Center for Women at Emory Director Dona Yarbrough, the newly-appointed associate vice provost for the Center for Community and Diversity, has turned her attention to broadening the cultural spectrum of Emory’s faculty through a new hiring and recruitment initiative.

Starting with the College of Arts and Sciences, Yarbrough plans to revolutionize faculty hiring and recruiting by creating a new diversity reporting system, training faculty search committees and developing a new faculty recruitment guidebook.

Though student diversity and affirmative action remain hot topics of public debate, Emory and other peer institutions report that student body diversity exceeds that of school faculty.

“Efforts to increase faculty diversity at Emory and many institutions have plateaued over the last 10 years,” said Yarbrough, a former director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center. “We need to be more intentional in our efforts.”

According to the 2011 Diversity Profile, a demographics report conducted by the Emory University Offices of Community and Diversity, Equal Opportunity Programs and Institutional Research, less than 28 percent of Emory’s faculty identified as a minority in 2009, up from around 20 percent 10 years prior. Just under 38 percent of students fit the minority description in 2009, approximately a 13 percent increase from that of 1999.

In terms of gender representation, around 56 percent of students and almost 38 percent of faculty were female in 2009. Ten years earlier, female students represented about 56 percent of the student body, while just over 31 percent of Emory faculty members were women. Thanks to Yarbrough’s initiative, such statistics may potentially converge.

“Higher education has accrued a large body of research and best practices related to faculty diversity over the last 20 years,” Yarbrough said. “The guidebook and my conversations with faculty are based on this evidence and experience.”

Some, like Rui Zhao, an Emory economics professor from China, warn against positive discrimination within the hiring process, a source of controversy stemming from efforts to enhance student diversity at major colleges and universities.

“I believe there are excellent teachers and researchers within any culture background,” Zhao said. “Emory should provide equal opportunity but not practice affirmative action.”

She suggests that a multicultural environment could be better cultivated through student activities and outside talks, but not necessarily through faculty, as “their main job is to teach and do research.”

Affirmative action, often criticized as reverse discrimination, was ruled unconstitutional in the 2003 landmark court case Gratz v. Bollinger. In the case, University of Michigan admissions officials, using a 150-point scale to rank applicants, awarded 20 bonus points to underrepresented ethnic groups, while a perfect SAT score earned applicants only 12 points.

The ruling Grutter v. Bollinger, another 2003 case against the University of Michigan’s use of positive discrimination in the admissions process, upheld affirmative action as a promotion of student diversity.

Such controversial practices may have changed the face of the student population, but the Diversity Profile reveals quite a disparity between student and faculty demographics. Yarbrough is determined to close the gap.

Her goal, she said, is to provide students with “a world-class diverse faculty,” and not just for Emory.

“We also hope to develop some best practices that schools can share with each other,” said Yarbrough. She hopes to improve the standings of peer institutions as well.

– By Lydia O’Neal