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‘Cluster’ hiring may be boon to minority scholars
Social sciences hopes to pursue new approach, says Letters & Science divisional dean

6 February 2003

Last year, out of 11 African American scholars who received job offers from campus departments, six ultimately chose to teach at other schools. One might not be stopped short by such statistics — except at Berkeley, where 75 percent of top candidates, on average, eagerly accept. That’s an attention-getting trend for units that are losing first-rate candidates to peer institutions, as well as for campus leaders seeking to diversify the faculty. And it’s one that has prompted much discussion.

George Breslauer, dean of social sciences in the College of Letters & Science, describes one promising strategy to emerge from such conversations in his division: "Typically, young scholars do not want to come to Berkeley and be asked to build a program while also working on the books they need to write, and the teaching they need to do well, in order to get tenure. A cluster-hire approach calls for recruiting many scholars (say, five to seven), at both the junior and senior levels, over a short period of time (such as one to two years)."

Scholars in a cluster typically work in different disciplines, but do research around a shared theme, with a campus research center, led by senior faculty, providing an institutional framework for collaboration. Such an arrangement is energizing to most scholars — and according to feedback from job candidates, may be particularly appealing to underrepresented minority candidates. Offered the opportunity to work collaboratively, minority scholars are more likely to view Berkeley "as a place at which they will not feel isolated," says Breslauer. "Avoiding the latter feeling is especially important in persuading minority scholars to accept our offers."

Read more stories from the Berkeleyan's Faculty Diversity package

"Faculty diversity — The road ahead": Q&A with Angelica Stacy

"The Past Decade at a Glance": Tenure track hires and faculty composition over the years

"Turning Things Around": How engineering increased its number of female faculty

"What's in Motion": Activism supporting diversity

A cluster may also be hired within a single department, if the unit is interdisciplinary by nature. For example, African American Studies — whose faculty comes from history, music, literature, sociology, and other disciplines — is doing cluster hiring this year.

Breslauer notes that certain topics in the social sciences — such as "immigration and migration" or "race and ethnicity in American society" — are of particular interest to minority scholars. If a few social science departments (the division has 12) were to do cluster hiring around such themes, "we can increase our chances of receiving applications from top-notch minority scholars," he says. "We would not commit to hiring only minority scholars; that would be illegal. But we would greatly increase our chances of landing minority scholars who simply win the competition."

He says the division is seriously considering some cluster hires in the near future.

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