McGill tackles systemic underrepresentation

Ambitious hiring initiative will increase the number of Black tenure-track professors

It is the kind of thing most white people take for granted.

“I remember doing my undergraduate studies at Stanford when Condoleezza Rice was a faculty member,” says Terri Givens, the Provost’s Academic Lead and Advisor (PALA) on McGill’s Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism. “Although [Rice] and I don’t share political beliefs, having a Black woman in that space was important because it showed me what was possible. Representation can have a huge impact on students.”

So inspired, Givens blazed a trail for herself as an internationally renowned political scientist, author and university administrator before coming to McGill earlier this year.

Improving representation is one of the key goals behind McGill’s current drive to recruit a greater number of Black faculty members. The current initiative began in Winter 2021 and includes more than a dozen tenure track positions. While some of these recruitments have been successfully completed, others are ongoing. The initiatives reaches across McGill’s academic units, from Computer Science to Geography to Music and Medicine.

Fresh perspectives, bold ideas

This hiring initiative responds to key action items set by the 2020 Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism – a plan that was shaped through close consultation with multiple groups including the Black Students’ Network, the McGill Black Alumni Association, the Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons, and notably the Dr. Kenneth Melville Black Faculty and Staff Caucus. The Action Plan includes an ambitious target to increase from 14 to “85 Black tenure-track or tenured professors by 2032, with an interim target of at least 40 Black tenure-track and tenured professors by 2025.”

“We are in a crucial phase in the history of McGill, and one that will mark our University for generations to come,” says Provost Christopher Manfredi. “Our efforts to recruit more Black professors, which run in parallel to our Indigenous faculty recruitment efforts, reflect the belief that equitable inclusion is a necessary condition for achieving excellence. Not only do we have a responsibility to redress the systemic underrepresentation of Black faculty at McGill, but this work is also critical to the success of our mission to advance excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement.”

Ongoing support

Significant planning and resources have been devoted to this initiative. Each department that has identified possible areas for recruitment is assigned a Provostial Delegate to support its search. The goal is to ensure that the searches have the widest reach possible and succeed in attracting a deep and excellent pool of candidates. “Delegates sit on the committees and come together to share information,” says Tynan Jarrett, the Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the office of the Provost and Vice-Principal Academic. “We want to make sure that we’re thoughtful, nimble, and creative in how we recruit. The best way to do that is to have open lines of communication between all the recruiting departments.”

Part of the recruitment process also includes identifying promising emerging scholars who might not be at the stage of their career for a tenure-track position. “We would consider creating a postdoc position, that could potentially become a pathway to a tenure-track appointment whether at McGill or elsewhere,” says Jarrett. “This has been done successfully at McGill a few times already.”

Networking and mentorship

Terri Givens makes herself available to candidates, fielding questions about everything from research funding opportunities to finding daycare – or at least putting candidates in contact with the right people. “We’re working hard to create a welcoming culture and we want new Black professors to know that they won’t be isolated,” she says. “I’ve experienced this myself, being on a campus where sometimes you that, and you don’t have colleagues who share your experiences to talk to.”

“One of the advantages is that I’ve been involved in hiring processes from when I started out as a faculty member to being a provost myself [at Menlo College from 2015 to 2018],” she says. “And then, of course, there is retention. A big component of retention is making sure faculty are prepared to advance. At McGill there’s already a good mentoring system in place for faculty as they go up for promotion and tenure.”

Diversity benefits everyone

In the end, says Givens, increasing the number of Black professors at McGill will attract “the best and the brightest,” regardless of the colour of their skin.

“These initiatives are not impacting only Black students, or Indigenous students. Everybody benefits from these efforts,” she says. “We’re not just bringing in diversity in terms of race, or gender or ethnicity – we’re bringing in diversity of thought.”

“As a Black female American professor and researcher, my perspective is important because I’m going to ask different questions than my white colleague is going to ask,” says Givens who, on top of her duties as PALA, is also Professor of Political Science at McGill.

“This is not just about getting bodies in place. It’s about changing the culture of the institution. It’s about making sure we’re asking the right questions when we’re doing our research. It’s about making sure that our students are involved and engaged and not feeling demoralized because they keep having to deal with microaggressions. And it’s about making sure McGill is the place where people – anybody – wants to study and work.”