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New Report From APLU & Other Higher Ed Groups Finds University “Cluster” Hiring Can Be Effective for Increasing Faculty Diversity and Improving Campus Climate

April 30, 2015

A new report released by a group of three leading higher education organizations—the Coalition for Urban Serving Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Association for American Medical Colleges, which have partnered as “Urban Universities for HEALTH”—finds that faculty “cluster” hiring, an emerging practice designed to expand interdisciplinary research, can also be used to increase faculty diversity and cultivate a more inclusive campus climate.

The report, Faculty Cluster Hiring for Diversity and Institutional Climate, is the product of research conducted with universities that have developed cluster hiring programs.

“Cluster hiring is a very valuable strategy for public universities, all of whom want to recruit the best faculty and get ahead in a competitive research landscape,” said Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson. “Attracting a diverse group of scholars who arrive with the intention of collaborating across disciplinary lines with a collegial group of scholars helps universities propel themselves toward research excellence and ensure success for the diverse student populations they serve.”

Faculty cluster hiring is an innovative strategy that involves recruiting new faculty into multiple disciplines and engaging them in collaborative, interdisciplinary research topics across the university. The strategy promises to transform higher education through the development of diverse research teams that will address some of society’s most complex challenges.

Evidence from this study and others suggest that diversity and an inclusive campus climate are critically important for institutional excellence.  Diverse teams have been shown to produce higher-quality research outcomes and unique solutions to problems, as well as an improved learning environment for all students. An inclusive climate also helps retain talented faculty and students, ensuring that the university graduates a workforce that meets community needs.

“Many universities have begun to hire new faculty into these clusters to accelerate research and create collaborations across disciplines,” said Susan Phillips, senior vice president for academic affairs at SUNY Downstate, vice president for strategic partnerships at University at Albany, SUNY, and chair of the advisory committee that led the study. “What we learned through this study is that with the right focus and support for implementation, cluster hiring can also be used to build a diverse group of faculty that will not only be successful, but also collaborate with each other, engage with their communities, and enrich the teaching and learning environment.”

However, the authors noted that these outcomes are highly dependent on the university’s goals for the cluster, as well as the way in which the cluster hiring program is implemented. Successful institutions made diversity goals explicit and developed supporting strategies to achieve those goals. They also dedicated resources and infrastructure to support the clusters, and ensured new hires were given credit for collaborative work they performed as part of the cluster in the tenure and promotion process.

Urban Universities for HEALTH

Urban Universities for HEALTH (Health Equity through Alignment, Leadership and Transformation of the Health Workforce), a partnership effort of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). Urban Universities for HEALTH aims to improve evidence and the use of data that will help universities enhance and expand a culturally sensitive, diverse and prepared health workforce that will improve health and health equity in underserved urban communities. To learn more, visit www.urbanuniversitiesforhealth.org.

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