that we could help facilitate the ability to create pathways for students at the very earliest stages of their development to reach their dreams and aspirations, whether those aspirations ran through NYU or another higher education institution. So that's the kind of thinking that led to structured programs starting as early as middle school and running all the way through post-graduate education, with the goal of feeding into academic careers and careers outside of the academy.
What is it about NYU that attracts the types of faculty you’ve been working with?
I think potential faculty members, like many folks on the outside looking in, see an institution that is large in an extremely diverse city, and one that has a footprint across the world. And they see the potential for impact written all over that. They see an institution that can help facilitate their desire to impact the world beyond what they might be capable of doing as one individual faculty member..
What have been your priorities in recruiting and supporting new faculty?
Much of the work has started from a recognition that the faculty at NYU, like at pretty much every one of our peers institutions, does not look like our student body. And so I looked at our data to ask the question: How long would it take at our current pace to have our faculty composition match the diversity of our student body? And, at that pace, it would take something like 30-plus years. And so I think for a long time that's been the recognition—that we do ‘okay’ but we have not significantly increased the proportion of our faculty that are from underrepresented groups. And so then the question becomes: How do we do so at a pace that meets the urgency and need that’s particularly driven by our student body? What has been clear is that it takes fairly extraordinary measures to accomplish that.
And that’s where Faculty First-Look comes in?
That was a program that I developed when I was still associate dean in Steinhart. We said, let's find talented doctoral students of color or students that are completing their terminal degrees a year or two years before they're coming into the job market. Let's identify them then. Let's bring them into the institution. Let's introduce them to other faculty and staff around the university. Let's give them a sense of what the hiring process is like.
We had a little bit of money to play with, and we came up with a description of the program and we basically circulated it on social media. We figured we would get seven, eight, nine people to be part of this pilot. We ended up with, I think, something on the order of about 120 applications in a span of about 10 days. The word spread like wildfire. And we ultimately decided on a cohort of 30 that we could reasonably bring in and support.
I remember that first cohort said that what was most Earth-shattering for them was looking around the room and seeing 29 other people like them. Same stories, same aspirations, same challenges, same struggles. What they saw was that they now had a community. When I started here in the provost’s office, one of the things that then-Provost Katie Fleming asked me to do was to expand the program across other schools. And so that has since expanded beyond Steinhart to Arts and Science, Tandon, and Stern.
How many of those original 30 have found jobs in academia? All of them have gone on to find jobs and do great work in and adjacent to academia, aSome have gone from the post-doc into faculty careers here at NYU. That, in essence, represents the outcome that we are shooting for. We are preparing professors who will help diversify our own faculty, but also diversify higher education more broadly.
What other methods are helping to diversify the faculty ranks?
The Cluster Hiring Initiative emerged post George Floyd. It’s a way of facilitating the ability to recruit faculty differently than we typically do, which is: We get approval for a position, we task a search committee, we sift through those applicants, and we make the choice. The cluster initiative says: What if we think about hiring faculty collaboratively across departments and across schools based on their ability to address a given issue or social problem? What would it look like for us to be able to say we're not just going to put out some ads and see who walks through the door? We're going to proactively go out and search for the best team of faculty.
It’s a change in the culture of hiring across the university in terms of having departments being seriously collaborative and having a stake in a group of faculty. We're going to be on each other's committees. We're going to review the materials of people who apply. We're going to make joint decisions about who we bring in. And catalyzing a search process that is pushing us toward building up a diverse faculty will serve us as an institution better down the line.
Academia does not have a reputation for being especially nimble in updating its processes. How have all of these changes come about?
By and large, most people buy into the necessity for us to really diversify our ranks in many different ways. The challenge usually is about two things: collaboration and resources. I tell one anecdote about the start of the Cluster Hiring Initiative, which I started by gathering a group of faculty and other university leaders. And some said Charlton, I'm here because you asked me. But I'm not interested in another empty, shallow show where we say we are going to do something but then not really put enough effort or resources behind it. Others were only interested in being part of an initiative that would also focus on retention. So I felt very personally that my capital was on the line because I was saying hey, we can't do this without you. And then me trying to assure them that the institution and the leadership would, to the best of our ability, try to do this the right way, meant putting the right amount of resources behind it. And long story short, we've been able to make good on that. And by we I mean our Deans who commit the funds for faculty lines, and the provost's office that has committed resources to support hiring and ongoing support for cluster faculty once they arrive.