Campus administration split on decision to hire chief diversity officer

The administration has not yet hired a chief diversity officer – the number one recommendation made by an outside independent consulting group which studied diversity at FSU.

Hired in 2008 for approximately $25,000, according to Susan Dargan, co-chair of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI, a committee founded to tackle diversity issues on campus ), the IBIS Consulting Group released their findings in a diversity and inclusion report in 2011.

The report offered a number of recommendations which have been followed by administrators, including the establishment of the Multicultural Center and the strengthening of recruitment efforts for faculty and staff.

However, the administration is divided, and has not yet followed IBIS’ top recommendation – “Create a position for a chief diversity officer at FSU to coordinate institutional efforts and create a cohesive plan for the institution to move forward on inclusion and diversity.”

While some administrators are confident a chief diversity officer would greatly improve diversity and inclusion efforts on campus, others believe the addition of the position would not necessarily enhance the ongoing efforts of the many individuals and groups on campus already committed to improving the institution’s diversity.

According to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, “At present, these [diversity] initiatives are directed by many individuals – there are certainly pros and cons to both the centralized as well as decentralized approaches.”

One member of the community who believes FSU’s diversity initiatives could be improved with the addition of a chief diversity officer is Professor of Sociology Kaan Agartan.  He was first hired through the Diversity Fellowship Program and is now a tenure-track professor.

Agartan believes a chief diversity officer position “has to be established” in order to better organize and coordinate the many diversity efforts now being made across campus. He added, “Orchestrating the various elements of the larger diversity initiative of the university needs to be taken seriously.”

Speaking specifically about the Diversity Fellows Program, which was founded by former President Timothy Flanagan, the CDI and the Office for Academic Affairs to hire professors who would bring diversity to the campus, Agartan said, “The very structure of the program as it stands right now does not provide the most ideal setting to communicate to the fellows the broader vision of diversity efforts or a coherent understanding of what the needs of the university are.”

English Professor Carlos Martinez, a current diversity fellow, said his understanding of the program was that it was designed to bring in faculty who were interested in diversifying the curriculum. “But at the same time, the position was outlined as if it was also just to bring in people of color. So, I’m not sure exactly which one was which – I think it was more like both would be great, but either would be fine.”

Martinez said when he first applied for the position, he “didn’t really know exactly what it was.”

Patricia Sanchez-Connally, a sociology professor and current diversity fellow, said, “There wasn’t really an explanation to what the [fellowship] program really was because, to be honest, I think we are still working on establishing a real program.”

She added, “You really need someone to be able to lead the way. I think it makes it a lot more formalized. When you have someone at that level [a chief diversity officer], you have people who would be accountable to that person. So that is always healthy, and just having someone who can keep track of all these initiatives and be able to figure out a way to assess them and to see if they are actually making a difference.”

Agartan said he believes the success of diversity initiatives such as the Diversity Fellows Program should not depend on “individual achievements” that each person brings to that initiative alone, but should be determined by how well the program works as part of a “delicately designed, crafted, and orchestrated ‘master plan.’”

He said that plan is one which would “enhance the campus climate in terms of diversity” as well as give diversity fellows’ contributions a greater impact on the university. The plan, he added, in order to be achieved, would need to utilize a special administrative position such as a chief diversity officer.

Professor Dargan, co-chair of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, said, “I would maintain, and I know that people disagree, that we need a Diversity Office, that we need a person in charge of it to whom people report.”

She added, “You need that leadership. You need someone to say, ‘This is really important. Every division should be working on this,’ with clear benchmarks and things like that, and I don’t think we are at that point yet.”

Dargan explained that the CDI has made multiple presentations to the administration in the last few years to emphasize the importance of hiring a chief diversity officer. “We understand the resource constraints,” she said, “but we think that it’s important.”   Kathy Martinez, chair of the CDI’s budget subcommittee and director of the Multicultural Center, said, “I think it [hiring a chief diversity officer] would just send a message, not that this school isn’t already serious about it, but that they are putting more resources behind it [the diversity initiatives].”

