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Should the university hire a new chief diversity officer?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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YES

As a white male from a comfortable, middle-class background, it would be easy for me to dismiss attempts to aid minority students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It’s the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mindset: I made it to college and am doing fine. Why can’t everyone else succeed like me?

In reality, the comforts and privileges that typify the life of an economically stable white male often distort perceptions. From the first time they step on campus, minority students can feel out of place in a largely ethnically homogenous setting.

It’s why the different University of Iowa cultural centers are so important. And it’s why we need positions such as the chief diversity officer.

The job has existed at the university in some capacity since 2004, but the UI is in the midst of finding a new person to fill the position. The fourth of five candidates will interview today.

I’m sure many conservatives dismiss the chief diversity officer as a politically correct attempt to make the university more diverse. And the position is undoubtedly costly. (Although UI spokesman Tom Moore wouldn’t discuss numbers, I think it’s safe to say the person will make six figures.) But it’s also essential to the university’s mission.

The core goal of public universities is both to democratize opportunity and educate thinking, intelligent citizens. The chief diversity officer is vital in ensuring students from a variety of backgrounds are able to do just that.

Diversity has unfortunately become a vacuous buzz word for administrators to throw around when they’re seeking positive public relations. But as Charisse Levchak, a UI teaching assistant in sociology, stated in a recent Daily Iowan guest opinion, “Minority students should be treated as more than tokens who help to bring ‘diversity’ to the university.”

That means not just recruiting minority and disadvantaged students, but working arduously to help them excel once they’re on campus. And it means hiring a chief diversity officer specifically tasked with ensuring students of all ethnicities and backgrounds can succeed in a healthy environment.

— by Shawn Gude

NO

A chief diversity officer seems like a nice touch for the university. Yet as administrators have gone ahead with the search for the position, I must question the wisdom of hiring someone to coordinate “diversity” efforts on simple cost and redundancy basis.

If you haven’t ever checked out the state salary database, I urge you to search the salaries of the top eight administrators at the UI. Looking in the database, one sees the top administrators all easily earn more than $200,000 per year. Figuring the chief diversity officer would make around the same amount, we just added another $200,000 annual burden to the UI’s budget.

This expenditure comes at a horrible financial time for the university. This year, for the first time, tuition funded the majority of the university’s general fund. In the future, tuition is likely to pay for more of what the school does.

So how does a chief diversity officer sound when officials have to keep raising your tuition to pay for it? Do you feel your wallet is the victim of discrimination?

Furthermore, the chief diversity officer duplicates what other university offices already do. The position oversees the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, and the Office of Equity and human-rights investigations.

If their titles don’t sound redundant, consider that the first two offices primarily develop programming to promote and ensure diversity, while the last one investigates possible discrimination complaints (I thought that was what the university ombudsperson did).

As a matter of controlling costs, hiring a chief diversity officer is a poor management decision.

Considering the position only increases the tuition costs for students while returning little to them, administrators should work on shifting responsibilities around among the senior administrators.

Alternatively, here’s another option. Hire a chief diversity officer, but get it endowed by alumni. Just don’t punish students’ wallets.

— by Jonathan Groves


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