The Rise of Diversity Officers at Universities

June 29, 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, according to executive recruiters, with a broad range of responsibilities beyond that of most administrators. In turn, executive search firms have become valuable partners to colleges in finding the right talent for the role.

Just recently, WittKieffer placed Franklin A. Tuitt as vice president and chief diversity officer of the University of Connecticut. Consultant Charlene Aguilar and associate Christine Pendleton led the assignment. Mr. Tuitt has been a faculty member at the University of Denver since 2004 and served as chief diversity officer from 2015-19.

“This is an essential position for any university, but especially for a great public university seeking to ensure a welcoming and vibrant intellectual environment for all of our students, faculty and staff,” said Thomas Katsouleas, president of UConn. “Reporting directly to me, Frank will serve as the university’s main strategist for efforts to define, assess and promote diversity, inclusion and opportunity at UConn and UConn Health. The value of diversity to a university cannot be overstated, but nor can it be merely an objective often discussed but never achieved.”

WittKieffer also recruited Carol E. Henderson as vice provost for diversity and inclusion, and first chief diversity officer and advisor to the president at Emory University. Consultants Oliver B. Tomlin and Jennifer G. Bauer led the search. “Carol Henderson is a widely recognized leader in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in academia, and in communicating a deeper understanding of what it means to embrace these values,” said Emory University president Claire E. Sterk. “Her insight, inspiration and vision will reinforce our history and strong foundation in these areas and provide a spring- board for our future.”

Meanwhile, Koya Leadership Partners recently placed Michael Dixon as chief inclusion and diversity officer of Susquehanna University following a nationwide search. Principal Mo Lashendock led the assignment along with consultant Josyanne Roche. Koya was looking for a visionary leader with proven experience in leading diversity and inclusion initiatives Mr. Dixon fit that bill. He previously served as chief diversity officer and director of intercultural services at Manchester University.

“Inclusive excellence, intercultural competence and global citizen- ship are critically important guiding principles for Susquehanna, and they are the most important values we can cultivate among our students and colleagues as we encounter an increasingly challenging cultural environment,” said Jonathan D. Green, president of Susquehanna University. “I look forward to welcoming Michael to our community and to working with him to promote a welcoming environment for all, on and off campus.”

Harvard University, the oldest college in the U.S., recently used Isaacson, Miller to recruit Lisa Coleman as its chief diversity and inclusion officer. This is a new position for the school. Partners Keight Tucker Kennedy and Ponneh Varho led the search along with senior associate Sonia Gomez.

Ms. Coleman, who has served in a similar capacity at Tufts University for the past three years, also will hold the title of special assistant to the president and will be responsible for developing a strategic approach and the supporting programs and platforms for promoting diversity across campus.

Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst also recently 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. Leading the UMass search is partner Monroe “Bud” Moseley, along with senior associate Chloë Kanas and associate Jenna Sattar Kwiatek.

West Hartford, Conn-based Academic Career & Executive Search was recently selected by the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, a regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh, to lead the search for the school’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer. Managing partner Jennifer Muller is leading the assignment. “In this inaugural role, a pioneering spirit will serve the founding chief diversity and inclusion officer well as they develop, nurture and strengthen an inclusive, equitable, safe and culturally responsive and supportive environment for all students, faculty and staff,” said the search firm.

Academic Career & Executive Search has served in virtually every capacity in higher education including president, vice president, provost, dean, chief human research officer and faculty members across all types and sizes of institutions.

Greenwood/Asher & Associates, a Miramar Beach, FL-based executive recruitment firm, has been enlisted to find a chief diversity officer for the University of Delaware. Jan Greenwood, president of the firm, and Marion Frenche, practice leader for diversity, equity and inclusion, are leading the assignment.

The University of Delaware seeks a seasoned academic administrator to provide innovative, progressive leadership, said the search firm. The chief diversity officer will be charged with leading the university community efforts to build an environment of inclusive excellence. “The chief diversity officer will be a leader, adviser, advocate, catalyst for change and institutional resource focused
on infusing diversity, equity and inclusion into all programs and activities, tracking progress toward these goals and communicating progress to an engaged community,” said he recruitment firm.

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