Making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Promotion, Tenure, and Re-Appointment Decisions Visible

May 27, 2021

Photo by Luke Webb from Pexels

By Hava Rachel Gordon, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Criminology, ODEI Fellow for CAHSS

The College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee has prioritized development of DEI training for promotion, tenure, and reappointment committees. This goal has become a cross-unit effort, with ODEI Fellows from GSPP, NSM, and Korbel joining me to develop a more robust process for valuing and making visible the many forms of DEI work faculty do for their students, colleagues, subfields, and communities—both on and off campus. This work is essential for student, faculty, and staff retention; innovation in research and teaching; and the University’s commitment to the public good. Yet, this DEI work is often rendered invisible or unimportant in our promotion deliberations.

Although CAHSS and other units on campus have encouraged faculty to report DEI contributions to research, teaching, and service on annual reports, for example, we still lack guidance for promotion committees on whether or not and how to evaluate such contributions. This silence dovetails with a number of common biases in the promotion process. Research demonstrates that bias in promotion processes systematically disadvantages BIPOC faculty, women faculty, and LGBTQI+ faculty in the following ways:

  • Promotion committees unconsciously give preferences to people who remind them of themselves, and more critically assess the qualifications and scholarly pursuits of those who do not.
  • Student stereotypes translate into lower teaching evaluations for BIPOC, LGBTQI+, and women faculty, which can play a role in negative promotion decisions.
  • BIPOC faculty (especially women) carry heavier service burdens, and this engagement in service is more likely to be undervalued in promotion decisions at research-intensive universities.
  • BIPOC faculty are more likely to face questions about their legitimacy as scholars, especially when they research BIPOC communities.
  • BIPOC, LGBTQI+, and women faculty often face exclusion from informal academic communities that can be sources of support for promotion and retention.

As part of an effort to value DEI labor by making it visible, we are compiling a list of possible activities that promotion or reappointment candidates can and should report in their annual merit and promotion statements, and that committees should consider as merit- and promotion-worthy. The list is informed by similar initiatives within the University of California System, the University of Oregon, and smaller liberal arts colleges. It is also partially generated by DU faculty.

In regards to faculty research productivity or creative work, here is a sampling of DEI achievements we can value in promotion decisions:

  • Research or creative activity in a faculty member’s area of expertise that involves inequalities or barriers for inclusion of underrepresented groups
  • Intellectual themes or trajectories that examine patterns of representation, incorporation, or inclusion within a faculty member’s area of expertise
  • Grant seeking or obtaining that provides funding for research that focuses on equity, inclusion, and diversity
  • Scholarly productivity in particular texts, data sets, methodological practices, theories, or creative discourses that involve equity and inclusion within a faculty member’s area of expertise
  • Research interests that contribute to diversity and equal opportunity, for example, research that addresses:
    • Race, ethnicity, gender, multiculturalism, and inclusion on health disparities, educational access and achievement, political engagement, economic justice, social mobility, civil, and human rights
    • Questions of interest to communities historically excluded by higher education
    • Artistic expression and cultural production that reflect culturally diverse communities or voices not well represented in the arts and humanities.

In regards to teaching, these are some activities we can value in promotion decisions:

  • Curricular Diversity: Curriculum that prepares students to critically interrogate and engage with a global, multicultural, and rapidly changing world as scholars and citizens
  • Access and Success: Pedagogy promoting equitable access to resources and opportunities that create conditions for success in the classroom and other learning environments
  • Inclusive Climate: Pedagogy fostering learning environments in which students who are members of underrepresented populations are socially and culturally included
  • Advising: Academic advising for students from underrepresented and underserved populations
    Professional Development: Participation in professional development activities that lead to greater understanding and work toward equity-minded teaching practices
  • Additional Supports: Advising and mentoring roles, such as working with students on summer scholarship or long-term projects, helping with internship placements or national fellowship and scholarship applications, career advising, and on research and publication.

In regards to service, here are some important forms of service we can value in promotion decisions:

  • Contributions furthering diversity and equal opportunity within and beyond the college, through participation in such activities as recruitment, retention, and mentoring of colleagues and students.
  • Service that contributes to inclusion, equity, or access; examples might include:
    • Curricular Diversity: Service that works to ensure a curriculum that prepares students to critically interrogate and engage with a global, multicultural, and rapidly changing world as scholars and citizens
    • Access and Success: Service that aims to promote equitable access to resources and opportunities that provide conditions for success for students, faculty, and staff
    • Inclusive Climate: Service that fosters environments in which students, faculty, and staff who are members of underrepresented populations are socially and culturally included
    • Contributions to student life; this might include such activities as:
      • Working with student clubs and organizations
      • Mentoring students, as distinct from advising or counseling them; may involve activities such as guiding underrepresented students and helping them adapt to college
    • Participation in academic preparation, outreach, tutoring, pipeline, or other programs designed to remove barriers facing women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, and other individuals who are members of groups historically excluded from higher education
    • Recognition that candidates may engage in more service activities because of their group membership

These lists are not exhaustive and likely miss other important forms of faculty labor. We are currently working with each other and with university leadership to shape these items into usable checklists for promotion candidates and committees in a pilot program for the 2021-2022 academic year. If we say we value DEI as an institution, we must find ways to make this critical work both visible and valuable in the most consequential decisions we make.

If you would like to join this effort, or if you have some contributing thoughts, please email me at

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