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Leaders for All

Colleges and universities are naming chief diversity officers to help create lasting change.
University Business, Feb 2006

The new vice president for diversity and equity was working behind the scenes at the University of Virginia before his position even kicked in. A number of racial incidences had disturbed the Charlottesville campus in the early weeks of fall 2005, including epithets yelled out by pedestrians and people in cars, a slur scrawled on a student's message board, and the mistreatment of a black student at a fraternity party (beer was poured down the student's back, for one).

With a potential crisis in play, the administration's response needed to come from on high. President John Casteen III made a rare speech from the historic Rotunda and participated in a video shown at the start of the Homecoming game against Duke University (N.C.). One gesture became particularly visible: Black ribbons were distributed all over campus, including 50,000 before the Homecoming game at Scott Stadium. The ribbons created a sea of support for those who had been targeted by the incidences, a message of unity against intolerance.

Bill Harvey was behind the ribbon move, and it will not be the last time he casts broad strokes on UVA's canvas--or other leaders do so elsewhere. As the university's first vice president for diversity and equity, Harvey is among a growing group of chief diversity officers taking on new positions in higher education.

In the last few years, several colleges and universities have placed diversity officers at the highest levels, reporting directly to provosts and presidents and ensuring that diversity and equity are real priorities. In 2005, the University of California, San Diego, brought on its first chief diversity officer in the form of Jorge Huerta, associate chancellor. The University of South Dakota pinned its hopes on Bruce King, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs and campus diversity officer. Harvard University appointed Evelynn Hammonds as its first senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity. Several other schools launched high-level searches.

From his perch at Kent State University (Ohio), Steve Michael has observed the groundswell. Michael, vice provost for diversity and academic initiatives, keeps a database of diversity officers at IHEs around the country. The list of about 500 names divides into chief diversity officers, senior diversity officers, and diversity officers. These days, about 15 to 20 percent of the database falls into the CDO category, says Michael. "The top level has grown so much," he says. When the database started four years ago, "that 15 percent used to be 2 percent."

Jan Greenwood has also seen changes in the diversity power structure. As president of the higher ed executive search firm Greenwood & Associates in Miramar Beach, Fla., she recently helped with the vice presidential search at the University of Virginia. "This [diversity] field has kind of taken on a life of its own," she says. "It really has developed more of an emphasis on university-wide culture and transformation."

Many chief diversity officers function within small, sometimes one-person offices. That structure is likely to change as CDOs form a professional association (the new National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education) and push for best practices. According to King of the University of South Dakota, high-level diversity officers will increasingly have vertical as well as horizontal reporting structures covering several departments. "We're pushing now for these offices to be seen as and function like other offices of the university," he says, explaining that USD is considering placing Disability Services as well as other departments within his realm.

The process of shifting diversity leadership upward can be tricky business; academe does not particularly value hierarchical structures or powerful authority figures. Some folks worry that a single person becoming responsible for diversity initiatives sends a signal to other faculty and staff that they can ease up on their own efforts. When a UVA task force commissioned by Casteen went about considering the CDO concept, its members were careful to figure in that concern. "It shouldn't be any one person's responsibility to promote diversity and equity issues," says Angela Davis, co-chair of the presidential commission at UVA.

There are certainly dangers of the CDO role if it is not crafted well. Some administrators express concerns about having a single answer person (echoed at UVA) and others have worries that the title is a front for the supplication of state legislators or policies. Lester Monts, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs and senior counselor to the president on the arts, diversity, and undergraduate affairs at the University of Michigan, believes diversity initiatives should be woven into a school's basic fabric. "If a president came in and said, 'I don't like this whole idea of a Wolverine,' he or she wouldn't last," says Monts, referring to Michigan's famed mascot. "If someone came in here and didn't prioritize diversity, that person wouldn't last. It's been institutionalized."

As diversity continues to evolve and more broadly affect students, faculty, and staff, schools that--for various reasons--need to aggressively move ahead on the diversity and equity fronts are often choosing CDOs to lead the charge. "This [diversity] issue has to be addressed by every university that's going to be in the top 20," says Davis, who serves as UVA's associate dean of students and director of Residence Life. "Everybody's talking about this." The way Nancy "Rusty" Barcelo sees it, leadership positions are appearing because equity so far has not. "People always saw the work of diversity as temporary, and that just hasn't happened," says the vice president for Minority Affairs and vice provost for diversity at the University of Washington. "I think that's why there is this move to an upper-level oversight."

