For the chief diversity officer, business experience is valuable to a point

In a March 30 email, University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst announced the hiring of Joelle Murchison as the first Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). Murchison comes to Storrs from The Travelers in Hartford, after having spent some time in higher education as well at Wesleyan University.

Though Murchison’s business experience is valuable, for her to succeed as an advocate for students, she must rely more heavily on her experience in academia. 

Education, especially post-secondary education, has increasingly become an entity relying on many of the same strategies of corporate America. A Daily Campus report on Murchison’s hiring quoted a student, Julian Rose, who expressed concern in UConn’s decision to hire the “candidate with the most experience in corporate America.”

Herbst discussed Murchison’s current position at The Travelers, where she serves as the CDO, “responsible for creating, implementing and leading the execution of the company’s diversity strategy.” Murchison’s experience in the corporate world will allow her to adapt to the university structure with relative ease, as the basic chain of command is reminiscent of any large corporation.

Also, her experience working to enhance diversity at a corporation with over 30,000 employees prepares her to work with the over 20,000 members of the UConn community. 

The goals of a Fortune 500 corporation, however, do not align with that of an institution of higher education. Though this experience is an invaluable qualification for becoming UConn’s first CDO, the relationship between the university, students and faculty does not parallel that of a corporation and its employees.

The administration must be accountable for their actions in a manner different than that of corporate America. In order to fulfill her stated goal of being an advocate for students, Murchison must hold herself accountable to students as well as her superior, President Herbst. 

The CDO position, formed based on the recommendation of the Diversity Task Force, serves as the “main strategist responsible for guiding efforts to define, assess and promote diversity, inclusion and educational and employment opportunity at UConn.” 

President Herbst’s discussion of Joelle Murchison’s academic credentials, and remark that she began her career in education, contrast the stigma surrounding a corporate executive entering academic administration. Ultimately, Murchison will be judged upon her ability to promote diversity in Storrs and throughout the branch campuses.

Her combination of corporate and academic experience is suited to the layout of the modern university. So long as Murchison views concerns and solutions through the lens of student concern, her corporate experience should serve as a valuable asset to UConn.