Report IDs way to make campus more welcoming for all

Nicole Stempak

Report reccomends chief diversity officer in Lefton’s cabinet

Kent State needs a chief diversity officer who reports directly to the president, a 60-page report more than a year in the making says.

The report is the summation of the Commission on Inclusion, a committee President Lester Lefton created more than a year ago to make Kent State more welcoming and improve diversity among students and faculty. Lefton named the Rev. Ronald Fowler chairman of the group of 25 faculty, professors, students and community members. Fowler is a retired senior pastor of Arlington Church of God in Akron and a 1959 Kent State graduate.

While the diversity officer’s duties are not finalized, Lefton said it is likely some of the responsibilities will come from the commission’s 15 priority recommendations. These include:

n Identifying a Kent State mission and vision statement on inclusive values that serves as the primary document for inclusion and inclusive action

n Developing and implementing a university-wide accountability system (with performance indicators and measures) that requires all academic and administrative units to make public their annual diversity progress

n Appoint an ongoing presidential advisory committee to monitor progress on commission recommendations. Reports should be presented to the President and the Board of Trustees at least annually

n Support and enhance university recruitment, retention and scholarship programs to attract high achieving first-generation, targeted and underrepresented students.

n Branding Inclusive Excellence, similar to Excellence in Action

n Remove physical barriers for all faculties, grounds and transportation systems to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, staff and visitors

n Recruit, appoint, promote and retain diverse faculty and staff with the goal of structured representation at all levels of the university, particularly senior-level leadership positions within the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and the Office of Academic Affairs

Pat Book, vice president for regional development who served on the commission, said they found the university was not doing enough to ensure students graduate with a “strength for human differences and diverse ideas.”

Kent State needs to better prepare students for “the world of the future, the world we’re in,” Book said.

Lefton said he hoped the commission will help Kent State keep up with a diversifying population.

“We say we want society to be more inclusive; we want republicans to like democrats,” he said. “. But it all just doesn’t happen. Somebody’s got to be in charge.

“Somebody has to wake up every morning with the principal goal of their job to do something to bring people together to set up educational programs to work to ensure that life in dormitories (and) life in classrooms is, in fact, inclusive and diverse. That dialogue exists rather than a debate.”

Steve Michael, vice provost of diversity, serves as chief diversity officer and oversees the Office of International Affairs. He reports to both Provost Robert Frank and Lefton.

Michael explained he is the current chief diversity officer because he meets the considered criteria. He said he manages a university-wide diversity agenda, has the most senior diversity leadership for the university and reports to the provost and the president.

“What we have not had is a chief diversity officer who is an executive officer, vice president, on the president’s cabinet,” Michael said. “When I leave, my diversity position will become the executive office.”

George Garrison, Pan-African Studies professor, wrote in an e-mail that the diversity position was originally conceived by the Pan-African Faculty and Staff Association as a source of leadership and increase the number of black and non-white administrators, faculty, staff and students.

“It is important that we get someone who will do that job correctly, feel sufficiently responsible to be totally dedicated to the accomplishment of the goals and mission of that office, and will not be timid about implementing those strategies that will bring about real change, relative to black representation (faculty, students, staff, and academic administrators) on this campus,” he wrote. “We have been stuck in neutral far too long on this campus, relative to this issue.”

Ashley Tolliver, president of Black United Students, said she hopes the chief diversity officer tackles race-related issues on campus.

“With this new position added to the executive offices, there will hopefully be a clear definition of what diversity is,” she said. “Right now, the word diversity is being thrown around very loosely, ignoring the fact that race is a big deal on campus.”

Now that the commission report is finished, Michael said the difficult work will begin.

“Having recommendations doesn’t mean much,” Michael said. “Implementation becomes successful when we can hold people accountable.”

Contact administration reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].