Drexel Provost Brian Blake and Rutgers Law Vice Dean Kim Mutcherson shared their perspectives on diversity in higher education at a panel moderated by Dean Daniel Filler on Sept. 17.
As Drexel’s chief academic officer and a leader in hiring at Rutgers Law-Camden, Blake and Mutcherson both acknowledged that their respective positions give them important opportunities to promote diversity at their respective institutions.
Academic institutions need to encourage participation by underrepresented and marginalized groups, not only in recruitment of students but also in faculty and leadership posts, Mutcherson said. In addition, she said, academic institutions should encourage diverse viewpoints and experiences and create an environment that allows for discussion when problems arise.
Hiring committees play an influential role, Mutcherson said, and the make-up of those groups should be diverse. Candidates are sometimes ruled out because of a perceived “lack of fit,” a narrative that Mutcherson said “is often about implicit bias in ways that people don’t talk about.”
Blake said he hopes Drexel will continue to broaden its curriculum to encourage diversity but that encouraging steps have already been taken, such as the creation of a commencement event that recognizes black graduates.
Serving as an academic leader has not shielded Blake from indignities that black people commonly encounter. Before being permitted to park in a Drexel lot, Blake said, his credentials have been thoroughly checked.
Mutcherson, describing herself as “an angry black woman,” said she considers it both a privilege and a duty to advocate for change.
If she weren’t willing to “call people on their stuff,” Mutcherson asked, “what’s the point of me having this job?”
On a purely tactical level, Mutcherson said she has sought to hire diverse adjunct faculty to ensure that students learn from professors from diverse backgrounds.
At the Kline School of Law, Filler said he shares a similar commitment to diversifying the faculty, appointing a diverse hiring committee to recruit new professors. In lieu of relying on a diversity officer, Filler said, the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee has representatives from all sectors of the law school community: faculty, students and staff to foster a community that is welcoming to all.
The event was the first program in a series of discussions the Diversity and Inclusion Committee is sponsoring this year toward that end.