A U.S. minority culture requirement could make Penn more competitive when recruiting minority faculty, some education experts and Penn faculty members say.

Diversity in the curriculum is often a concern for minority faculty applicants during the recruitment process, according to faculty who help attract candidates.

And a requirement emphasizing this issue could be an important signal to candidates about Penn's commitment to diversity.

Faculty decided earlier this year to continue debate about the place of a U.S. minority culture requirement after approving the Cross Cultural Analysis Requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences' Class of 2010.

CCAR requires undergraduate coursework touching on global cultures but doesn't emphasize issues of diversity, College Dean Dennis DeTurck said.

Most debate has focused on the educational merit of such a requirement.

But Penn Sociology professor Grace Kao said the issue of diversity in the curriculum "almost always comes up" when she speaks with potential faculty recruits.

She is a member of the School of Arts and Sciences committee that helps with minority faculty recruitment and is also a faculty representative on the committee debating the requirement.

All minority groups are underrepresented within the current SAS faculty, Kao said. A U.S. culture requirement "might make this place feel more welcoming," she said.

Of the 481 standing SAS faculty members this year, 64 are members of minority groups, according to SAS Assistant Dean Allison Rose.

A U.S. culture requirement could also be a step toward creating a larger minority faculty pool.

The presence of minority faculty often encourages students to pursue professorships themselves, Penn Medical School professor Richard Salcido said in an e-mail interview. Salcido serves on Penn's Minority Equity Committee, which examines diversity issues on campus.

Promoting diversity on campus in order to attract minority faculty is a nationwide trend.

"Often times an individual is looking to align themselves with not only the best university but with a community that they can thrive in," said Diane Oates, president of Academic Diversity Search Inc., which helps academic institutions recruit minority and women faculty..

Crafting a U.S. culture requirement at Penn, she said, "sounds like a great idea" to attract minority faculty.

The foundation of any potential requirement, however, should be rooted in academic concerns, DeTurck said.

Its most important function is to determine which classes make for the best liberal arts education, he added. "If we did it just because it was symbolic people would see right through that."

The end result of such a requirement, DeTurck said, should be an environment in which minority faculty are not only hired but also in which they would want to stay and where they could thrive.

Such a requirement would help Penn have "an atmosphere that's friendly and conducive to be around," but it should serve an intellectual purpose first, DeTurck said.

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