UNC-Chapel Hill halts diversity hiring program due to budget concerns

As UNC-Chapel Hill eyes its budgets due to the financial hit of COVID-19, one of the early casualties is its minority hiring program VITAE (Valuing Inclusion to Attain Excellence).

The program seeks to “attract accomplished and talented new faculty members from underrepresented and other groups for tenure track or tenured appointments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

There was faculty concern when word got around that the program had been halted. But that isn’t intended to be permanent, university Provost Bob Blouin told a meeting of the Faculty Executive Committee on Monday.

“As my office also is having to wrestle with the budget challenges, I have in talking to [UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz]…we decided just as we put so many other hiring initiatives on pause until we have a better idea of the financial ramifications, I put that program on pause,” Blouin said.

UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Bob Blouin speaks to the school’s Faculty Executive Committee Monday.

According to UNC-Chapel Hill, the VITAE program is part of the campus’ effort to create a more diverse faculty.  Hires “may include individuals who grew up in economically disadvantaged circumstances, individuals with substantial professional experience working with minority and economically disadvantaged populations; individuals doing significant research on issues that disproportionately affect minority and disadvantaged populations; and individuals whose teaching or research specialty is in a field that is currently underrepresented in the University faculty.”

The program provides “up to full-salary for a period of up to 4 years at the discretion of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost,” but only $100,000 per year is available through the program. The university expects the unit into which the employee is hired to assume the full cost after an initial four year period.

The names of those hired through the program are kept confidential “so as to create a climate of equity among the faculty.”

Blouin said the decision to pause the program isn’t ideological or a reflection of the university’s commitment to diversity.

“I need to be sure we have the resources to support those hires,” Blouin said.

“This is a temporary issue,” Blouin said. “I want to be very clear — this is not an attempt on the part of South Building walking away from our VITAE hiring program. It’s been a critical program for us as a university, to contribute toward the diversification of this university. It’s just for a few months. We have to take a break and not make any additional financial commitments out of the provost’s office until we have a much clearer view of where we stand. Then it is my hope that we will start that up sooner than later.”

Programs like VITAE are part of the UNC System’s overall diversity efforts.

In November, the UNC System offered a first look at the work of its Racial Equity Task Force — results from online surveys of students, faculty and staff as well as information from virtual town halls.

At its first meeting the task force heard a report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey results that found the system falling below its benchmarks. In fact, the results were worse than those from 2018.

The UNC System has specifically set a goal to improve “equity in hiring, promotions, tenure and compensation.”

In last year’s round of surveys, more than four in 10 faculty and staff members said they feel opportunities for leadership roles, tenure track or promotions are, at best, “only sometimes” equitable.

The same surveys found that more than half of faculty and 41 percent of staff would describe the UNC System leadership as not very or at all committed to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive system.

 

“Recruiting and retaining diverse faculty & staff” and “investigating & correcting inequities in tenure, promotions and compensation” were both top three priorities for faculty and staff, according to the surveys.

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