I appreciate the comments by Marquis Harrison that appeared both in the Campus Times and the Messenger Magazine. Marquis recognized that I share with him, the University Board of Trustees and the academic leadership a deep commitment to diversity and academic excellence and want to be sure that we are as effective as possible in both of these intertwined objectives.
He questioned whether I had “spent enough effort and time searching for the best qualified person” to fill the new Vice Provost position that I created in response to the recommendations of the Task Force on Faculty Diversity and Inclusiveness.
I appointed Lynne Davidson, who is my deputy and who was chair of this Task Force, to this position. Marquis notes I did not conduct a national search for this position as I have done for several other positions such as the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences.
I spent a good deal of time thinking about this decision and will stand by it. There are several considerations that Marquis did not analyze that were of considerable significance to me.
First, there is a fundamental difference between appointing a new university officer who has to create a program and appointing someone to carry on an existing program. I had in place a Senior Vice President for Health Affairs when I conducted the search that led to the selection of Brad Berk for this position.
The search, as is typical of national searches, took many months before Brad was able to assume his role as Senior VP, but the Medical Center had leadership throughout that period. In contrast, the new diversity and inclusiveness program could not begin effectively until the program had a leader. This meant a potential delay not just of months, but of an entire year or more before its work could have an impact on faculty searches and inclusiveness at our campus.
Second, it is not unusual to appoint the chair of a successful task force to take the lead in implementing its recommendations. Who better than the chair will understand not only the recommendations, but the debates from which they emerged and the complexities of implementing them in our highly decentralized university?
Finally, let me note that Lynne’s experience in the Offices of the Provost and the President is of real significance here. She has an unusually effective record of coordinating initiatives in all of our schools as was demonstrated most recently in the unanimous recommendations of this Task Force. She is deeply committed to diversity both in terms of gender and underrepresented minorities and further understands that diversity goes hand in hand with academic excellence.
My job ultimately is to select people who are most likely to succeed in achieving the goals of their programs. I have no doubt that Lynne will prove outstanding in that regard and, in my opinion, is far more likely to do so rapidly and effectively in our decentralized system of schools than alternative candidates that would have been produced by a national search.