by Erik Price
Who says you can't ever go home? Russ Ellis, who retired from his post as vice chancellor for Undergraduate Affairs in 1994, is back on campus for the fall semester. His mission this time: to begin the work of the faculty equity associate, a new full-time administrative position created by the campus to help develop and oversee policies on faculty recruitment, development and retention.
While back in California Hall, Ellis will survey the university's current efforts toward diversifying the faculty and prepare a report by semester's end with a set of recommendations for his permanent faculty replacement.
Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ, who initially contacted Ellis in September about returning, is now beginning a search for the permanent faculty equity associate, who must be a ladder-rank faculty member with a demonstrated interest in faculty development and equity issues. Christ hopes to fill the position by January.
The faculty equity associate is a new combination of two important jobs, faculty assistant for the status of women and faculty assistant for academic affirmative action.
These two positions were created in the 1970s as half-time counselors and advisers to female and underrepresented minority faculty. According to Christ, these posts have now been merged by Chancellor Berdahl, in favor of devoting a full-time faculty member to the delicate job of encouraging departments to seek out qualified minority and female candidates and, once that is done, to make concerted efforts to make sure they choose Berkeley.
"I think the purpose in combining the two positions was to strengthen the office and make its efforts more easy to coordinate," said Ellis. These efforts include monitoring how academic appointments of all kinds are made and ensuring that campus searches and job listings are open.
Ellis was quick to point out that despite the legal situation at the state level, federal affirmative action law still requires that the university be an equal opportunity employer.
"Making it a full-time post also ensures that the person in this job can consistently look in every nook and cranny of academic personnel so that open and fair searches are ongoing," said Ellis.
The faculty equity associate will also help in the important job of mentoring younger faculty. Ellis noted that the signals sent between tenured professors and junior faculty concerning their career development can be hard to read, leading to misunderstandings and potentially major disputes during the promotion process. The faculty equity associate will aim to improve these lines of communication in departments and, in particular, serve as an adviser to those heading into fourth-year review and other critical stages in the tenure process.
Most importantly, the faculty equity associate will manage the difficult situations when a faculty member feels he or she is the victim of unfairness or discrimination because of membership in a certain group.
"The administration is committed to taking pro-active steps when it feels a legitimate equity issue has been raised," said Provost Christ.
"This job," added Ellis, "guarantees that there will be a sympathetic ear that is open to faculty who have fairness issues they want to bring."
Provost Christ knows that the decision to create the faculty equity associate by merging two respected positions will not please everyone. But the advent of SP-2 and Proposition 209, which together ban preferences in campus hiring, makes it inappropriate to have a position dedicated to the employment interest of a single group of faculty, be they underrepresented minorities or women.
Although she anticipates criticism from those who will say that the campus is backing down from its support of one group or another in the face of political pressure, she disagrees emphatically. "This was definitely not our view. We felt we had to do something to strengthen the position while responding to a policy and legal vulnerability."
Christ asked Ellis to return to campus to fill the interim role because, she says, "he's identified with an activist position. I wanted to make it clear that we are not backing down."
Well known for his optimism and good will, Ellis will no doubt begin shaping the faculty equity associate position as just such a bellwether. "What I learned from being a vice chancellor is that people want to know what the game plan is," he reflected recently. "They want to know what are we doing and on behalf of what values we are doing it. One of the reasons I'm here is that I'm absolutely certain that this chancellor and vice chancellor are truly committed to diversity. The law may constrain us, but it does not stop us from exercising our leadership in developing a faculty that better reflects the population of California."
As for Ellis himself, he hopes to slip back into retirement again by the winter break, returning to work with several youth groups, including the campus Young Musician's Program and Berkeley Youth Alternatives.