In a reversal of the University’s plans to conduct an external audit of campus diversity last academic year, officials said they will instead review GW’s diversity, inclusion and equity later this fall through a primarily internal process.
As part of the new process outlined at a Faculty Senate meeting last month, administrators said the Office of the Provost will conduct a comprehensive review to assess and improve campus diversity, with recommendations orchestrated from within the University rather than an outside firm as previously planned. Although the review will replace the diversity audit that former Provost Brian Blake initiated in January, officials will still develop a “diversity action plan” to track progress in implementing diversity on campus and the broader D.C. area.
Blake, who left GW this summer, announced earlier this year that officials would use an external firm’s recommendations to help form their action plan with reforms in areas like faculty composition and financial aid. The University repeatedly delayed the diversity audit after its original deadline set for this past spring because the outside consultant firms, which officials narrowed down to two in June, requested more information than officials had anticipated.
Interim Provost Chris Bracey said officials reviewed the proposals submitted by the final two firms earlier this year and decided instead to pursue an internal review similar to academic program reviews common at higher education institutions. He said the firms’ proposals failed to deliver on the “concrete” and “tailored” recommendations that the University could implement in the short- and long-term.
“What we’re doing is something more akin to a program review, like an academic program review,” Bracey said in an interview. “It’s a more familiar way of reviewing the performance of a programmatic set of activities, like pushing to improve diversity among the faculty, students and staff.”
Bracey, who first announced the reversal of the diversity audit at the August Faculty Senate meeting, said officials will work with campus diversity, equity and inclusion leaders to collect data on areas of progress and improvement. The data will help officials form a set of recommendations to implement in the action plan, he said.
He said officials will invite an “outside reviewer” to visit campus and evaluate the observations and recommendations to determine if they are accurate, valid and appropriate. He said the provost’s office will then review the final report before implementing key recommendations.
Bracey said officials will post their findings on a website once the review process is complete as part of efforts to maintain transparency during the audit. He said officials have yet to finalize a review timeline but estimated that the process will last at least a year.
“It’s pretty exciting and ambitious, but we haven’t finalized a timeline yet,” he said. “That’s also something that would need to be discussed and coordinated with [the Faculty Senate’s appointment, salary and promotion policies committee]. These are sort of comprehensive review processes so we want to make sure that we do it right.”
Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the University’s vice provost of diversity, equity and community engagement, said Bracey determined using local expertise on campus was a “better approach” to study campus diversity after reviewing the proposals from external firms earlier this year. She said he developed a proposal with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement to conduct a comprehensive review of the University’s efforts to “impact” diversity and inclusion in the GW community.
Laguerre-Brown said officials conducting the review are meeting with “various stakeholders” to receive feedback on the draft proposal to ensure that they have the wider University’s support behind the endeavor.
“We are committed to ensuring that this review process is successful and informative and leads to sustainable and impactful action,” she said in an email.
She said the draft proposal of the review includes focus groups and interviews, an assessment of current policies and practices and an external review by a select board of scholars working on diversity, equity and inclusion nationally. She said the draft proposal “prioritizes” the GW community’s voices and experiences and includes “significant involvement” from students, faculty, alumni and the Board of Trustees.
“This independent evaluation will be critical in informing our efforts moving forward,” she said.
Joseph Cordes, a professor of economics and the co-chair of the Faculty Senate’s fiscal planning and budgeting committee, said Bracey’s diversity review proposal is better than Blake’s plans for the diversity audit because the review doesn’t prioritize outside consultation first. He said while faculty supported Blake’s plan, they also recognized that GW has the resources and talented staff, like Laguerre-Brown, who can guide diversity reform at GW.
“A lot of people were puzzled that the approach was going to be to bring in an outside consulting firm to do the audit rather than to review the audit that we could do on our own,” he said.
Cordes added that many faculty members were pleased with Bracey’s reversal because the current proposal appears more “consistent” with the University’s standard program review process.
“The major change that Provost Bracey made is that we’re going to start internally and then we’re going to bring in outside eyes, which is a good way to do it,” Cordes said.
Isha Trivedi contributed reporting.
This article appeared in the September 27, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.