Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Diversity Officers - Coming to a Campus near You?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Diversity Officers - Coming to a Campus near You?

Article excerpt

From diversifying the curriculum to the faculty, these senior-level administrators are taking on unprecedented roles

In the long line of equity and access shifts, maneuvers and descriptive title appointments in higher education, yet another has emerged. One of the newest titles, "chief diversity officer," owes its lineage to its more controversial predecessors, including minority affairs officers, equal opportunity officers, access officers and the once legally bolstered affirmative action officer.

Buoyed by several factors, including the reality of operating in a laissez faire postaffirmative action environment, college administrators across the country are increasingly seeing the need to establish a new and more senior-level position to head up overall diversity efforts, from improving minority faculty retention to diversifying the curriculum.

"There has been a lot of executive-level hiring going on around the country. Schools are hiring vice provosts, provosts, chancellors - a point leadership position to push their diversity effort," says Dr. Damon A. Williams, assistant vice provost of multicultural and international affairs and co-director of the Senior Diversity Officers Research Project at the University of Connecticut.

"This trend [of appointing a point person] is compelling, ... it is a redefinition of academic excellence," says Dr. Steve O. Michael, vice provost for diversity and academic initiatives at Kent State University, who convened the first meeting of chief diversity officers at the American Council on Education conference in Phoenix last month. The group plans to have a more unified voice by extending its network, forming a national association and holding future conferences.


Depending on the size of the institution, the commitment from the top and the availability of resources, there are generally three kinds of diversity officers: chief diversity officers who report directly to the president or provost; senior diversity officers who report to everybody above the dean; and diversity officers who report to all seniorlevel administrators, according to Michael. While some may have minimal staffing, others oversee both the institute's curriculum and policy. "So it's important for the person to have a faculty background," he says.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than on many New England college and university campuses, where the student and faculty population are predominantly White, and diversity officials are looking for innovative ways to improve minority recruitment.

Dr. Wanda Mitchell was appointed last year as the first vice provost for diversity at the University of New Hampshire. On a campus that is 96 percent White, with 2,442 full-time employees and 12,045 full-time graduate and undergraduate students, Mitchell has her work cut out for her. Her most immediate goals are to improve minority recruitment, retention and curriculum, and to appoint a diversity council to advise on policy. The initial outlook has been positive. Six minorities were hired out of 16 open tenure-track positions in the 2004-2005 academic year.

According to Mitchell, the university has long had a difficult time trying to attract minorities to campus largely because of its geographic location and homogenous population.

"We did fairly well with students, but not as well with faculty recruitment and hiring ... and following the Michigan decisions, the university took specific steps to determine how best to accomplish its goals related to diversity and inclusion," she says.

Mitchell's appointment was not without some controversy, she notes, but the administration understood the need to go beyond rhetoric and take concrete steps that would have a lasting effect. Besides, she says, they saw other institutions in the region doing the same.

The University of Maine and the University of Vermont both took steps to set up diversity offices at their respective campuses. …

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