Thematic Faculty Hires Foster Diversity Across the University

October 20, 2011

Students don’t fully benefit from diversity on campus unless the faculty is truly diverse—intellectually and culturally. There must be a critical mass of diverse faculty and staff, and diversity must be integrated into the key elements of the institution’s organizational culture and behavior. The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement’s thematic hiring process works with colleges and schools across campus to establish the critical mass needed to effectively influence the institution, while fostering a robust intellectual community.


Dr. Keisha Bentley has added expertise to the faculties of the Department of Educational Psychology, the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies.

The thematic hiring initiative was conceived by Dr. Edmund T. Gordon, now head of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies. Gordon has pushed for the university to hire more faculty from underrepresented groups since 1988 when he arrived on campus to teach in the Department of Anthropology. When Dr. Gregory J. Vincent came on board as vice provost for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Effectiveness in 2005, there was the opportunity to formalize the thematic hiring process.

Since 2005 there have been 39 faculty hires and two visiting professors hired through the thematic hiring initiative; this year five thematic hires are in process. Vincent explained that early on he reached out to deans who expressed a need or had a track record in diverse hires. The initiative has reached across campus, making a difference in the colleges of Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and Education and in the schools of Law and Architecture.


Dr. Lok Siu’s research explores how Asians dispersed through the Americas share a cultural identity through diaspora, although they live in very different places.

A thematic hiring priority this year is reaching out to colleges and schools in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. It is Vincent’s goal to develop thematic hires with every dean, school, and college on campus. Vincent and Dr. M. Lynn Crismon, dean of the College of Pharmacy, have been working on a thematic hire this year.

Crismon does not need to be sold on the value of diversity or the thematic hiring process. The College of Pharmacy has one of the most diverse faculties on campus, with nearly one-third of faculty members being African American, Hispanic, or in recruiting and developing a diverse student body. The fact that our Doctor of Pharmacy program is now a majority minority program is evidence that we are achieving our goals of having a diverse community.”


Dr. Charles Carson brought new perspectives in musicology to the Butler School of Music.

The concept of thematic hiring is rooted in filling gaps in academic areas, but is strategic. “The areas of thematic hires are not add-ons but part of each college’s strategic initiatives,” Vincent emphasized.

By working with provost, deans, and department heads, DDCE is able to help identify potential scholars who would bring new areas of research to the university and to offer lines of funding to support the new hires.

Dr. Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts (COLA), has had the most experience with thematic hires. He said, “Thematic hiring has helped open areas of scholarship in Liberal Arts that we never imagined.” Recent hires have included faculty in the Department of Anthropology, the Center for Asian American Studies, the newly formed Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and the John Warfield Center for African and African American Studies.

The processes used to identify areas of scholarship lacking within particular schools and colleges vary. COLA relies on a committee that includes the heads of the three ethnic studies centers and other distinguished faculty. “The committee advises me on possible areas of scholarship where we should look at thematic hires. These have included new approaches to studying migration and immigration issues, very timely and relevant issues in the world,” said Diehl.

Crismon explained that identifying new areas of scholarship in the College of Pharmacy is not a straightforward process because of the accreditation requirements for the Doctor of Pharmacy program. The college must have faculty expertise within a variety of areas, he said, “thus we must acquire the necessary teaching capability through one mechanism or another.” Within the college’s graduate programs, faculty identify research priorities. Crismon said this year a collaborative research retreat will help the College of Pharmacy establish a roadmap for new research-focused hires over the next five years.

Crismon said the new thematic hire will have a focus on research into health care disparities among people with chronic or serious diseases. “In teaching our Doctor of Pharmacy students, we attempt to help them understand both the effects of genetics and culture on health behavior and outcomes. Health care disparities is an emerging research area in both our social and behavioral sciences and clinical sciences graduate education and research programs,” he said.

Crismon added that the new hire will assist with the recruitment of a diverse graduate student population and foster collaborative research among faculty. “I would also hope that this faculty member would make available an elective in health care disparities to undergraduate students at UT Austin.”

Thematic hiring has no doubt been successful in adding new

areas of study to the university’s course offerings, and there are signs that diverse faculty and diverse course offerings make a difference to students. Recently after a 10-year hiatus, the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students was reinstated. The strong hires made in the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies have made possible the formation of the new Department of African and African Diaspora Studies. And, perhaps as another indicator of the initiative’s effectiveness, Dr. Vincent noted, “In this challenging economic climate, President Powers remains committed to thematic faculty hiring as a way to further develop a diverse faculty on campus.”

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