Baylor considers diversity officer position

Baylor’s administration is considering the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer position that will enhance the diversity of campus in accordance with the university’s Christian mission of hospitality and unity.

The CDO would largely be responsible for facilitating increased diversity among faculty and staff. While Baylor’s student body is the second-most racially and ethnically diverse in the Big 12 (after University of Texas at Austin), its faculty does not reflect the same level of diversity. 35.4 percent of the undergraduate student population is a minority. However, only 13 percent of Baylor’s full-time faculty, and 17 percent of its full-time staff, have self-identified as people of color. And while 58 percent of the undergraduate student population are women, only 38.8 percent of full-time faculty are.

“Our goal is to ensure the creation and fostering of a welcoming environment that attracts, nurtures and retains the very best faculty and staff, representing both sexes, various racial and ethnic backgrounds, and individuals with disabilities,” President Ken Starr said.

The creation of the position has come out of years of efforts to increase diversity at Baylor. In his recent memoir “Baylor at the Crossroads,” former Provost Donald D. Schmeltekopf said one of his goals when he was at Baylor, from 1991 to 2003, was to increase the university’s level of diversity. Pro Futuris, the vision for Baylor that was first launched in May 2012, makes the attraction and retention of a diverse and well-qualified faculty one of its goals.

The university’s five-year goal, approved by the Board of Regents in 2014, also underscored this mission. The five-year goal pledges to “develop and implement a plan to enhance outreach efforts to and recruitment of members of diverse groups that are underrepresented among faculty, staff and students.”

While the university has long sought to create diversity on campus, the idea of a single office to fulfill this role was introduced relatively recently, said Elizabeth Palacios, dean for student development. Student groups and faculty have advocated for the creation of the CDO role, largely to create a faculty that is more reflective of the diversity of the student body.

“We have a need. If we keep doing what we’re doing, nothing’s going to change. Even though we have resources and knowledge and expertise on campus, but it’s just in little pockets or silos. With a Chief Diversity Officer, we’re actually going to have the opportunity to have an office that is going to be able to bring expertise but also walk alongside us as we look at the recruitment of faculty of color and women, as we look at the campus climate,” Palacios said.

Provost Edwin Trevathan has convened a Chief Diversity Officer Implementation Group (CDO Group) to determine the roles and responsibilities of a CDO at Baylor. Since August, the CDO Group has been collecting information on similar diversity officer positions at other universities and benchmarking their success.

While similar positions exist at other schools, the administration is committed to ensuring that the CDO embodies the unique Christian mission of Baylor University.

“The Chief Diversity Officer will be right in line with the Judeo-Christian mission of Baylor,” said Dr. Heidi Bostic, the chair of the CDO Group.

The CDO would largely be responsible for creating an atmosphere of Christian inclusion at Baylor. The CDO Group would like the roles of the officer to include broadening the candidate pool that academic departments hire from and ensuring that good hiring practices are followed throughout the university. The CDO would not mandate preferential hiring of people of color or women in faculty and staff positions, but simply ensure that the hiring process looks at the most diverse pool of candidates possible for each field.

The CDO would ultimately ensure that Baylor is following its Christian mission, Palacios said.

“Jesus embodied social justice. Jesus was about inclusivity. Our faith was based on the belief that God loves us all. How can we be Christians and not believe that God created all of us with uniqueness and difference?” Palacios said.

Indeed, she said that enhanced diversity would not only embody the Christian ideal of inclusiveness, but enable students to pursue excellence.

“With excellence comes responsibility. We can’t be excellent and be exclusive or homogeneous,” Palacios said.

The CDO group has held two town hall meetings with faculty and staff this semester to collect their feedback on the position’s roles and responsibilities. Based on that feedback, and from faculty letters written to the committee, the CDO Group will compose a final report, due to the Provost on December 4th. From there, the creation of the position and delegation of its duties will be the decision of Provost Trevathan and other members of administration.

Bostic said, so far, response from faculty to the position has been largely positive. Dr. Jerry Park, who teaches in the sociology department at Baylor, said that a CDO is a great first step in improving the climate of the university.

“The natural disposition is to have our unconscious biases and policies affect the way recruitment occurs. A Chief Diversity Officer could come in and say, why don’t we make a change in our policy,” Park said. “We need some sort of structural accountability that helps us to see where our problem areas happen to be. We did this with the Civil Rights Act. People said, ‘Why don’t we just let things be? We’ll have equal education for our kids, we’ll have equal access to jobs for our adults, we’ll have equal pay for women.’ These things don’t happen. You have to legislate it and create accountability.”

Park suggested, for example, that the CDO could open interviews to three candidates (the current number of interviewees for an open position is two), and ensure that the third candidate is a woman or a person of color. This policy would, again, not mandate preferential hiring, but ensure that a diverse pool of candidates is being considered for open positions.

However, some members of faculty have expressed confusion or resistance to the creation of a CDO position. Dr. Elizabeth Corey, a political science professor at Baylor, published an article that called for Christians to examine closely what diversity means, and to seek it in a wide range of viewpoints in a unified environment rather than in the establishment of a hiring quota. Corey declined to comment for this article.

Dr. Steve Bradley, who teaches in the Hankamer School of Business, expressed concern that the university intends to finance the hiring of a high-level administrative position that might pull funding from academic departments or programs.

“Regardless of the intention of the position, I’m not sure it’s in the best interest of students,” Bradley said. “I think that what’s drawn so many minority students already is that we’ve focused on what brings us together, and not what takes us apart.”

Dr. Stephen Evans, who teaches in the philosophy department, agrees that the CDO may divert funds from other projects but is open to the creation of the position.

“I wholeheartedly agree that Baylor needs to work hard at becoming more diverse. I’m all for anything that will help us achieve those goals, and I’m quite open to hiring a CDO if that will do that,” Evans said.

Evans wrote a letter to the CDO group, one of many from faculty and staff at Baylor, urging that there be a thorough discussion to define the Chief Diversity Officer’s role and the meanings of diversity at Baylor University. He expressed some doubt as to the cost of the position, and to the need for a single figure to achieve diversity.

Palacios, however, said that the effects of a CDO would go beyond the cost to the university.

“If we look at the disparity in the numbers of faculty of color, the numbers of women with full tenure position, that tells us we’re not doing the best we can. If we have someone whose job or role is to help us see things from a different perspective and create opportunities, maybe that one office will help us attract faculty of color. Maybe that one office can help us incubate future professors, future doctors, future scientists of color, because we’re actually taking care of our students. We should be incubating students to see that we need women and minorities in the sciences. To say that one position is going to take away salaries is not visionary. It’s not just one person sitting in an office. It’s the vision, it’s the potential, it’s the opportunity to bring about change and transformation, not only among faculty and staff, but most importantly for our students. How are we going to transform students if we don’t give them those resources and knowledge and expertise to interact with people who are different?” Palacios said.