Within the hour following the president of the University of Missouri stepping down from office on Nov. 9, University of Connecticut president Susan Herbst announced that UConn will be hiring an Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer (CDO).
“The role of this campus leader will be to serve as the university’s main strategist responsible for guiding efforts and creating substantive programs to define, assess and promote diversity and inclusion, educational and employment opportunity, and cultural proficiency at UConn,” Herbst said in her email to the entire faculty, staff and student body.
Despite the timeliness of the job posting, Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Dana Wilder said the Chief Diversity Officer position at UConn is in no way a response to the recent events at Missouri.
“The task force started a year ago and the report came out this past summer,” Wilder said. “This was not in response to Missouri or any other recent incident. A lot of us have been working on this and we want to make this a good place that welcomes and respects everyone.”
After the hiring of the CDO, whose main goal will be to lead the diversification of the faculty and staff to match the diversity of the student body and the world, the Office of Diversity and Equity is likely to be reworked into an Office of Institutional Equity that will be separate but often collaborating with the Chief Diversity and the Diversity Council that is in the process of being established. Together these three entities will make up the diversity infrastructure UConn’s Task Force report called for.
“This position will help us with new ideas to make this the best place for all of us,” Wilder said. “The position will help with the environmental issues, with more of the heart and mind. Helping us to have those courageous conversations.”
Wilder stressed diversity is an ongoing issue, not only across the country and the world as the past week’s events in Missouri and France have displayed, but also here at UConn.
“The CDO will help with recruiting,” Wilder said. “The faculty and staff are not as diverse as our student body and we need to find ways to change that.”
The CDO will not just be working to help the school diversify racially and ethnically, but also in research areas, in socio-economic backgrounds, in lifestyles, in all the ways that people are different. This mission is in line with the initiative launched by the Provost’s Office last year that required a diversity statement in the application of each faculty candidate.
“We need to be aware that there are a lot of different people and differences should be embraced,” Wilder said.
Although this is the first CDO set to be hired, UConn has been working toward these diversification goals for the past several years and according to the Task Force Report published in August 2015 “recruitment, retention and graduation rates of students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds have been the greatest areas of strength over the past ten years.”
In fall of 2005, 18.8 percent of the undergraduate students at UConn were from underrepresented backgrounds and in fall 2014 that number had risen to 28.5 percent, according to the Task Force report.
All candidates for the CDO position will be required to have at least a Master’s degree and a minimum of five years leading efforts in the area of diversity and inclusion, according to the job posting. Candidates also must be able to collect and use data to assess the effectiveness of initiatives they put in place.
“The CDO will have an office that will do research and work with offices that also collect data to make sure that they are heading in the right direction,” Wilder said. “Research refers to looking at best practices that are out there and looking at what other institutions are doing to help with their climate and culture.”
Essentially, the CDO is expected to have a detailed knowledge of the university’s mission of diversity and its importance in higher education as they work to promote diversity and inclusion at UConn within programs, offices and curricula.
“He or she will also work with university units that are responsible for equity and diversity programs which support a campus environment that is free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” Herbst said in her email.