The Beginning:

In spring 2006, a group of OSU faculty members approached President Ed Ray at a social event for the Association of Faculty for the Advancement of People of Color (AFAPC) which was being hosted in his home.  They wanted him to hear directly from them about what was being done—and what was NOT being done—about diversity and inclusion in OSU searches.    After learning about their experiences, the president’s concern was so great that he mandated creation of a new program of diversity advocates to serve on OSU search committees, which he announced at University Day the following September.  Responsibility for developing and managing the program was assigned to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (OAAEO).

Initially OAAEO was asked to limit the search advocate workshop to 2 ½ or 3 hours, in order to protect faculty time.  In 2007, OAAEO staff invited key faculty informants to preview a three-hour workshop and provide feedback.   These participants said that the length of the workshop prevented it from doing justice to the importance of the university’s diversity goals and the complexity of the challenges it sought to address.

The Early Years:  

Returning to the drawing board, OAAEO staff developed a pilot six-hour program.  Affirmative Action Search Advocates (as they were then known) were intended to advocate for diversity in hiring, but complementary institutional strategies and structures that correlate with a rapid increase in the diversity of faculty hiring were not yet present at OSU when the program was launched.   The 2008 Education Advisory Board report Breakthrough Advances in Faculty Diversity identified four categories of effort that correlate with significant change in the demographics of faculty hiring:

  1. Resource the recruiting effort—identifying specific faculty members to engage in ongoing recruiting efforts outside of formal searches; offer administrative support to help identify potential candidates to recruit; support “upstream recruiting” (networking and recruiting at conferences and through other opportunities outside of searches)
  2. Make the case for action—respected faculty lead academic seminars exploring peer-reviewed scholarship about bias and diversity; institutions benchmark their faculty hiring outcomes to those of their aspirational peers
  3. Establish search oversight—search process checkpoints, senior academic reviewers, commitment to intervene or suspend searches if efforts are not adequate or successful
  4. Engage in transparent planning – unit level diversity plans with performance goals reviewed by faculty, administrators, staff, and students; engagement between provost and individual deans to discuss plans; midcourse review/corrections; regular ongoing planning cycles.

Without such efforts, it seemed likely that search advocates would progress slowly in their efforts to impact hiring demographics.  With that in mind, the workshops emphasized applied learning in the context of search and selection hoping to promote cultural change throughout the university.  The goal was to “make the case for action” by providing faculty and staff with an uncomfortable awareness of the continued presence of cognitive and structural bias, privilege, oppression, and discrimination in the academy. 

The revised program was based on principles from OSU’s Difference, Power, and Discrimination program, cognitive bias scholarship from the fields of social psychology and sociology, employment research in fields from economics to education, and research about the benefits, challenges, and opportunities of diversity in the workplace.  Many participants had never had the opportunity to explore their own understanding of diversity, nor had they participated in any open discussion of OSU’s diversity hiring criterion.   OSU’s professional development programs had not established a shared, foundational understanding of diversity, cognitive and structural bias, and privilege, power, and oppression.

The new workshop version was first offered to OSU’s Extension Diversity Catalyst Team in August of 2008.  After the 2008 launch, the workshops were opened up to all OSU community members beginning in 2009. By mid-2010 the community of trained search advocates had grown to almost 100 people--mostly professional faculty, with smaller numbers of tenured faculty, students, and classified staff.   University Housing and Dining Services launched a pilot program requiring search advocates on all professional faculty searches, and later confirmed this as an ongoing policy, which it then extended to classified searches.   

When OSU announced the first “Provost’s Hiring Initiative” in 2010, Provost Sabah Randhawa required that search committees for each Provost-funded hire include a search advocate from outside the hiring department.  Dean Sherm Bloomer, then in the College of Science, required that Science use outside search advocates for all tenured/tenure-track searches during the 2010-11 academic year AND that chairs of tenure-track search committees complete search advocate training before serving as chairs.  To meet the new demand for search advocates, OAAEO offered seven two-part search advocate workshops for tenured faculty members during September and October of 2010, a number of which were co-facilitated by Sea Grant/Sociology faculty member Flaxen Conway.

In July 2011, after completion of the first round of Provost’s Hires, OAAEO and Academic Affairs sponsored a 20 hour advanced seminar for self-selected search advocates who had served on Provost’s Initiative search committees during the previous year.  This was a learning session for advocates, but also a development session for the search advocate program, which changed significantly in response to participant input. It was because of this group that that the program name changed from “Affirmative Action Search Advocate” to simply “Search Advocate,” to reflect the seminar participants’ strong belief that they were advocating for diversity, equity, and integrity of the search and selection process overall, not just bringing an affirmative action perspective to search and selection.

Strategic Development

The Search Advocate program today reflects feedback, insights, and suggestions from the over 1000 OSU community members who have participated in the workshops since 2008.  It now includes a 10-hour introductory workshop series, plus a variety of quality assurance components including the ongoing community of practice, regular update workshops, advocate coaching by the Program Director and others, an annual continuing education requirement, and a community listserv.  In response to search advocate questions, we have provided specific resources addressing known candidates and conflicts of interest, developing diversity in the position description, and the legal environment for university search and selection.