Background/Context: Although academic departments have more tools to advance faculty diversity than ever before, many still downplay their own responsibility throughout the hiring process. This results in a cycle of apathy that activates once searches are already under way, and structural change is out of reach. Yet few studies empirically outline what structural change entails so that departments can play a more active role in improving search processes before hiring begins.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study materializes the underlying mechanics of academic hiring by describing the process of departmental hiring priorities, and identifies how adjusting them can create the optimal conditions for supporting faculty diversity.
Population/Participants/Subjects: Participants were 23 academic personnel spanning four academic departments, including deans, department chairs, equity administrators, and faculty search committee members.
Research Design: This qualitative study uses a blend of multiple case study and grounded theory designs. The multiple case study method guided the site, case, participant selection, and data collection procedures. Grounded theory was employed primarily in the data coding and analysis phases.
Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected from an institutional site fictitiously named Northfield University, a research-intensive four-year university located in the western region of the United States. Four departments were selected as case studies based on convenience sampling from four broader divisions: social sciences, life sciences, humanities, and physical sciences. Twenty-three participants spanning multiple positions and departments participated in a total of 31 semistructured interviews. These data were initially coded and analyzed using the constant comparative method and then further analyzed using cross-case analysis.
Findings/Results: Findings reveal the primary determinants of departmental hiring priorities that bred subfield conservatism, or the hesitancy to expand the department in new and different hiring directions based on resource constraint and subfield reproduction. This was a realistic yet troubling organizational response that inhibited opportunities for diversity before searches even began. Results also document the steps that departments took to thwart subfield conservatism in order to more aptly attract and elevate racially minoritized candidates.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study highlights the untapped potential that hiring priorities hold for advancing faculty diversity. Department chairs and deans are uniquely positioned to implement initiatives that rearrange the structural conditions of faculty hiring that empower faculty to create equity-oriented positions beyond traditional departmental boundaries.