UNLV prides itself on a sundry student population; a heterogenous representation of backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and genders. As a Minority-Serving Institution rich with diversity and committed to equity, “access to world-class educational experiences that are responsive to the needs of our students and stakeholders'' is a cornerstone of our mission.
Delivering on that promise, however requires a diverse academic and administrative faculty roster, too. A new program is aimed at purposefully cultivating that diversity throughout the entire recruitment process.
The Numbers, the Challenge, the Solution
Like many universities around the country, UNLV realized the need to create and implement a program that fosters a diverse candidate pool for positions in order to more accurately reflect the faces in the seats of classrooms across our campuses.
“We want students to have the confidence and tools to be successful. For many, and according to the numbers, that goal is better achieved with a diverse faculty that reflects the student population,” said Michelle Hogan, director of compensation and talent acquisition.
Statistically, students achieve greater success when the individuals teaching and leading them look like them. According to Intercultural Education, research shows that “overall graduation rates for underrepresented minority students of all races/ethnicities are positively affected by increased diversity of their faculty.” Furthermore, the Review of Higher Education postulates that “students of color in predominantly white institutions (PWIs) are more likely to persist toward degree completion when they have faculty members of color as role models.”
Hogan and a team consisting of Kimberly Kendricks, search advocate coach/associate program director and Tod Fitzpatrick (retired), former senior advisor to the previous president, sought to help UNLV achieve a more equitable pool of candidates during the hiring process. After receiving the fall 2019 student-to-full-time and -instructional-faculty ratios from the office of decision support, the UNLV entity responsible for supporting the University leadership in its commitment to accountability and evidence-based decision making, Hogan and her team found disparities that further supported the need for a structured approach to the recruitment process to help close the gaps.
“The goal for this kind of initiative is to enhance diversity, ensure equity, and solidify validity throughout the search process,” says Kendricks.
Through their research, the committee learned that Oregon State University (OSU) had been training universities throughout the United States on how to implement a search advocate program. Their program has received national attention for faculty search diversity awareness, which resulted in a 14% increase in diverse hires during the 2014-15 cycle, a testament to its 12-year run and 800-plus search advocate trainees.
“OSU's Search Advocate Program had long been admired by senior administration and the question was posed if such a program would be successful at UNLV," Kendricks says. "Tod Fitzpatrick and I flew to Oregon to be trained as search advocates and speak to OSU's Director, Anne Gillies, about establishing such a program at UNLV."
Over the next year, the committee was mentored by Gillies who helped them develop a strategic plan, garner buy-in, promote the program, design comprehensive training, and coordinate logistics, a meaningful experience that allowed them to adapt OSU’s program to UNLV's unique and dynamic campus environment.
“Our program is a product of Faculty Affairs and Human Resources recognizing the disparity in diversity in professors that is reflective of our student population. Our motivation was to increase representation of academic and administrative faculty in order to increase student achievement. The hope is the Search Advocate Pilot Program will do that,” says Hogan.
The Search Advocate Pilot Program
UNLV’s Search Advocate Program is a two-year pilot initiative that uses various strategies to help diversify the recruitment process. There are 20 members of the program, known as search advocates, who have received training from Oregon State University’s search advocate program and who have served on various committees for academic and administrative faculty recruitments. The program’s three priorities are to:
- Increase the diversity of candidate pools
- Ensure equitable practices and treatment of all parties participating in the search process
- Guarantee compliance with university search and hire policies and procedures
“Some of the strategies to diversify a search are doing outreach outside of a small network and advertising in more places. Going outside the scope of a network allows for a more diverse pool and from that pool, ideally, a candidate is picked based on experience,” says Hogan.
What is a Search Advocate?
A search advocate is an ex-officio member of the search committee. They are academic and administrative faculty who have been trained to serve on academic and administrative faculty search committees.
Additionally, advocates are compensated for their time as they play vital roles in each stage of the recruitment process including:
- Contributing to the development, placement, and promotion of a job ad
- Providing feedback and resources on evaluation rubrics for screening and interviews
- Recognizing and minimizing the impacts of cognitive and structural biases
- Promoting national recruitment best practices
- Working in partnership with the assigned HR recruitment coordinator
Search advocates are trained to identify and eliminate both unconscious and implicit biases at all stages of the recruitment process in order to advance equity and fairness by affirming UNLV’s commitment to inclusive excellence.
They use their training and tools to help search committee members build a candidate pool that speaks to the needs of the position without falling prey to some of the unconscious roadblocks that can create bias during the hiring process.
“Advocates help to evaluate interview questions by introducing different types of rubrics that can be used for screening,” says Kendricks.
They are meant to bring value to search committees. They also serve as a bridge to the HR recruitment office.
“In the fall of 2022, I co-chaired an academic search that had been assigned a search advocate during the program's first year. The experience was career-changing. As a white associate professor, I learned to (in our search advocate's words) 'reduce ignorance.' Our advocate taught us how to replace our 'best search intentions' with concrete practices that are both rigorous and unique. I'm here to 'pay it forward' because the search advocate program challenges us all, as members of the UNLV community, to hire and support a faculty and administration that is as diverse as its students,” says Stefani Relles, search advocate and associate professor in the department of educational psychology and higher education.
Another purpose of a search advocate is to help maintain respect and inclusiveness throughout the recruitment process with the goal of finding the best person for the job by focusing on the position description, helping committees understand the characteristics needed, and where to search for candidates with strong experience and qualifications.
“Advocates are not on committees to police the process, but rather to help the program maximize its reach,” says Hogan.
Serving as a search advocate is a dynamic avenue by which individuals can contribute to UNLV’s mission to continue growing the university and make it a place that integrates and celebrates the beautiful cultures that represent our student population. It is an opportunity to exercise leadership skills while guiding search committees through a recruitment process that finds candidates who meet the needs of the university on multiple fronts.
“I have been with UNLV for about ten years, so I bleed scarlet and gray, and being a search advocate is one of the ways I give back to my UNLV family,” says Alejandro Chacon, assistant director of employer engagement in Career Services.
How to Request a Search Advocate
When a department is ready to start the recruitment process, they can request a search advocate by completing the Search Advocate form. Advocates contribute valuable insights throughout the hiring process, including the development of the job ad, making it imperative for units to request a search advocate before acquiring a requisition number for the vacant position. The advocate then conducts a kick-off meeting with the search/department/unit head/dean/division head to discuss the Search Advocate Pilot Program and to begin the recruitment proceedings.
The Search Advocate Program is all about helping students reach graduation and contribute to society in a way that positively reflects their time at UNLV. By diversifying faculty and other academic-facing positions through initiatives like the Search Advocate Pilot Program, it helps to ensure a purposeful, equitable, and best practices recruitment process that will grow and advance our university to reach its Top Tier 2.0 mission by hiring individuals who exemplify our campus values for the sake of helping students materialize their own goals.
For more information about the Search Advocate Program, contact Michelle Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kimberly Kendricks at email@example.com.