Campus News

Symposium examines role of diversity in university’s mission

The mission of the University of Georgia cannot be achieved without a comprehensive commitment to all aspects of diversity, said speakers at the first regional diversity symposium held Oct. 21.

Entitled, “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Through Institutional Change,” the symposium examined the benefits and challenges of diversifying college campuses through a broad lens. It was sponsored by the Office of Institutional Diversity.

“In order to prepare our students for the world marketplace that exists today, we must prepare them to understand the value, cultures and diversity of ideas and perspectives of those with whom they will work throughout their career,” Provost Arnett C. Mace Jr. said during the event. “We want to be successful in our commitment to diversity, which is woven in the very fabric of the mission of this university.”

His remarks were echoed by Susan Herbst, executive vice chancellor for the University System of Georgia, who delivered the keynote address. She focused on the signs that UGA’s commitment to diversity sends.

“UGA is a leader, a role-model. People watch what you do and take signals from what you do,” she said. “You’re in the Chronicle of Higher Education all the time. A lot of responsibility comes with that.”

The symposium was split into four sessions, with two in the morning and two in the afternoon. In the morning session on creating and implementing an institutional diversity plan, Steve Michael, Kent State University’s vice provost and chief diversity officer, talked about the process of designing, crafting and implementing a campus-wide strategic diversity plan.

“Our job is to lift up humanity and make the world a smaller place,” he said. “An effective diversity plan will affirm people and make their uniqueness count.”

The other morning session focused on methods and tactics that can help a university attract diverse faculty members. Panelists were Janyce Dawkins and Steve Shi, both from UGA’s Equal Opportunity Office, and Frank DiGiacomo, senior director of recruitment and succession management at UGA. Mimi Sodhi, assistant provost for institutional diversity at UGA, moderated the discussion.

The panelists urged selection committees to promote their commitment to diversity within the job description. They added that it’s important to refrain from locking out candidates through minimum requirements that are too stringent, and to search for prospective faculty in many ways, such as Web sites and through minority teaching groups.

It’s also important to settle on a script of questions to ask each candidate, the speakers agreed.

“I’m not a big fan of doing things ad-hoc,” said Shi. “You owe it to the candidates to be fair to all of them, and how can you be fair to them when you ask them all different questions?”

The afternoon session on creating an inclusive workplace culture was presented by Karen Holt, director of the Fanning Institute, and Kecia Thomas, senior adviser to the dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences for inclusion and diversity leadership.

The session included a presentation by Thomas, who is also a professor of psychology, on the benefits of having an inclusive workplace, sources of diversity resistance by individuals and organizations and what it costs in terms of productivity-turnover, recruitment, placement and training-when organizations aren’t inclusive.

Holt discussed how to conduct a strategic job search-from selecting the search committee to ensuring success after the hire-and ways that organizations can become the institutions of choice for women and minorities.

“We need to talk about the ‘so what’ of searching,” Holt said. “How you recruit sends a message about the inclusiveness of your workplace.”

The second afternoon session, entitled “Polices and Practices that Demonstrate an Institutional Commitment to Diversity,” centered around the efforts and practices in place at Kennesaw State University and Georgia College and State University.

Speakers Yves-Rose SaintDic, director of institutional equity and diversity at GCSU, and Flora Devine, special assistant to the president for legal affairs and diversity at Kennesaw, spoke about ways in which their universities have handled the challenges of changing their institution’s cultures to better deal with increasingly diverse populations.

“People always want to see the outcome of diversity work, but not the process,” Devine said. “But that’s where the real work is done.”

Speaker: Leadership key to creating culture of trust
More than 100 university administrators attended a pre-symposium event on Oct. 20 focused on “The Role of Leadership in Diversity Accountability and Assessment.”

Following opening remarks by Cheryl Dozier, associate provost for institutional diversity, and Provost Arnett C. Mace Jr., the group heard from Frank McCloskey, vice president for diversity at Georgia Power, and Steve Michael, vice provost and chief diversity officer at Kent State University.

McCloskey, who has been with Georgia Power for more than three decades, stressed the importance of preparing students for a world where demographics will continue to shift dramatically.

In the business world, class-action discrimination lawsuits brought over the past decade spurred changes in corporate culture, he said.

The university, on the other hand, can approach diversity “from a position of vision and strength,” rather than crisis. The key, he said, is creating a culture of trust and building sustainability for diversity initiatives.

-Sharron Hannon