Martinez said the Multicultural Center does not have some of the resources it needs. She said, “We don’t even have a computer. We don’t have a phone. … This [the Multicultural Center’s location] is a greenhouse. This isn’t really meant for what we are doing, but you know, it’s better than nothing.”

She explained that the Multicultural Center, since its opening in the fall, is rapidly outgrowing the space provided in the upper mezzanine of the library. “I guess we wouldn’t be able to have this problem if there wasn’t such a great response from the community altogether,” she said. “I think that the campus is moving very quickly in the right direction, and you know, the more help, the better, right?”

According to David Baldwin, director of multicultural affairs and assistant dean of students,   “It would be a good thing to have [a chief diversity officer] to keep diversity in the front of everyone’s mind here at the highest levels of the university.”  He added, “But I think that there is enough investment from people around campus that it might not be necessary and we might be able to put that money towards something else.”

General Counsel Rita Colucci said the university’s marked improvement in the areas of diversity and inclusion over the last few years might show that there is not a need to add a new position.

“One of the wonderful things that I have seen as a result of the diversity initiatives on this campus,” she said, “has been the coming together of faculty, staff and students who share a passion for this subject.

“Together,” she added, “we have been very successful in making significant, recognizable strides in both the diversity and inclusion areas.”

Colucci added she is “torn” about whether hiring a new chief diversity officer would be in the university’s best interests.

“I fear we would lose our ‘village effort,’” Colucci said, “if the job belonged to one person.” She added that making these changes on campus takes a “village,” and that although people would remain passionate about the issues, she fears the community might “lose some ground” if the job belonged to just one person.

Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Zimmerman said she believes the campus has continued to improve its focus on the issues of diversity and inclusion and a chief diversity officer might not be “absolutely necessary.”

“I think it is good to have a strong focus on diversity and inclusion at FSU,” she said.  However, she believes instead of focusing on creating a new position, “We [the community] should think about multiple ways to accomplish our goals around diversity and inclusion.”

Cesar Sanchez, a senior biology major, said, “A chief diversity officer in a vice president position could be that person to take charge if ever a conflict were to arise. If we don’t have one, no one will be able to resolve conflicts or make the big decisions.”

Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad acknowledged the changes the university has made since 2011. “We have an opportunity to recast the position to better fit our current efforts, and I would be very excited about such a move.”

She added, “Hiring a chief diversity officer should be a priority. I think the question is a good one, but one I would like to see answered by a review of outcomes and the current needs. I think that with a new assessment and full discussion of our progress, perhaps led by the diversity committee, we will make some great decisions as a campus community.

“I would like to see the students very involved in this discussion,” Vaden-Goad said.

Rose Kamau, a sophomore chemistry major, said, “Having a chief diversity officer to help coordinate all of the groups on campus would really help get so much more done.”

Dargan said, in the end, the decision of whether to hire a chief diversity officer is the president’s. “The recommendation was made to President [Flanagan] and he didn’t agree with it. He also had some issues with the report and the way it was done.”

Interim President Robert Martin, officially the person who could ultimately decide on adding this position, explained that although the decision is technically his, it is important to him when deciding to add a “very senior level” position, like a chief diversity officer, that the office of the president gain the support of the Board of Trustees. He added the position is a “significant hire that represents a commitment to the university both fiscally and symbolically.”

Martin added he believes a successful program “can’t ride on the shoulders of an individual,” explaining that in the past, he has seen other programs gain a central coordinator and lose general interest in the community.

However, Martin believes there is a strong “institutional involvement,” and that FSU has made progress in many areas of diversity and inclusion. He said, “All the things are in place where we can start to move forward.” Martin added he is hopeful the university is in a good position to continue the discussion about adding a chief diversity officer to the administration next year.

Stating he is familiar with future President F. Javier Cevallos’ history in the UMass system as well as Kutztown University, Martin said, “If his commitment here is comparable to his history, I am confident his commitment to furthering diversity will be one of his top priorities.”

Dargan said Cevallos “has done a lot on diversity and inclusion.” She added, “I’m confident that the new president coming in is going to take a look at the structure and make some changes.

“Having a leader that can articulate a clear vision for diversity – that’s going to motivate everybody on campus. … That has to come from the top.”

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