Diversity to the Next Level: With Expanded Management and Planning Responsibilities, High-Ranking Chief Diversity Officers Are Heading Their Institutions' Comprehensive Approach to Inclusiveness

By Stuart, Reginald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, May 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Diversity to the Next Level: With Expanded Management and Planning Responsibilities, High-Ranking Chief Diversity Officers Are Heading Their Institutions' Comprehensive Approach to Inclusiveness


Stuart, Reginald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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When Colgate University decided a few years ago to recast its diversity efforts, it joined a small, but growing, number of schools across the country in taking a new approach to a decades-old challenge of how best to make their schools more appealing to people from all walks of life and more compelling to employers as a good place to recruit.

Colgate, a midsize liberal arts college in northwestern New York state, created a high-ranking diversity post with an ambitious mandate to help expand the school's approach to diversity. It would embrace recruitment, enrollment and retention of students; development and retention of staff; long-term planning; academic programs; and internal and community relations. Quite a leap from historical efforts largely run at department levels by individuals with less authority.

"Things here had been done in silos," says Dr. Keenan Grenell, recruited by Colgate two years ago as its vice president and dean of diversity, a new post at the school that reports directly to its president. "You can't do those things without some campuswide coordination," says Grenell, adding that disparate efforts around campus have achieved their goals but not as well as a coordinated campuswide approach may have.

Today, Grenell is working with his colleagues to get through a long to-do list, including a study of campus cultural climate and, separately, the first major evaluation of the school's affirmative action program since 1997. Grenell is responsible for the school's affirmative action and equal opportunity compliance programs.

Grenell has spent most of the past decade as part of a legion of educators helping schools take their historical affirmative action programs to a broader level of "inclusiveness." However, they face myriad challenges, including dissent from people who question the need for such a broad, all-encompassing approach that may give short shrift to the concerns of high-need constituents.

Today's CDO has an agenda and mission, thanks to expanded antidiscrimination laws, that go beyond race and numbers to cover sexual orientation, older students, military veterans and the disabled. Also, they say, employers are increasingly asking colleges for job candidates who are "culturally competent" and able to function effectively in multicultural environments.

"You're seeing recognition of the value of having a person lead each campus's initiatives," says Glen Jones, an attorney and senior associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at Arkansas State University--Jonesboro. Jones is the recently elected president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE).

NADOHE, founded in November 2006 amid a scattering of state-level diversity officer groups, is the largest of several organizations of principal and chief diversity officers in higher education. It has about 150 institutional members, says Jones. This spring it announced it would begin creating state-level chapters to help expand its outreach and networking effectiveness.

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Schools moving in the direction of boosting the role of diversity planning and programs "recognize that to educate a student in the absence of diversity causes one to question whether the education is complete," says Jones. "For skeptics I say 'examine where you are and ask yourself can you really prepare students for a diverse world?'" says Jones, referring to academic leaders who question the value of such expanded efforts.

From large private schools, like Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, to rural state schools like Arkansas State, to statewide systems like the State University of New York (SUNY) system, the slowly spreading trend in most parts of the country is toward expanding management and planning to include chief diversity officers or some variation thereof. These institutional leaders are outside human resources departments and more than affirmative action officers in different clothes. …

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