New council would address diversity issues system-wide

By Leslie King | Emory Report | March 5, 2012

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A proposed council on Community and Diversity would replace the three president's commissions.

An Advisory Council on Community and Diversity that replaces the three president's commissions has been proposed by Senior Vice Provost for Community and Diversity Ozzie Harris. 
  

The President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), the President's Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE) and the President's Commission on Sexuality, Gender Diversity and Queer Equality (PCSGDQE) were established in 1976, 1979 and 1995 respectively.  They were set up to advise the University president on diversity-related issues.

Their contribution to new policies and educational programming and their recommendations helped establish the Center for Women, Office of LGBT Life, and the Office of Community and Diversity. Harris acknowledged their role in establishing his position: "I'm here partly because they thought this office was a good idea." 


Members of three commissions were briefed on the new structure in January. They attended a retreat Feb. 17 with the Diversity Officers Council and others for an in-depth presentation, during which the strengths and weaknesses of the commission structure and new proposal were discussed.  
  

Announcing the new structure, Harris referenced the increasing complexity of Emory as an enterprise with its array of schools, major administrative units and hospitals. "After evaluating current practices, I have come to the conclusion that the president's commissions are not structured to effectively leverage change on our de-centralized and increasingly complex enterprise," Harris says. "At the moment, it seems that Emory would be better served if our advisory system were tied to various divisional functions."
 

"Many of the issues we need to address are system-wide," he says, talking about how Emory continues to evolve and grow and the challenges this presents around diversity.

Harris described the proposed advisory council as bridging the gap between words and actions, "making good on our promise that we are a place that doesn't discriminate."  

This involves, he says, thinking about objectives, responsibility and accountability for progress.


The new council's major components would encompass an executive committee, which Harris says he sees as being comprised of the most senior administrators, including President Jim Wagner, Provost Earl Lewis, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Mandl and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs S. Wright Caughman. 
  

A steering committee would include those whose jobs involve diversity issues.  Finally, a Division Committee on Diversity will be led by a liaison representing each of the schools and major divisions.
  

Harris also said the new structure will address: "what is our vision for diversity?" While the University has three commissions that focus on three different aspects of identity, "there are many other commissions that any of us could imagine," he said, citing as examples class, religion or disability.


He envisions four Town Hall-type presentations a year, including one on the State of Community and Diversity and possibly one "open-mike" event where members of the Emory community can ask any and all questions related to diversity. 
 

A timeline unveiled at the retreat shows the building of the main organizational structure beginning this summer, following presentations to major campus governance groups including the Council of Deans, the Employee Council, Faculty Council and University Senate. Representative liaisons would be selected in the summer. The organizational set-up would culminate in early 2014 with the first State of Community and Diversity Town Hall. 

Reaction to the proposal

Felicia Bianchi, co-chair of the PCSW, says she sees the main advantages of the new council as "focused funding and the ability to address all of Emory's diversity needs with a larger group focusing on these concerns."


Would issues specific to each of the commissions continue to get attention? Says Harris, "There is no way for an issue to get lost if we design this system properly." 


For example, one of the PCSW's top projects is the Women in Leadership Program.  At the retreat on the new council, the idea was posed to shift that program to the Center for Women. Other programs and initiatives that the commissions had shepherded are expected to find administrative homes in University-operated units.


Priyanka Sinha, co-chair of the PCSGDQE, says, "We're working closely with Ozzie Harris and President Wagner to ensure that existing LGBTQ recommendations have a place to land in the proposed structure, with appropriate mechanisms of accountability. We continue to offer our feedback and recommendations on the effectiveness of the structure itself in collaboration with other commissions and diversity offices."

According to Sheryl Heron, co-chair of PCORE, "What the new structure will look like is the biggest question on the table." She says she "thought the retreat went really well. There was some anxiety about the end of the commissions and their work.

"But I concluded this would give us the opportunities to do some great things... and provide opportunity for some really important dialogue around diversity."


Harris is open to suggestions and ideas. The untested concept may have some weaknesses, he says, "but the whole idea is to try and improve what we're doing and have a vision for the future."