SENATE MATTERS: Diversity and community-engaged work should be rewarded


The Faculty Assembly this week gave its strong support to two initiatives that may offer a fundamental change in how we think about promotion and tenure at the University of Pittsburgh.

Specifically, the Assembly endorsed two sets of recommendations from a provost’s advisory committee convened to address how to consider diversity, equity and inclusion work and community-engaged scholarship in the promotion and tenure process.

The centrality of these concepts at Pitt is codified in the Plan for Pitt and in much of the work already occurring here. But assessing these efforts when it comes time for tenure and promotion is a vital step in assuring that our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and to community-engaged scholarship exists beyond simple platitudes and beyond some niche side interests of a few members of our community but are part of our guiding principles moving forward as an institution.

This initiative provides a solution to the problems inherent in interrupting a vicious cycle whereby an institution may under-produce some benefit that will move the institution forward, because the institution itself is stuck. We do not have enough people doing this important work because we do not currently reward it properly. But rewarding it properly is difficult, because too few people here engage in this important work.

Units differ in how much they already do to reward community-engaged scholarship and diversity, equity and inclusion work, and disciplines differ in how much and how long they have valued this kind of work as well. This set of recommendations, then, speaks to a diverse campus in a variety of ways, meeting units where they are right now and simplifying their efforts toward doing more.

To address this diversity, these recommendations maintain flexibility at the unit level and provide guidance for three audiences:

  • Units that have been encouraging and rewarding this work on their own for a long time but have faced uncertainty as to how those efforts are assessed at the level of the provost. For them, these initiatives will provide clarity.

  • Units that want to encourage and reward more of this work but do not know how to start. For them, these initiatives provide guidance, based on learned experiences both within and beyond the University of Pittsburgh in how to assess the work.

  • Units that do little to none of this work. For them, these initiatives provide a catalyst for how to incorporate the work in a way that is discipline-specific ethical, responsible and rigorous.

This approach is new, and some may be confused as to why it is necessary to consider this work in tenure and promotion. Aren’t people doing it already? Are the benefits to the institution great enough to merit this high-level consideration?

To answer this question, I point to an example from my own experience in this past week. Just prior to the Faculty Assembly meeting where we discussed these initiatives, I attended a workshop as part of Pitt’s annual Provost’s Diversity Institute for Faculty Development. Led by Sabina E. Vaught from our School of Education and Christopher Wright of the Center for Urban Education, the workshop focused on the nature of power structures, an issue I’d addressed many times as a political scientist, but never based in this particular literature, which I had never read.

I’m convinced that experience will make me a better and more effective teacher and researcher. I am now better at my job — and I was just one of more than 30 participants! By providing that forum, Vaught and Wright provided exponential benefit to the University’s core goals in teaching, research and service. This isn’t some “side hustle” to pass the time when they are not engaging in their “real” work. Theirs is powerful work that is moving our institution closer to the place we want to be. Shouldn’t we reward that?

Kris Kanthak is vice president of Senate Council and a political science professor.