The Diversity Advantage: A New Trend of Chief Diversity Officers Becoming College Presidents Is Emerging

By Abdul-Alim, Jamaal | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Diversity Advantage: A New Trend of Chief Diversity Officers Becoming College Presidents Is Emerging


Abdul-Alim, Jamaal, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


By the time Dr. Jamel Santa Cruze Wright became the first chief diversity officer at Eureka College in 2014--and eventually also vice president for strategic and diversity initiatives--she had already had her sights set on becoming a college president for several years.

What she didn't expect was for her presidential dreams to materialize so quickly.

"I will say that it happened a lot sooner than I anticipated," Wright says.

Wright essentially ascended directly from her role as a chief diversity officer at Eureka to the presidency at the small private college, initially on an interim basis in 2016 and later on a permanent basis earlier this year.

Wright says the experience she garnered in her capacity as the school's chief diversity officer played no small role in that move.

"My role was bigger and more encompassing than just CDO," Wright says, explaining that her role and responsibilities prior to becoming president included over-sight for Title IX issues, communications and rolling out a new strategic plan.

"All of those things, including the role of CDO, is what really made this happen," Wright says of her presidency.

Dr. Archie W. Ervin, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, or NADOHE, says Wright's trajectory to the presidency represents the emergence of a new and welcome trend in higher education--that is, colleges entrusting their presidencies to former chief diversity officers.

Ervin trumpets the trend in the "President's Message" on nadohe.org, writing that with the recent appointment of Wright as the first woman and first African-American to lead Eureka College, there are now at least six former chief diversity officers who have risen to the CEO ranks.

The other five he mentions are Dr. Juan S. Munoz, president of University of Houston-Downtown; Dr. Shirley Collado, who is set to assume the presidency of Ithaca College next month; Dr. Gregory Vincent, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Dr. Glen Jones, president of Henderson State University; and Dr. Rusty Barcelo, former president of Northern New Mexico College.

"Now there's a new pathway to the presidency is what we're saying," Ervin says. "It used to be people thought you had to be an executive leader. They didn't tend to think of most of these CDOs as vice presidents, so the next step for me is the president."

Ervin says search firms now acknowledge that the CDO role today has been "complex and wide enough in higher education that it actually is great preparation" for the various issues that a college president will face, from financial issues to student and academic issues.

"That's absolutely great training ground for those who aspire to be presidents and CEOs, because that's what they have to do," Ervin says of the CDO experience.

However, Monroe "Bud" Moseley, vice president and partner at Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm that specializes in higher education, cautions against overstating the significance that prior experience as a CDO might play in the executive search process.

"You have to be careful when people say you can move to president from the CDO role," Moseley says, although he was not speaking in reference to Ervin's or anyone's particular remarks.

"It's not like the only thing you've done is been a CDO," Moseley says. "Many of the people had been in student affairs," he said, citing Dr. Juan Munoz as an example.

Indeed, before he became president at the University of Houston-Downtown, Munoz had served as a senior vice president and vice provost for undergraduate education and student affairs at Texas Tech University. The position entailed supervision of more than 40 units and departments--including oversight of several academic degrees; the TTU Ethics Center; the Military Veterans Program Office; the Teaching, Learning and Professional Development Center; and the Office of Academic Engagement, according to his UHD biography. …

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