and minorities more deeply in university life.
  • Recognize faculty women and underrepresented faculty through endowed chairs and internal awards.
  • Establish ombudspersons for both the Danforth and Medical Campuses who will provide confidential, independent, nonpolitical and knowledgeable counsel and advocacy for faculty members.
  • Ensure accepted search procedures are followed, particularly those that encourage diversity as an important criterion in searches. This will include supporting annual workshops for search committees.
  • Develop target of opportunity recruitment policies (where they do not exist).
  • Collect and report data on the representation of women and underrepresented groups in the applicant pools, finalist pools and offers made for all faculty searches.
  • Strengthen faculty retention through mentoring and other processes.
  • Initiate third party exit interviews for faculty who leave Washington University.
  • Create standards for accountability to evaluate progress within schools, departments or divisions.

Faculty diversity benchmarks
Washington University’s own faculty diversity data will be benchmarked by school (and within Arts & Sciences, by division) against the proportion of women and underrepresented faculty members at peer private research universities. We will monitor our progress at regular intervals with the goal to be a leader among our peer group.

Financial resources to advance diversity issues will be made available through the provost’s office. Presently, a total of $1M is available to enhance the strategic hiring of underrepresented faculty in the Danforth schools, to supplement work by the Coordinating Council on Diversity Initiatives, and to programming including ideas suggested by the now-disbanded Advisory Committee of Women Faculty. The Medical School has a separate fund for recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty.

In order to encourage transparency and ownership of this issue, we will provide data to the Educational Policy committee of the Board of Trustees, to the Faculty Senate and to the entire university community. These data will include numbers of women and underrepresented faculty at Washington University as well as among our peer institutions. In addition, a presence on the provost office website will be dedicated to diversity and related initiatives.

Outlined above are actions that largely focus on faculty diversity. However, the Washington University plan must be an interdependent effort. I look forward to working together with other administrators and faculty on this important opportunity. I will coordinate efforts with Special Assistant to the Chancellor Leah Merrifield and with Vice Chancellor Ann Prenatt on staff issues, along with Associate Vice Chancellor Jill Carnaghi, Vice Chancellor Jim McLeod, Dean of the Graduate School Richard Smith, and others on student issues.

This plan is just a beginning. I look forward to regular meetings with the work group to further develop real and measurable actions that will result in progress for the goals mentioned above. I will report back to the university community regularly and have established a website, to post updates. Washington University should be known as a place that strongly supports diversity of all kinds and is dedicated to developing innovative ways to improve the environment for all members of our community.