Michigan State and UMass Tap Isaacson, Miller to Find Chief Diversity Officers

CDOs have become increasingly vital leaders in higher education’s push for diversity and inclusion. As MSU and UMass embrace change, they are seeking individuals for these roles who can help lead the way in an intelligent and effective manner.

February 24, 2020 – The role of chief diversity officer is expanding at universities. It has become one of the most important positions for shaping the vision, culture and very face of institutions of higher learning from coast to coast. It is also increasingly becoming a cabinet-level job, with a broad range of responsibilities beyond that of most administrators. So it is that executive search firms have become valuable partners to colleges in finding the right talent for the role.

Recently, Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst called in Isaacson, Miller to help find chief diversity officers.

Leading the Michigan State assignment is partner Rebecca Kennedy, along with senior associate Alycia Johnson and associate Sydney Giller.

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University is a leading land-grant university, and an innovator in research, teaching, and application of knowledge.

MSU wants a dynamic and strategic individual to join the institution at a transformative time as the university furthers its commitment to excellence by making diversity, equity, and inclusion a top institutional priority. Under the leadership of the school’s 21st president, Samuel L. Stanley, MSU is committed to adopting a comprehensive framework for advancing diversity at the university centrally and within academic and support units in a sustainable way that fosters change.

“The chief diversity officer must have extensive knowledge of existing research and best practices to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education,” Isaacson, Miller said. “This role also requires the demonstrated ability to apply and contribute to national best practices, and a demonstrated appreciation for the values associated with diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. The winning candidate must have well-developed skills in facilitating inclusive dialogues that enable positive growth, the capacity to translate strategic goals into actionable implementation plans, and experience in institutional change management.”

Key Role

Leading the UMass search is partner Monroe “Bud” Moseley, along with senior associate Chloë Kanas and associate Jenna Sattar Kwiatek. Founded in 1863, UMass is one of the nation’s top public universities, an R1 research university and the flagship of the University of Massachusetts system.

The vice chancellor, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer role is key for UMass Amherst’s next institutional chapter. Joining a supportive leadership team in the chancellor’s office, the incoming executive is expected to partner closely with and advise leaders across the university on unit-specific responsibilities and goals, connecting them with the resources, training and strategies they need to carry out their diversity, equity and inclusion work and produce clearly defined outcomes.

Related: Recruiting and Retaining Your Next Chief Diversity Officer

“The successful candidate must bring extensive knowledge of diversity, equity and inclusion practices sufficient to participate in conversations at the highest levels of the university and with constituents beyond the university such as alumni, local officials, community groups, and national organizations,” Isaacson, Miller said. Prospects must have demonstrated experience in an academic community as a faculty member or administrator, or work experiences that demonstrate an understanding of and effectiveness of working on diversity, equity and inclusion issues within a complex higher education institutional setting.

Finding Transformational Leaders

A nationally recognized search firm focused on recruiting transformational leaders for mission-driven organizations, Isaacson, Miller has conducted thousands of placements over more than three decades. More than half of the firm’s work has been in academia, involving university presidents, college chancellors and deans. The firm has filled top leadership posts at Wellesley College, Washington State University, Miami University, Howard University, Bowdoin College, Dartmouth, NYU, Virginia State University and the University of North Carolina, among others.


University of Alaska Anchorage and UConn Tap WittKieffer to Find Chief Diversity Officers

The University of Connecticut (UConn) and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) enlisted WittKieffer to help find chief diversity officers. Diversity and inclusion is integral to WittKieffer’s culture and mission. The firm’s commitment to diversity began decades ago with its efforts to support diversity in the ranks of its client partners’ senior management teams. “We believe that a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion is critical to the success of both our firm and our client partners,” Witt/Kieffer said.

The majority of Witt/Kieffer’s workforce is women, and of its 30 partners, almost half, or 13, are women. Many serve in leadership and governance roles, including the vice chair of the board, chief financial officer, chief knowledge officer, chief human resources officer, the head of the U.S. operational committee and the head of the international operating committee.


Ms. Kennedy has more than 15 years of experience recruiting leaders in higher education and non-profit organizations. She specializes in functional leadership positions including research administration, technology transfer and commercialization, compliance, privacy, finance and academic administration. Some of the newly created positions that Ms. Kennedy has helped recruit executives for include the president and CEO of the UCLA Technology Development Corp., senior director of privacy at Stanford University and assistant vice president of Title IX compliance at Northeastern University.

Related: Here’s the Single Biggest Challenge Facing Diversity Leaders

Mr. Moseley joined Isaacson, Miller in 1989 after a distinctive career in higher education and industry. He is skilled in conducting executive searches for a wide range of non-profit clients, including small and large public, private and faith-based institutions, community and liberal arts colleges, as well as doctoral, research intensive universities and institutes. Mr. Moseley has served organizations and agencies in human and social services, associations and foundations, as well as clients working in healthcare, community development, advocacy and social justice. Bud has recruited executive, administrative and technical officers, whether titled president, chancellor, executive director, vice president, provost, dean or director.

Commitment to Diversity

Since its founding in 1982, Isaacson, Miller has been committed to identifying diverse pools of candidates for our client organizations. “We have established an extensive network of contacts who share our commitment to diversity, and we call and build upon this network in every search,” the firm said. “We work with our clients to uphold legal protections and also to resist explicit as well as tacit, conscious as well as unconscious, biases that lead to discriminatory hiring practices.”

“We see diversity in all of its forms as critical to the strength and well-being of the civic sector. Inclusion of diverse voices enhances our creativity, expands our ways of learning and thinking, and challenges us as individuals to be open-minded,” Isaacson, Miller said. “It is also a foundational element in building a just and equitable society.”

Related: Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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