Emory Report
April 24, 2006
Volume 58, Number 28


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April 24 , 2006
Search for Emory’s first ‘CDO’ ready to begin

BY michael terrazas

Provost Earl Lewis has convened a search committee and contracted with an outside search firm, and the hunt is about to begin in earnest for Emory’s first senior vice provost for diversity and community development.

Lewis and University Secretary Rosemary Magee, who chairs the search committee, hosted an informal public meeting, April 19 in White Hall, to talk about both general ideas about diversity and community development, and specifically about the kind of person they’re looking for, all to “continue developing the position description,” as Magee put it.

For background, the 40 or so people in attendance were given copies of a recent article in Inside Higher Education titled “What is a Chief Diversity Officer?” Also on hand were Scott Walker and Anne Swarz-Peer of the SpencerStuart executive search firm, long a familiar presence in high-level Emory searches.

Chief diversity officers (or CDOs, as it called them) are a growing trend in colleges and universities, lagging slightly behind an earlier and identical trend in U.S. corporations, according to the Inside Higher Ed article and to Walker, who said searches of this nature are one of his specialties.

But just because many places are doing it does not mean anyone has settled on the perfect model or even the perfect definition of “diversity,” Lewis said, and that’s probably the biggest reason such an individual is not already sitting in the Administration Building. The provost said, after he arrived at Emory in 2004, he quickly saw the need “for someone whose primary responsibility it is to think about the range of activities we collect under the term ‘diversity.’”

But Lewis wanted to make the right kind of hire for the right kind of position. So he patiently gathered his data, talking to people all around campus, and last week’s meeting was the latest bit of data collection.
Magee posed two questions to the crowd: How will Emory know, in a year or a few years, if it has been successful in this endeavor? And what does “diversity” mean in the first place?

Responses ranged from the half-joking (on the question of metrics for measuring success, Sam Marie Engle of the Office of University-Community Partnerships suggested, “Fox News will hate us [if we succeed].”) to the half-cynical (said professor Darryl Neill from psychology, “I’ve moved from thinking this position is frivolous PR to thinking this person might actually do something.”), but there were also plenty of serious, honest opinions.

Traci Cameron from the finance office said the position will have succeeded if it creates three things: a “buzz” around campus about diversity; an atmosphere of open dialogue; and a comfortable environmental of exploration.

Alicia Sierra from Goizueta Business School, who actually holds a similar position to the one under discussion, said Emory needs to develop clear, attainable strategies for each of its various constituencies (faculty, staff, students, etc.) with respect to diversity.

Associate Dean Bob Lee from the medical school said the new person should have the ability to be “effectively confrontational.” “If we stay too close to our comfort level,” he said, “we will not move anywhere.”
Jan Gleason from marketing communications suggested that one measure of success will be if Emory can keep solid, constant attention on matters of diversity and community development, rather than only using such efforts as fire extinguishers when negative situations occur.

And, regarding the latter, Lewis said he has no illusions about the benefits provided even if Emory hires the best person in the world: “Will success mean there won’t be any more conflict on campus?” Lewis asked. “I hardly believe that.” But the right kind of senior vice provost will help the University manage such difficulties in an open, respectful—and genuinely productive—manner, the provost said.

Lewis and Magee invited anyone to continue providing input to the search process through a dedicated e-mail address: diversitycomvpsearch@learnlink.emory.edu.