Depending upon the institution, the titles of chief diversity officers vary, as do the responsibilities and reporting structures. That's a good thing, says UVA's Harvey. "When you talk about the range of institutional types that we have, and the difference between being a four- or two-year institution or public or private, or even geographical differences, we have to be cognizant of the fact that every institution has its own nuances. You want to try to be sensitive to those differences to have the greatest impact."

Most CDOs fall within either the president's or the provost's cabinet, armed with power to create change but also a commitment to delegating. IHEs "must not see the senior diversity person as being the answer to all of their issues," says Charlie Nelms, vice president for institutional development and student affairs for the Indiana University system. "That's the danger in creating positions like this."

For a CDO to gain buy-in, the institution's commitment to diversity should be written out in its mission statement, adds Nelms. Resources should also be allocated to the CDO's office, he notes.

So leaders at an IHE know they want a CDO--but what to look for in a candidate? One common denominator seems to run through the majority of CDO searches. "It's the ability to lead with people, rather than go in and try to do something to the institution," says Greenwood.

Using the term "power broker," Barbara Yutrzenka of the University of South Dakota sounds the same note. "You need to have someone who can be reasonable and be a negotiator and facilitator," says Yutrzenka, who is a professor and director of the Clinical Psychology program as well as chairperson of USD's Campus Diversity Enhancement Group, which works alongside Bruce King.

Administrators and task-force members also point to a higher ed background as a plus, as well as experience managing institution-wide priorities. Says Nelms of Indiana University: "Unless you have the confidence of people, you are not going to be able to achieve sustainable results. You can have a [diversity] celebration and glossy reports, but you are not going to be able to change the culture of the institution."

Even with new CDO leaders at the top, the real work of pushing for equity should continue to take place at all levels and in just about every part of the institution.

Even with a CDO at the top, thinking and acting must take place at all levels and in just about every part of the institution.

In Dallas, Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business had minimal gender and racial diversity until one of its own stepped up to the plate. Thanks to leadership from Steve Denson, a former Student Services administrator who was in 2003 appointed as the school's director of diversity, Cox now has a student body that is 36 percent female and 32 percent minority.

The changes didn't happen quickly. Denson has dedicated hours of work to building relationships and traveled thousands of miles to build bridges with communities. A member of the Chickasaw Nation, he remains involved in tribal government. He has focused on creating and sustaining a diverse group of students, increasing diversity efforts in the hiring of faculty and staff, and diversifying the curriculum.

The diversity work pays off in myriad ways. "This is a major selling point for the school," he says.

The reach of the CDO extends beyond campus, influencing applicants still in high school as well as graduates out in the working world. Robert Frost's poetry rings true here: CDOs have miles to go before they sleep.

"The true measure of the effectiveness of people in my position is how these institutions will be different five, eight, 10 years down the road," says Nelms. "But we're not there yet. We're not there yet."

vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, University of Virginia

Bill Harvey and UVA President John Casteen III grew up just 60 miles from each other in North Carolina--but due to their skin colors (Casteen is white) they experienced life worlds apart. "When I was growing up, segregation was the fact of life," says Harvey.

Despite their disparate backgrounds, when the two men sat down to talk about UVA's mission and its new vice presidential position, they connected. Bolstered by Casteen's leadership, Harvey took up the university's first high-ranking diversity post last fall. He reports directly to the chief operating officer and the president, and expectations of him seem as high as his rank. That's of little bother to him, though. "When you have a quality institution trying to get in front of diversity, that's an opportunity," he says.

Shifting diversity leadership upward can
be tricky business; academe does not
particularly value hierarchical structures or
powerful authority figures.

"Our role is to shape the attitudes and values of people who are going to lead the next generation," says Harvey. "If we do a good job of that, all the changes get implemented. If we don't do a good job, and I would argue that we haven't yet, the rate of progress is slower than it could be and should be."

associate chancellor and chief diversity officer, University of California, San Diego

Jorge Huerta was co-chairing a task force on under-represented faculty when, soon enough, he found himself guiding diversity for all of UCSD. The task force he co-chaired had recommended that the university appoint a diversity leader, and Huerta fit the bill. Says Paul Drake, Huerta's co-chair and the dean of Social Sciences: "We defined the person as a facilitator, not a czar, somebody who cajoles, educates, explains. [Jorge] is charming, smart, and dedicated."

