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$3M Grant to Prepare Underrepresented Arts and Humanities Faculty for Institutional Leadership

Mellon Foundation Funds Partnership Between UMD, UMBC, Morgan State

By Maryland Today Staff

Portraits of Psyche Williams-Forson and Bonnie Thornton Dill

Psyche Williams-Forson, chair of the Department of American Studies, and Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and professor in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, will lead the Breaking the M.O.L.D. (Mellon/Maryland Opportunities for Leadership Development) initiative at UMD to support Black female senior faculty in the arts and humanities.

Williams-Forson photo by John T. Consoli; Thornton Dill photo by Geoff Sheil

A $3 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will support a new effort at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD); the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); and Morgan State University to expand the pipeline of women faculty and Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan Native faculty in the arts and humanities to the ranks of academic leadership.

The three-year UMBC-led initiative, Breaking the M.O.L.D. (Mellon/Maryland Opportunities for Leadership Development), will have senior faculty in the arts and humanities guide associate and full professors in skill-building seminars and leadership experiences. The cohorts will travel to each campus to gain insights on how predominantly white institutions (PWIs) such as UMD, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like Morgan State and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) like UMBC create different pathways to senior leadership.

It will build on the success of initiatives such as UMD’s ADVANCE Program, a yearlong professional development program for faculty to prepare them with leadership skills and for administrative positions in their department, college or the university, as well as UMBC’s Postdoctoral Fellows for Diversity program that provides extensive mentoring and other support to enable postdocs to transition to faculty positions.

“The many health, social justice, economic and political challenges facing our society today place important demands on higher education institutions,” said the project lead, Kimberly Moffitt, interim dean of UMBC’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS) and professor of language, literacy and culture. “Colleges and universities must shift how we approach engaging with societal problems,” she noted, pointing out that this often means reflecting on how higher education itself works.

Breaking the M.O.L.D. will offer a flexible model that can be adapted to meet the diversity challenges and needs of individual campuses. While including all faculty from the arts and humanities who are committed to supporting diversity and inclusion in the academy, it will focus on women faculty and Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaskan Native faculty who are associate and full professors.

UMD will focus on barriers Black women faculty face to access and succeed in leadership positions while also engaging all arts and humanities faculty in the aforementioned broader categories. In UMD’s College of Arts and Humanities, approximately 15% of tenured and tenure-track faculty identify with one of those groups, with the majority at the associate professor rank. Fewer than 10 Black women serve in midlevel leadership positions and only two at the senior executive leadership level.

“As a Black woman serving at the senior executive level in a PWI, I’m keenly aware of the importance of having the voices of diverse people at the leadership table,” said Bonnie Thornton Dill, co-PI, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and professor in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. “I see this project as an opportunity to expose program participants to the knowledge and experiences of other underrepresented minorities in administration as they develop their own strategies and approaches to higher education leadership.”

As a recently promoted professor and longtime chair of the Department of American Studies, PI Psyche Williams-Forson knows the experience of being at the associate professor rank while in midlevel leadership.

“Those who advance to administration without research support, mentoring or networking can find themselves unable to see beyond mid-level leadership positions like chair and director,” said Williams-Forson. “With this project we hope not only to provide greater opportunities for promotion, but also to expose faculty to the myriad senior-level leadership roles across the campus and begin to fulfill a pipeline for advancing into those positions.”

UMBC’s CAHSS faculty includes dozens of scholars who identify as Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, but only 10 hold the title of full professor. Its Breaking the M.O.L.D. program will focus on supporting the leadership of Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native, and women faculty in the arts and humanities.

Morgan State will develop and implement a Summer Leadership Academy to address the unique, historical barriers that often impede the ascension of women, Black, Hispanic and American Indian and Alaska Native faculty in the arts and humanities, with a particular focus on Black women faculty. The academy will help Morgan State faculty further develop leadership skills, balance research and leadership responsibilities, and navigate the higher education landscape. They will also explore the role of HBCUs in higher education.

“Leaders beget leaders. It is through this model initiative that we are creating the infrastructure and blueprint for our diverse faculty to thrive,” said co-PI Patricia Williams Lessane, associate vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Morgan State. "Investment is at the core of leadership and our work as an institution fully committed to nurturing tomorrow's leaders and creating legitimate pathways for their development and ultimate success.”

In addition to developing a network of diverse faculty equipped with the tools and resources to guide and grow universities, Breaking the M.O.L.D will invest in strengthening the links between leadership and scholarship. The problems that communities face locally, nationally and globally requires diverse leaders with humanities and arts perspectives who are empowered to create and share knowledge in new, high-impact ways.

Often, women, Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaskan Native faculty lack access to the social capital, financial resources or time needed to advance their scholarly work. This program seeks to remove these barriers by providing funding for research, writing, conferences and projects, and creating opportunities for partnership, innovation and career development.

This program also seeks to reshape institutional structures. Through a variety of presentations and exercises, the three institutions will design a path to develop inclusive leadership by disrupting implicit bias and other forms of exclusion present in job descriptions, search and selection processes, hiring and professional development. The resources they develop will be made available to other universities across Maryland and the nation, and to academic search firms and those who chair leadership searches, who often initiate the vetting process for arts and humanities faculty. By sharing these resources, the partners hope to enhance equity in academic hiring nationwide.

The partners also aim to combine information gathered over the three years of the program with current research on inclusive excellence to design tools that will help universities rethink their recruitment processes for faculty leaders.

“Universities and colleges are at a crossroad to reimagine academia by cultivating diverse leaders with important leadership skills, such as imagination, compassion and understanding,” said Moffit. “These new leaders will become the next generation of stewards leading innovation in teaching and scholarship, and reshaping university structures to go beyond the status quo.”

Additional co-principal investigators include Patrice McDermott, vice provost for faculty affairs at UMBC, and Charlene Chester, assistant dean for the James H. Gilliam Jr. College of Liberal Arts, both at Morgan State.

Schools & Departments:

College of Arts and Humanities

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