A diversity task force reported its initial findings to the UConn board of trustees on Wednesday in a presentation that showed the university in the middle of the pack nationally in faculty diversity.
“This is bottom line with the faculty numbers: We are at the national average, and that is unacceptable to us,” Vice Provost for Global Affairs and task force co-chair Daniel Weiner said. “We want to be above average.”
The presentation outlined the task force’s proposals, including the hiring of an associate vice president who will serve as the university’s chief diversity officer and the creation of a 39-member diversity council to serve as forum for concerns.
A chief diversity officer position would not necessarily be new to the university, according to Dana Wilder, the assistant vice provost for academic affairs and the second task force co-chair. He said it has existed in past administrations in the provost’s office. However, he said UConn President Susan Herbst has “elevated” the position to someone with direct access to her office.
Weiner said the chief diversity officer would work in tandem with the university’s Title IX Coordinator, Elizabeth Conklin, but would address diversity issues from a much broader perspective.
The task force also called for a more concerted effort to improve minority faculty hiring and retention. UConn sits at No. 16 out of the top 30 public universities in diversity among tenured and tenure-track faculty, according to the report. It also found that black faculty hiring over the last three years has not increased.
“We don’t accept the fact that we are average,” Weiner said. “We want to be above average, and we need to do a better job recruiting and retaining faculty of color.”
The report said the university needs to work to increase interconnectedness between the cultural centers, ethnic studies institutes and international student and scholar services as well as the develop first-year programs to promote tolerance in the UConn community. It also said the university needs to improve diversity-specific fundraising efforts.
Herbst addressed members of the board of trustees about taking issues of diversity and inclusion seriously at UConn.
“We’re not rattling off buzzwords for public relations value, at least not here on our campus,” Herbst said. “We’re talking about human beings and the lives they lead."
Herbst asked Weiner and Wilder about how to address racism on social media, specifically inquiring about anonymous posting on Yik Yak.
Weiner said how to handle social media is “the fundamental question” for campus administrators.
“Like any technology, social media is contradictory,” Weiner said. “We think we can do a lot more celebrating what we do through social media, because one bad incident becomes reality.”
Herbst said instances of hate on social media are “hard to trace to perpetrators,” but that university law enforcement does everything possible to “find these people and bring them to justice.”
Weiner said the task force plans to hold a series of town hall meetings with students, faculty and staff in the coming weeks to gain community input. The first meeting will take place in the week following Thanksgiving Break, Wilder said.
The task force presented the report as a draft, with the final version expected to be completed in early 2016, according to Weiner.