Huerta--who works in the chancellor's office half time and continues teaching--says he provides a voice as well as an ear at UCSD. A tenured professor of theater and authority on Chicano and U.S. Latino theater, he conveys a comforting and jovial spirit, important since he faces challenges ahead. Diversity initiatives at UCSD can't tangle with the state's anti-affirmative-action law, Proposition 209. "It's a very political job that he's got," says Drake.

Huerta, who has learned the value of prioritizing, seems up to the task. As he says he told UCSD Chancellor Mary Anne Fox: "I am young enough to believe change is possible, and old enough to see it ain't going to happen overnight."

vice president for minority affairs and vice provost for diversity, University of Washington

As a young graduate student at the University of Iowa and a Mexican in a largely Caucasian state, Barcelo connected to others by going to work for the Office of Minority Affairs. "I told my mom I wanted to come home, and she said, 'Where there's one Mexican, there's probably another one.' I looked at the census data and found I wasn't alone. If there were so many of us, why was I the only one at the University of Iowa? That's what changed my life."

People always saw the work of diversity as temporary, and that just hasn't happened." -Nancy "Rusty" Barcel?, vice president for minority affairs and vice provost for diversity, University of Washington

Barcelo thrives on the drive to keep diversity on the front burner. She has expanded services such as on-campus day care and an instructional center to benefit all students, not just minorities. She also has resources to back her up, including an advancement officer who has helped raise $26 million for scholarships. "I think our work is about building community," she says. "It's okay to be who you are, it's a strength. I fundamentally believe that."

UW is not new to making diversity a priority--the university has had a vice president for Minority Affairs since 1970. Still, Barcelo is breaking new ground. "It makes a huge difference to have support all the way from the top," she says.

assistant vice president and campus diversity officer, University of South Dakota

"We can't be afraid to look at diversity like we looked at technology," says King, who took on his school's new campus diversity officer position last spring. "Can you imagine not having the internet?"

Empowered by that firm belief in the power of multiculturalism, King--who is essentially a one-man office--is helping USD become more diverse than the state in which it resides. The university must transform to compete in today's market and prepare graduates for the world, and leadership will be key. "When no one is being held responsible," says King, "not enough is getting done."

Like many CDOs, he brings strong beliefs but also an ability to facilitate dialogue and cooperation to his job. Following a controversy about gay rights that took place on campus in 2005, he encouraged the university's top brass to attend a town hall meeting with students. Several deans as well as the president made appearances. "I get shivers even thinking about it," says Barbara Yutrzenka, a professor who helped pick King for the CDO job and found herself teary-eyed at the event.

Says King: "It gives me the extra oomph to keep going, to know that this is an institutional priority."

vice provost for diversity and academic initiatives, Kent State University (Ohio)

Ensconced in his position since 2002 and working closely with Provost Paul Gaston, Michael believes in the "distributed leadership" model of diversity guidance: "Everyone has responsibility at least for implementation and strategy for their own unit, and I am responsible for the overall leadership."

Michael commits time not only to the eight-campus Kent State system but also to his colleagues around the country, helping to launch higher education's first association for high-ranking diversity officers. To him, changing an institution's culture and guiding it in a new direction require data, vision, and concrete strategies. He has helped create six strategic indicators--measuring such things as persistence rates and diversity competency levels--that any IHE can use to evaluate diversity status and progress. "A university must be a collection of people with diverse backgrounds," says Michael. "That diversity is what creates the energy for intellectual discourse, and fertile ground for innovation."

vice president for institutional development and student affairs, Indiana University

"I am the conscience keeper of the university," says Nelms. He's not boasting: His job entails keeping the eight-campus university system on track with its mission-stated goals. That wide-reaching role means Nelms commands an audience. "If you are advocating for the most prized and respected program and for the unit that needs the most assistance, it becomes very difficult for senior administrators to say yes to one and no to another."

Growing up in Arkansas, Nelms experienced segregation firsthand. As student body president at the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, his commitment to equity in higher education bloomed. He promised to work toward change following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and he has lived up to his word. When the University of Michigan brought its affirmative action case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Nelms convinced IU's trustees that their university should file an amicus brief. "Win, lose, or draw," he told the trustees. "If we are going to be a leader, we have to be on the side that's right."

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