The Mission of Florida FIRST in diversifying new assistant professor faculty

Emily Stewart
A Change in the Hiring Process

Despite an increase in the percent of underrepresented minority faculty (URM) at FSU over the past five years, only 15% of new hires between 2019 and 2020 were considered URM. It is Florida FIRST’s mission to enhance representation of URM through its diverse search and hiring committee of researchers from all disciplines and backgrounds, which is a reflection of the hiring committee.

The program's goal is to have the first cohort of assistant professors benefit from an environment of social acceptance, belonging, and inclusion to obtain their goals. More long term, the goal is to have the early-career faculty cohorts readying for tenure and promotion within 3 to 5 years. The successful implementation of standards in the hiring process and transition to tenure would result in 25 percent of new hires representing URM as well as an increase in the graduation rate of minority students.

The trickle-down effect

Research is an important foundation and method of changing health practices and developing transformative technologies. It helps us better understand the world around us and the diverse population it’s made of. This raises concerns about inclusivity of the work itself. Since there is a lack of diversity within institution’s research faculty; there is subsequently a lack of diversity in the research accomplished.

Dr. Millender is a co-investigator on Florida FIRST’s research team and is a co-leader in the Faculty Development Core. She is a tenured Associate Professor in the College of Nursing and an Indigenous Afro-Latina scientist dedicated to increasing health equity. “With a lack of diversity, you don’t have different perspectives or experiences to tackle potential solutions. Also, people research topics they can relate to,” said Millender

The undesirable effects of hiring a homogenous team, trickles down into the research, affecting its’ applicability to the public. Dr. Millender expressed that a diverse faculty creates credibility and trust between the researcher and the community because it is a personal or relatable issue for the researcher.

Aside from research, the composition of university faculty rarely matches the demographic profile of its student body. The lack of representation among faculty may discourage underrepresented minorities from pursuing a graduate degree. Thus, leading to an even smaller percentage of URM faculty and perpetuating the cycle of conscious or unconscious racial bias in the biomedical field when hiring.

To combat this systemic issue in America, Florida State University organized the FLORIDA FIRST Health- Science Brigade to transform the institutional culture to create a more inclusive scientific community. The university was granted $14.5 million dollars from the NIH to recruit new tenure-track assistant professors, all from diverse backgrounds, dedicated to research regarding mental health and chronic disease prevention and management through the College of Nursing, College of Medicine, and College of Arts and Sciences’ Psychology department. The program hopes to serve as a model to promote diversity excellence for the next generation of the health-science workforce.

Barriers around Tenure

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of the hired assistant professors at postsecondary institutions in 2018, only 27 percent were from diverse backgrounds. That number continues to decrease for those promoted to full-time professors.

Inequality in the hiring process does not stop there. Institutions have made it almost impossible for a small percentage of URM to be on the tenure track for their institution, where some have worked for years.

For researchers and professors from diverse backgrounds, it is easy to understand how they are continuously discouraged when there is no promise in acquiring tenure after years of hard work, publications, and dedication to an institution. This is due to racial bias in hiring committees, racism within the process of publishing academic research papers, and overall presence of racism in the healthcare industry. The lack of opportunity or deliberate denial of tenure to qualified professors is an issue that the Florida FIRST Brigade is working to systemically change in our hiring process.

The Florida FIRST program strives to set an example for universities and health-science institutions across the county.

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