With nine black officials named to top posts, GW advances diversity efforts

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Sam Johnson

Ben Vinson, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences was hired in 2013. He is one of nine black officials named to top posts at GW.

The University has named nine black employees as top-level administrators since 2010, a vital step forward for overall efforts to diversify as more black leaders are in highly visible positions than ever before.

While GW’s top three administrators are white and few other minorities hold high-profile positions, experts say highly qualified people in prominent roles at the University — who bring additional diverse experiences to discussions — can help a school put forth the best possible policies and connect with students and faculty who may need mentors.

Those officials include deans of two schools, a sexual violence prevention official, a former Ivy league administrator tasked with increasing campus diversity and the former vice president and secretary of the University who was appointed GW’s head fundraiser earlier this month — all roles that require face time with broad swaths of campus.

“It’s not good because the person is black, it’s because it’s an underrepresented perspective,” said Naim Madyun, the associate dean of undergraduate and diversity programs at the University of Minnesota.

Hiring more diverse faculty and staff has been a major pillar of University President Steven Knapp’s administration. Terri Harris Reed, the vice provost for diversity and inclusion, was hired almost four years ago to help lead the University’s diversity efforts using recommendations from a diversity council Knapp created in 2010. She was also given six-year-long goals from Knapp and Provost Steven Lerman to focus tasks like employee hiring and diversity training.

Reed also participated in the hiring of Vice Provost for Budget and Finance Rene Stewart O’Neal, who is also black. Reed declined through a spokeswoman to say whether hiring more black administrators was purposeful, why hiring diverse candidates is important or whether GW benchmarks its hiring against peer schools. Several of GW’s other black administrators did not return requests for comment.

“GW is committed to ensuring the diversity of individuals who are considered for positions and hiring the best qualified person for a job,” University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor
Aristide Collins, the former vice president and secretary of the University, was appointed two weeks ago to permanently lead GW’s $1 billion campaign.

Still, experts said that while they see GW making strides, there is still more room to grow. For example, peers like Boston and New York universities have five and four deans, respectively, that are also racial minorities. The provost at Tufts University, another peer, is black.

None of GW’s peers currently have black presidents, and GW has never had a black president.

Several competitors, including the University of Southern California and Washington University in St. Louis, have several top-level officials who are Asian, Hispanic or Indian.

Black, Hispanic and Asian professors make up about 25 percent of GW’s faculty, a number that has remained steady since 2011, according to data released last winter.

Ruthanne Kurth-Schai, the chair of the education studies department at Macalester College, said diverse hiring is a “critical issue” in higher education because as schools look to increase their overall diversity, a diverse administration can help prove to applicants that it’s a priority on campus.

“I don’t know how you could show it more deeply and concretely than to really have it reflected in the hiring that way,” Kurth-Schai said.

Kurth-Schai said though a minority administrator or faculty member could be a mentor to other students or faculty, their contribution to a campus is “much deeper.”

“The most important is the interaction among diverse perspectives that are grounded in diverse lives,” Kurth-Schai said. “I think we need the perspectives, we need the ongoing egalitarian participation, we need young people to see a diverse range of role models.”

When English professor David McAleavey came to GW in 1974, the faculty and administration were “overwhelmingly white, and predominantly male,” he said. McAleavey, who is a long-serving member of the Faculty Senate, said he has seen progress since that time, but more can still be done.

“By no means am I satisfied that there are as many women or as many people of color in our ranks as there might be, not to mention people of varied physical abilities, sexual orientation or religious backgrounds,” McAleavey said.

Two of the University’s most high-profile recent black hires were of Columbian College Dean Ben Vinson in 2013 and GW Law School Dean Blake D. Morant last spring. Vinson declined to comment for the story.

Morant, who is GW’s first black law dean, is also the president of the Association of American Law Schools, giving GW a prominent face in an organization that represents nearly 180 law schools.

Joan Schaffner, an associate law professor who served on Morant’s search committee, said though she has been at GW since 1992, she has only recently noticed a priority placed on making diverse hires.

“It is particularly important for the diversity to reach the top levels because otherwise the appearance, in my mind, is that the ‘diverse’ individuals are second-tier to the ‘traditional non-diverse’ folks,” Schaffner said.

Schaffner said diversity – including factors like race, gender and sexual orientation – was one of the factors considered in the search, though she said Morant was “a top candidate, independent of his racial diversity.”

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of GW Media Relations
Blake D. Morant was named dean of the GW Law School last spring.

Charles Garris, the chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said over his more than three decades at GW, he has never seen two black deans at the head of schools at one time.

Garris said there has always been gender diversity among top administrators, and when he first arrived at GW, the dean of the Columbian College was a Hispanic woman.

The University also recently added more women to its administrative ranks: Linda Livingstone was picked to lead the business school last spring, and Pamela R. Jeffries was selected to lead the School of Nursing in January. The former dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, who stepped down in 2000, was also a black woman.

“It has always been a long-term goal of the institution to become more diverse, and I would say recently it is,” Garris said.

The number of black undergraduates has decreased from a total of 703 in 2010, an about 7 percent drop overall. The number of Native American undergraduate students has also decreased 55 percent in that timeframe. The total number of Asian, Hispanic and Pacific Islander undergraduates has remained relatively the same since 2010, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.

A campus that is more diverse from the top down can offer a more well-rounded education for students, said Clifton Conrad, a professor of education leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin – Madison who specializes in minority-serving institutions like historically black and tribal colleges.

“I think most of all we’re learning institutions and we need to bring in those different perspectives, not just reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ but to have people and learn with and from them can be absolutely precious, can trigger life-changing experiences,” Conrad said.

Darnell Cole, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education who specializes in diversity in higher education, said hiring a more diverse staff can also help schools respond appropriately to high-profile race-related incidents that occur on college campuses.

Last week, three Muslim students were killed near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Officials are investigating those deaths as a hate crime.

At Clemson University, students and faculty are lobbying leaders to rename Tillman Hall, which bears the name of a former Confederate soldier and “lynch law” advocate who was one of the school’s founders. A University of Mississippi fraternity was shut down last spring after members hung a noose around the neck of a statue of James Meredith, the school’s first black student. Earlier this month, students at the University of Texas came under national scrutiny for a “border control”-themed party.

“When you have an executive or administrative branch that represents wide diversity, if they’re not able to put policies in place to avoid these issues, they’re able to mobilize constituent groups. They can show they have that value because they’ve shown it in how they hire,” Cole said. “Crisis mode isn’t the only time, but it can be useful to have a diverse team in crisis mode.”

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