Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Presidential Plans: New College Presidents and Diversity Efforts

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Presidential Plans: New College Presidents and Diversity Efforts

Article excerpt


DIVERSITY HAS BEEN VIEWED BY SOME AS ESSENTIAL to higher education as a result of the increased attention paid toward educational policies and pedagogies that foster inclusion (Aguirre and Martinez 2002; Butler 2000; Checkoway 2001). Further underlying its importance in higher education, Aguirre and Martinez (2002) contended that diversity can have an influential impact on an institution's culture. Chun and Evans (2009) suggested that diversity consists of distinctions among individuals such as gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and disability (to name a few).

Higher education institutions have taken significant action to address diversity including increased programming and support; however, for true diversity reform to take shape, there must be an effort to address diversity across the institution as a whole (Hurtado et al. 1999; Smith 1989). Smith (2009) presented a framework derived from both historical and current trends within higher education in which he factored in (1) access and success of underrepresented student populations, (2) campus climate and intergroup relations, (3) education and scholarship, and (4) institutional viability and vitality. These four dimensions serve as a template for better understanding diversity as it relates to a specific institution. Some institutions convey their commitment to diversity by having a diversity strategic plan that includes such components as accountability, budgets, means for assessment, and opportunities for community input and buy-in (Chun and Evans 2009). Other institutions publish statements that express their values, including diversity, in documents and on websites.

Diversity has been commonly associated with institutional leadership and administration (Owen 2009). Nelson (2007) noted that more and more college presidents are taking a hands-on approach to leading diversity efforts at their institutions. Enhancing diversity is not only a challenge that may require the difficult task of rethinking policies and processes, but also one that can be slowed if it is met with skepticism and passiveness from various constituencies of the campus community (Williams and Clowney 2007). Central to any effective diversity initiative is leadership at the presidential level because these individuals have legitimate authority within their institutions and can influence campus culture (Kezar and Eckel 2005). This article provides a glimpse of new college presidents' perceptions of diversity and their plans for diversity at their initial time of hire. As a result, we can gain insight into presidential priorities and whether diversity is part of those priorities, keeping in mind that when beginning a presidency, new leaders may need a grace period to adjust to their new role and institution (McLaughlin and Riesman 1990).


College presidents are expected to possess an almost superhuman ability to multitask and deal with all things that cross their paths (Nelson 2007). On top of an already full agenda are matters related to diversity issues. Presidents are increasingly including diversity at the top of their agenda. Nelson (2007, p. 67) noted that diversity is seen as a "relatively recent phenomenon in the life of colleges and universities, and therefore equally recently in the forefront of the agenda of presidents." Decades ago, Cohen and March (1986) observed that many of the diversity efforts within higher education were led by college presidents, mostly Black, at predominantly White institutions. In a recent report on the American college presidency, the American Council on Education noted that racial or ethnic minorities make up 13 percent of all college presidents (Cook and Young 2012). That same report also noted that women comprise 26 percent of all presidents.

Implementing diversity efforts requires leadership. Aguirre and Martinez (2002) observed that the difficulty with implementing diversity initiatives at the college level was a lack of leadership. …

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