Search for new vice president of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement delayed

Although a search committee was formed to select a new vice president for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE), in January of this year, the search has been delayed, according to University President F. Javier Cevallos.

The delay occurred due to the logistical difficulty of conducting this search and that for a new provost, said Cevallos.

When the search consultant, WittKieffer, was hired, Cevallos said they met with both search committees and their chairs – explaining that running the two searches at the same time was going to be “complicated.

“The search consultant recommended delaying the [vice president of DICE] search until the beginning of the fall,” he said. 

Cevallos said another reason for the delay in the search was his obligation to wait for incoming President Nancy Niemi’s appointment.  

“We could have launched the search in the fall – have somebody appointed before the new president was appointed,” he said. “A vice president works directly with the president. That is a part of the team. It is important that the next president has a say on who is going to be part of that team.”

Cevallos said he takes full responsibility for not having an interim vice president of DICE in place. 

“I tried to recruit somebody to be an interim, but that conversation didn’t move forward, unfortunately. That actually delayed, a little bit, my work in this area.”  

He said if he were to appoint an interim, the person selected would have to be somebody who understands the position and is committed to anti-racism work. 

“If we are lucky enough to find somebody over the next few months … I would be delighted to appoint that person, but at the moment, we don’t have any potential candidates, so we will keep looking,” he added. 

Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel, said the WittKieffer firm informed her and the search committees that finding a candidate for provost would be faster given a wider pool of candidates for the position and a “tight” pool of candidates for the vice president of DICE position. 

“Their recommendation was to launch immediately with the provost search,” she said, “but take a slower start with the vice president for DICE search.

“If we tried to do them concurrently … we would come up against the end of our semester, and all of a sudden, we might be prepared to look at candidates, but our students would be gone, our faculty would be gone, and we wouldn’t want to bring candidates to campus without a full campus and without full campus participation,” she added.

McDonald said there were other options presented by WittKieffer to conduct a quick search, but the administration wasn’t interested in rushing the process as they didn’t want to exclude community voices.  

“We wanted to make sure that we crossed all the t’s – dotted all the i’s – to get us to where we need to be,” she said. This way, “people didn’t say at the end, ‘Hey, we didn’t get any input on this.’”   

Catherine Dignam, chair of the Chemistry and Food Science department, is the chair of the vice president of DICE search committee.

She said the committee will soon be preparing “a number of listening sessions” at which community members will have the opportunity to offer their opinions about what type of leader they would like to see selected for the position.  

Additionally, she said looking at the strengths of the community as a whole is also going to be important in selecting a candidate as applicants will be looking at the community atmosphere.  

“As much as we are going to be screening applicants, those applicants – if they’re successful – are going to be screening us,” she said.  

Dignam said it’s important the University has a “good story to encourage applicants to apply,” and that involves understanding community strengths.

In terms of the pace at which the search has been moving to select a new vice president of DICE, Dignam said she doesn’t believe the search should be seen as being suspended, but instead that it is “going at a much slower pace” than the current provost search committee.

“Suspension to me would mean progress has ceased,” she said, “like there’s no activity going on, and activity is going on.”

Dignam said WittKieffer “will be recruiting and screening applicants” over the summer, and then in the fall, interviews will be conducted.    

While the University has gone nearly nine months without a vice president of DICE, Cevallos said the position is still important and adaptations have been made without the position filled – highlighting many of the responsibilities the vice president of DICE is accountable for. 

“The position works very closely with faculty and in a number of different ways,” he said. “Working with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Working with the faculty of color. Working with affinity groups. Working with faculty and staff groups, and just overall, looking at the development and the maintaining of diversity, equity, and inclusion on the campus.”  

He said this year, many of the responsibilities the vice president of DICE would normally be responsible for have been carried out by Director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence Eric Nguyen as well as Vice President for Enrollment and Student Development Lorretta Holloway.

“Vice President Holloway – she has been doing an awful lot of things above and beyond what her job description and job responsibilities are to make sure that we continue to provide the services for all the community in terms of all the activities that DICE organizes,” said Cevallos.

Holloway said she doesn’t have a direct relationship with the search committee itself, but her current role is to “supervise the staff in DICE.”

“Eric reports to me and so will the new Executive Assistant to DICE as soon as that person is hired,” she added.  

Additionally, Holloway said she is responsible for the budget review and submission request for the vice president of DICE office and final approval of the CIE budget.

Nguyen said without a vice president of DICE, there are important aspects that have been lost around diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

He said among those aspects is a “high-level strategic process to how we approach DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] work here at Framingham State.”  

He also said the University lacks “somebody who can unite the efforts that are happening across campus.”

Nguyen highlighted committees the vice president of DICE would normally sit on, including the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force and a committee he said provides funding for DEI initiatives.  

“We have a number of different committees, and in general, the DICE vice president is the chair of each of those committees and can offer cohesion right across the different committees,” he said – “help them see the ways in which their work connects to a more united vision for what DEI can look like here at Framingham.” 

He said this is something that has been lost, especially because each committee is now chaired by a different person, adding, “We don’t have the same level of organization that we might see if there was one person who’s connecting all of these different efforts.”  

There are two committees he said he chairs – the Bias Education Response Team and the Inclusive Excellence Funding Committee.

