Stanford affiliates welcome IDEAL race and ethnicity fellowship, question if it goes far enough

Nov. 2, 2020, 8:30 p.m.

Students and faculty are hopeful that the IDEAL Provostial Fellows program, an initiative that aims to expand research and teaching related to race and ethnicity at Stanford, will advance efforts to diversify faculty. However, they reiterated calls for the University to departmentalize African and African American Studies (AAAS) and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE). 

Despite recent efforts to increase the diversity of Stanford faculty, in the 2019-20 academic year only 7% of professoriate faculty and 16% of staff identified as underrepresented minorities (URM). In contrast, 29% of undergraduate students identified as URM.

The IDEAL fellows program, which launched on Oct. 8, will bring four to five early-career scholars of race and ethnicity to Stanford, and aims to increase the diversity of the University’s faculty. Some advocates are calling for the University to explicitly recruit Black and minority scholars for the role.

The program is one of several measures announced by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne in late June to advance racial justice in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, and is as an extension of the University’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) presidential initiative. The IDEAL initiative, established in 2018 as part of the University’s long-range vision, seeks to enhance diversity and promote a culture of inclusion at Stanford.

C. Matthew Snipp, vice provost of faculty diversity, development and engagement, and professor of sociology told The Daily that in the past, University departments and programs were unable to support advanced doctoral students or recent graduates even though many of them had the potential to become faculty members in the future. 

Snipp said that he is hopeful that this program will offer structure and support for early-career scholars studying race and ethnicity, and “let them burnish their publication record, get experience teaching, and at the end of three years, they could be very attractive as faculty to departments here at Stanford.”

In response to advocates’ criticism that the IDEAL Fellows program does not do enough to increase faculty diversity by not making race or ethnicity a criteria for selection, Snipp said that the “preponderance of the faculty” in the Faculty Development Initiative, a similar recruitment program that promotes the study of race and ethnicity, “are of underrepresented minority heritage.”

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda told The Daily that “A number of programs have been established at Stanford to enhance the university’s ability to recruit and retain a diverse faculty — which can include scholars from underrepresented groups, as well as others who bring additional dimensions to the university’s research and teaching programs,” including the Faculty Incentive Fund and the Faculty Development Initiative.

Students and professors say they are optimistic the program could help increase the number of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty in the long-term, as well as expand race and ethnicity studies course offerings. 

Many urged Stanford to better support existing programs as well and to ensure that the new program is only the first step in a broader effort to achieve anti-racism in academia.

Jonathan Rosa, Program in Chicanx-Latinx Studies director and Graduate School of Education professor, said that he was “hopeful and excited” about “any effort to support junior scholars,” but emphasized the importance of using the IDEAL fellows program to “contribute specifically to AAAS and CSRE.”

While Rosa acknowledged that “our rhetoric around critique needs to be met with just as committed rhetoric and just as committed effort in terms of building things,” he is concerned that the program would merely recruit scholars “just to add flavor to our existing programs and departments.”

“Are people who work in race and ethnic studies just seasoning for these departments, or are we trying to reconstitute a university, and a world, that has not been attentive to these issues in the ways that it needs to?” Rosa questioned.

Similarly, Mohammad Gumma ’22, Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) racial justice co-director, felt disappointed about the program’s lack of explicit focus on the Black community. He criticized the University’s aim to “combat anti-Blackness … without intentionally recruiting Black scholars who specifically study Black experiences.”

He urged the University, along with revising the IDEAL fellows program to recruit Black scholars, to “follow the lead of peer institutions like Princeton and departmentalize Black Studies now. Black lives matter in academia too.”

Echoing Gumma, Rosa said that along with many other colleagues, he has been “deeply concerned about the way in which no faculty are formally appointed in AAAS and CSRE” and encouraged students to advocate for departmentalization, noting that “students have a tremendous capacity to organize and demand change.” 

Miranda wrote that “the potential departmentalization of AAAS or CSRE requires careful thought and planning as well as strong commitments from faculty,” and that the process requires faculty input, and approval from the dean of the school, the provost and the Faculty Senate. “The recently announced Framework Task Force will recommend new infrastructure for the study of race at Stanford” to the provost and dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Despite criticism, many remain optimistic about the ways in which the program will redistribute resources toward traditionally underfunded and under-prioritized fields, increasing the diversity of faculty in the long-term.

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu said faculty of color mentor and advise students in addition to their regular duties, providing “free labor,” in ways that are “compensating for the lack of faculty the IDEAL program is supposed to help with,” but which is “never realized in other than perfunctory ways.”

“If this changes, it will greatly increase the likelihood that the IDEAL program will attract the scholars they want,” Palumbo-Liu said, adding that it is “definitely a much-needed step in the right direction.”

Rosa, who is also hopeful that the program will increase support for URM faculty, cited a similar program implemented at the University of Chicago in 2009, which substantially increased diversity among the school’s faculty “because of the pipeline that it created from a fellowship to a faculty position.”

Palumbo-Liu also shared optimism for how students and departments at Stanford will gain access to a “more robust and exciting set of course offerings,” as well as more “mentors and role models.”

“I believe this will excite students more about learning in general, and about being part of a growing community,” Palumbo-Liu said.

Snipp told The Daily that the discrepancy between URM faculty and students can be attributed to Stanford and other universities’ low faculty turnover rate. Snipp said that Stanford faculty typically stay at the University for a period that ranges on average from 20 to 30 years, while the University accepts a new cohort of students each year. 

Snipp said another factor contributing to the low number of URM faculty is the historically low number of URM students attending graduate school and high attrition rates among minority graduate students. Snipp also cited the high cost of living in Silicon Valley and the pressure on first generation college students and children of immigrants to choose a career that has an immediate economic payoff following graduation.

A report from the Pew Research Center shows that while racial and ethnic diversity has increased at colleges and universities around the nation over the past two decades, professors are far more likely than their students to be white. In 2017, over three-fourths of U.S. college and university faculty were white, while only 6% of professors were Black and 5% Hispanic. 

The University will announce its first cohort of fellows in early 2021 and invite them to campus for a period of three years starting next fall. IDEAL scholars will be expected to teach at least one course every year in their host department, continue their research and engage with the campus community.

Contact Cameron Ehsan at cehsan ‘at’ and Jessica Zhu at jesszhu ‘at’

Cameron Ehsan is a junior at Stanford studying neurobiology. He served as a news editor and newsroom development director for Vol. 261 and was the Vol. 260 winter managing editor.Jessica Zhu '24 is the Vol. 264 Executive Editor and was formerly Head Copy Editor and a News desk editor. She studies international relations, human rights and French, and can probably be found at CoHo with a quad espresso.

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