The initial cohort of the Institute on Inquiry, Equity and Leadership in the Academic Department met in person and virtually during the 2022-23 academic year. (Image credit: Courtesy Faculty Advancement Network)

Over the last academic year, department chairs and other senior academic leaders from the nation’s top research universities gathered to discuss how they can increase equity within their institutions.

These top scholars were the initial cohort of the Institute on Inquiry, Equity and Leadership in the Academic Department, hosted by the Faculty Advancement Network (FAN), a consortium of universities collaborating to advance diversity and inclusion in the U.S. professoriate.

“By having everyone discuss these issues together, they can see what each other’s doing, get good ideas, and feel empowered at the department chair level to try different things,” said Susan Drange, Stanford’s associate vice provost for the Office of Faculty Development, Diversity and Engagement, and a FAN executive committee member. “It helps break barriers in terms of trying new things or thinking about things in a different way.”

FAN members include Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. Each year, member institutions can nominate up to five department chairs or other senior academic leaders as fellows to the institute, which provides tools and a lens of equity-minded leadership, Drange explained.

“The Faculty Advancement Network is really about helping to diversify the faculty across all of these institutions,” she added.

Building a community

Fellows meet in person and virtually to learn how systems shape the academic profession and how faculty can help reshape it.

The initial cohort of three Stanford FAN Leadership Fellows just completed their term, which operates on an academic calendar. The trio included Pamela Hinds, the Fortinet Founders Chair and professor of management science and engineering; Melissa Bondy, chair and professor of epidemiology and population health and the Stanford Medicine Discovery Professor; and Jonathan Payne, professor of earth and planetary sciences, senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, and the Dorrell William Kirby Professor.

“One of the things that was really valuable to me in this process was beginning to build a community of people who are knowledgeable and care about these issues,” said Hinds. “The sessions we had were eye-opening. One of the tremendous strengths of the program is that the speakers and authors are all well-respected academics who are doing rigorous research on these issues that we are talking about.”

With intentional change to increase diversity among faculty in higher education, academia can broaden the value of its research contributions and better serve students, Hinds said.

Working with department chairs and other senior academic leaders carries potential that the work will ripple into academia as fellows continue in their careers to become deans and other academic leaders, Drange said. “We are hopeful that, by seeding this idea of equity-minded leadership in this particular group, it could have broader beneficial effects in the long run.”

Hinds agreed, noting that department chairs and other academic leaders also often have more autonomy to implement changes. “We’re in a position to actually make change and do a fair amount of experimentation that we can then take to our colleagues, other chairs, and maybe others will then adapt or adopt some of those approaches.”

A particularly impactful discussion topic for her centered on workload inequities and invisible work for faculty. For example, faculty who are less represented often become mentors for students who can relate to them but, in turn, end up with less time for their research. One junior faculty member told Hinds she had a line out the door for office hours every week.

To help make invisible work more visible, Hinds plans to launch a dashboard in her department to display work that frequently goes unrecognized or is taken on by a few, such as sitting on committees or writing promotion letters.

Other issues Hinds and her cohort focused on include widening the faculty search pool and individual-specific mentoring of junior faculty. “Mentoring requires a cultural shift because we are so focused on research productivity and historically have attended less to other factors,” Hinds said. “As we build this larger community through FAN at Stanford, hopefully we can tackle some of these issues.”

Moving forward

Hinds said this work is very complimentary to the university’s IDEAL Initiative. “What we’re trying to do is value diversity and build an inclusive culture within the university, which is one of the goals of IDEAL,” Hinds said. “What the FAN network offers is a concrete way to change our practices to help reach that goal.”

The 2023-24 cohort of Stanford FAN Leadership Fellows includes Sarah Billington, chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, the UPS Foundation Professor, and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment; Noah Diffenbaugh, chair of the Earth System Science Department, the Kara J Foundation Professor, and Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment; Haiyan Lee, chair of the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department, the Walter A. Haas Professor of the Humanities, professor of Chinese and of comparative literature, and the William and Dorothy Kaye University Fellow in Undergraduate Education; and Jonathan Taylor, department chair and professor of statistics.

Fiona Griffiths, a professor of history at Stanford, will also participate in the FAN Leadership Fellows program as part of a new Ivy+ Mellon Leadership Fellowship.

Bondy is also a professor, by courtesy, of pediatrics, associate director for population sciences at the Stanford Cancer Institute, and co-director of the Center for Population Health Sciences. Payne is also a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.