Nguyen also highlighted the many other individuals who have stepped up and taken on more work in the absence of a vice president of DICE.

“They include Dr. Cara Pina, who has served as faculty co-chair of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion; Dr. May Hara and Dr. Lissa Bollettino, who are Director and Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, Scholarship and Service; Dr. Yumi Park [Huntington], Chair of Arts and Ideas; and numerous others who have stepped into visible and behind-the-scenes leadership roles to ensure that we maintain our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at FSU,” he said.   

Coming out of 2020, FSU “put a lot of time and energy and effort” into defining what it means to be an anti-racist institution,” said Nguyen.  

“It’s not that the work hasn’t continued,” he said. “It’s just, it’s not moving at the same pace.”  

Without a vice president of DICE, Nguyen said there’s no leading figure saying, “Here’s where we’ve been, here’s where we are, here’s where we need to be going,” adding the “urgency” for diversity, equity, and inclusion has been somewhat lost.

Part of the “trepidation” of selecting a vice president of DICE, Nguyen said, might have come from the fact that Niemi will be taking over as president fairly soon and may look at the current diversity agenda and make her own suggestions or changes.

“Someone new might come in and change the priorities,” he said. “Maybe it’s because of their own experiences. Maybe it’s because they bring a fresh perspective and see new opportunities.”

Nguyen said while he would normally report to a vice president of DICE if one were in place, being able to report to Holloway is “ideal.  

“A lot of the work I do relates to these other functional areas that she already oversees,” he said. “There is this connection to student development.

“A lot of the work I do is about how we talk about students belonging and inclusivity on campus, which then becomes like a marketing and communications and admissions enrollment recruiting endeavor,” he added. “So, a lot of the work I do touches on the things that she is working on.”

Nguyen called this a “natural synergy” and said reporting to her has allowed him to have conversations about what’s happening at the CIE level, which then leads to the “bigger picture” agenda he believes a vice president of DICE would typically be thinking about.

Eventually having a vice president of DICE in place, he said, would give him an opportunity to attend to other areas of need within his position.

“It would free up a lot of my time to focus on doing more direct student support, to do more programming, to think a little bit more about what this role in this center looks like and what we provide to our campus, especially as we emerge from this pandemic,” he said.

Nguyen said as the University begins to search for a new vice president of DICE, he hopes the institution thinks about what DICE looks like as a whole.   

The office of DICE consists of the vice president, the director of the CIE, a part-time coordinator for the CIE, and an executive assistant, said Nguyen, adding, “It’s a very slim department that is expected to oversee a lot of work across the entire University and with community partners out in Framingham and MetroWest.”  

Thinking about how the new vice president of DICE will be supported is important, he added, saying the “reimagining of how we structure DICE” and how DEI work is “intentionally” infused on campus will be crucial.

Cevallos said he is grateful to Nguyen for the workload he has taken on, adding the most important aspect of Nguyen’s job is “maintaining all the activities and all the events for the student groups. And that’s the focus on his position. That is so important for him to do.

“Certainly, it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to do any more than he’s already doing,” he said. “He has a tremendous amount of energy and a great commitment, and I think that we have been fortunate to have him with us during this time.” 

Malik Martin, the student representative on the Vice President for DICE Search Committee, said he is “grateful to represent the student body in looking for a talented and eclectic VP for DICE. 

“It’s important that we have someone in this position that will not only assist and take charge in creating a more diverse atmosphere, but help to foster new relationships across campus within various disciplines and cultures,” he added. 

“Finding the perfect candidate for this position will take time, but we as a committee seek to only hire the best of the best, whose values align with that of Framingham State University, ‘Live to the Truth,’” said Martin.  

SGA President McKenzie Ward said she is upset about the delay in the search. 

“The University at large was not made aware of this delay,” she said. “Others were only made aware through reading The Gatepost.”

Ward said if the University is going to commit itself to being an anti-racist institution, “filling this position should be seen as a priority.”

She also raised concerns about how long it will take to complete the search, adding, “By the time I graduate in May of 2023, who knows if we’ll even have a new VP of DICE or if half my undergraduate career, we’ll have had no one serving in this role.”

Ward said prioritizing “inclusivity” and “diversity” is crucial. 

Dara Barros, SGA diversity and inclusion officer, said because Framingham State has gone almost a year without a vice president of DICE, she is concerned about the University’s commitment to anti-racism. 

Barros said the University also prides itself on “transparent communication,” but the student body wasn’t informed of this delay. 

“Students had to read about the delay of the search in The Gatepost, which is unacceptable,” she said. 

“Everyone has been tremendously hard at work trying to fill in the void that the University is missing and there is only so much we can do without someone in this important role,” she added. 

Selena Sheehy, vice president of Motivation. Intersectionality. Solidarity. Sisterhood. (M.I.S.S.), said she is disappointed with the delay and emphasized the importance of having a vice president of DICE.  

“DICE VP is a very important role that is needed to support our students, but most importantly, our students of color,” she said. 

“DICE and the CIE are the outlets for our students of color and when we continue to delay the search for an adequate VP, the school makes it seem less important to them,” she added. “I cannot say I am surprised, though.”  

[Editor’s Note: McKenzie Ward is Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]