First, let me say I applaud President Seligman’s efforts to address a very serious problem regarding faculty diversity throughout the University. It is something that is long overdue here, considering that many of our peer institutions have recognized the lack of faculty of color and have implemented many measures to increase their amounts of underrepresented minorities in their faculty. The president’s convening of a special task force to address faculty diversity was the first step in recognizing a major problem that is not only faced here in Rochester, but in many institutions of higher education. My happiness with the president thus goes without saying. However, I’m very concerned that the University is not taking all the steps it could to reach its goal.
His deputy, Lynne Davidson, led the task force convened by the president. The task force worked for nearly seven months on the report and put forth 31 recommendations to the President to increase faculty diversity, all of which he adopted. The recommendations consist of, “University-wide coordination of faculty diversity programs and policies, a Special Opportunities Fund for diversity hiring, family friendly policies and implementation of specified best practices.”
The first recommendation, and perhaps one of the most significant initiatives, calls on the president to appoint faculty diversity officers. These people will assist deans and chairs of departments in searching for faculty to help assure that there are comprehensive and consistent training standards in place and will address questions on issues such as local schools, daycare and resources for special needs children.
The faculty diversity officers will be responsible for a number of other activities regarding diversity, including coordinating annual reporting on the status, progress and challenges of diversity. This person will ultimately be the most important person in the university with regards to faculty diversity.
While I applaud the idea of having a faculty diversity officer for each University school, and the president’s acceptance of all the recommendations, I do not think that the president spent enough effort and time searching for the best qualified person to fill this role.
Seligman appointed his deputy and chairperson of the task force, Lynne Davidson, as Vice Provost of Faculty Development and Diversity. This appointment is quite problematic considering the president did not conduct a national search to fill the position. Several weeks ago, I recall asking President Seligman about the lack of diversity in his senior leadership team, and he said this was something that was important to him. However, he also stressed the importance of having the best-qualified person possible.
It seems to me that if diversity is valued as a key priority to this institution, then the same standards that the institution used in looking for a Vice President of Communications, Vice Provost of Information Technology, Dean of the Faculty of the College, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences and CEO of the Medical Center would likely be used in filling the new role of Vice Provost of Faculty Development and Diversity. Conducting a national search would ensure that we have a committee of different faculty members to review the applicant, that there would be many applicants from diverse backgrounds and fields, that the candidates would bring new ideas with them to help enhance faculty diversity before starting the job and it would show that filling this position is just as important as any other member of the president’s senior leadership team.
The president’s appointment of Davidson does not seem to uphold the principles of “Meliora,” as it is known that she is not a member of the faculty and that her experience with issues of diversity is very limited. I think I must say that my criticism of the president’s choice is not to say that Davidson could not rise to the challenge of diversifying our faculty. However, is she the most qualified person? Did the University do all it could do to search for the best person for this role? And if we think this is a serious effort, is it perceived as a serious matter by the institution when it does not conduct national searches as it does for all other senior level appointments?
Again, the president and the task force should be commended for taking such initiatives to address faculty diversity with the appointment of a Vice Provost of Faculty Development and Diversity. However, this process deserves to rank with the same importance of appointing any other member of the senior leadership team. The appointment of Davidson does not show that we have found the most qualified person, or that this issue was a major priority. It is almost too convenient that the president names his deputy to now be the Vice Provost and lead all efforts of diversifying faculty at the University.
Addressing issues of faculty diversity will be highly challenging and should be completed by someone that has experience dealing with diversity issues, or an individual who has been a member of the faculty of an institution of higher education. This is the first such position of diversity at this esteemed institution; as such, the position should be awarded after a national search to find the most accredited individual for the post. Meliora!
Harrison is a member of the class of 2007.