A New Appointment, the Same Mission
ONE DAY EARLY IN THE FALL of 1992, Jim Infante invited me to meet with him and the other members of President Hasselmo’s cabinet. We had worked together for a number of years on issues of diversity, among other things. Jim had a very informal manner overall, and it was not unusual for him to launch right into whatever he wanted to discuss. “Josie,” he said, “as you know, we have spent an inordinate amount of time seeking the right person to fill the position of Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Provost with Special Responsibility for Minority Affairs for the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs.”
I couldn’t agree more. The first person we hired for the position had left two years prior. Initially, we estimated that it would take a year to fill the position, but by the end of the first year no credible candidates had been found. A second search, which lasted another year, had yielded two viable candidates, but the top candidate was unable to accept due to health reasons, and the second choice candidate declined, citing Minnesota weather as the reason. We then offered the position to a faculty member, who elected to remain on the scholarly path rather than to switch to an administrative post.
When Jim approached me that day, I was prepared to engage in a discussion of ways we could expedite the search and get someone into the position as quickly as possible, but what Jim said next caught me by surprise: “Josie, the administrators decided to opt for the university’s ‘target of opportunity’ provision,” a provision that allows a position to be filled from outside a search committee’s pool of candidates. He looked me sincerely and said, “We have decided to invite you to fill the post.”
I had not applied for the position, nor had I expressed an interest in it. My hands were full managing the university-wide diversity forums and working with my team to find ways to implement the plan that had resulted from those forums. But Jim gently twisted my arm, asking if I would consider taking the position for a limited period of time. Before I could respond, Dennis Cabral, who had been serving in the position in an interim capacity, said, “Josie, it’s a natural that you should fill the position. After all, you are the one who knows it best. You created this office and the position, and you have instilled within the university a more comprehensive view on diversity, not to mention that you have been connected with the university for a long time, even served as the first African American on the Board of Regents.”
I needed to think hard about this, so I asked for time to mull it over. “Yes, of course,” said Jim as he helped me on with my coat, then patted me on my shoulder. He opened the door for me and said once more, “Take all the time you need. But we are confident that you are the right person for this position.”
My first thought as I walked back across campus to my office was that if I took the position, I would need to turn my diversity work over to someone else. I talked it over with members of the cabinet and the Board of Regents, as well as members of my team. Several of the people I worked closely with, including President Hasselmo and Robert Jones, who had worked side by side with me to develop and name the post, reminded me why we had created the position in the first place. We wanted the position to have power, voice, respect, and authority to implement diversity at the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs level. The university had a well-established office to address the issues of equal opportunity and affirmative action. This new office would be sensitive to and focused on the recruitment and retention of faculty and students. Faculty would be assured of advancement and promotion in their scholarship, and students would receive mentoring and support for being successful at the university. We believed the position should include budget discussions with deans, department chairs, and recruiters. We felt that these steps would strengthen diversity on campus. Enlisting community support in the university’s state and national legislative efforts to increase resources for students and faculty of color was an important strategy in the diversity plans.
Looking at it through that lens gave me a different perspective. I realized that in this role I would be in an even stronger position to implement the complex changes that need to take place in order to make the University of Minnesota a more diverse institution. Because of my deep respect for the university, the administration’s commitment to diversity issues, and the Board of Regents’ encouragement, I agreed to a three-year appointment, making it very clear that at the end of that time I would assess my strengths and progress to see if I should continue in the position. In October 1992, I was officially appointed.
On my first day in my new position, I spent a few moments at my desk reflecting on my relationship with the university and on what I hoped to accomplish in the three years I had agreed to serve in this capacity. By then, my relationship with the university had spanned some four decades. I gave birth to my youngest daughter here in Minneapolis and through the years was very involved in my three daughters’ education, which began at the university’s preschool and elementary school. I will forever mourn my first-born, Patrice, whose tragic death occurred when I was a senior fellow at the university in the College of Education.
Indeed, all my many years and positions held at the university led to this day. Now I sat behind the executive desk in the new suite of offices that the Office of Multicultural and Academic Affairs had recently been granted, overlooking the beautiful and lively Northrop Plaza. I was grateful for the many connections I made both within the academy and in the community, and for their trust in me to fulfill the mission of my newest and most important role at the University of Minnesota.
As associate vice president for academic affairs, I had system-wide jurisdiction over all academic matters pertaining to students and faculty of color as well as overall diversity issues. In my capacity of associate provost, I was responsible for academic affairs on the Twin Cities campus. I would serve on the president’s cabinet and the provost’s council and would participate in the Twin Cities deans’ meetings to create ongoing communication with all of the vice presidents. I would work through the vice presidents to reach their deans. My hope was that this work would result in a different direction and organizational structure to produce institutional change.
After discussions over many years, I was eager to fulfill our initiative to infuse diversity and pluralism throughout the systems of the university—policy, planning, research, teaching, curriculum, and student services—and to link, inform, and encourage the various efforts that were being made with regard to the issue of diversity in the external communities served by the university. My work on the All-University Diversity Forum had shown me that people on and off campus were frustrated by what seemed to be an endless array of reports, statistics, and recommendations. President Hasselmo and I agreed that it was time for something new, a new paradigm of, as Nils put it, “action, action, action.”
My first order of business was to complete one more analysis, which upon approval of the regents would allow us to move toward solid action. My report, titled A New Paradigm: Evaluation for Effectiveness, was an evaluation of what had been recommended and what had been tested under the direction of the first associate vice president. “Where have we spent resources?” I queried, and “What programs have been initiated that are designed to recruit and retain faculty and students of color? What has worked and what hasn’t worked?” The mission of the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs was to make recommended programs work. Therefore, it was of primary concern that I identify issues related to that mission and our stated objectives and then to set forth strategies to achieve those objectives.
The report also outlined my mission and vision, and the action steps I wanted in order for the office to develop programs for staff and faculty of color, develop a clearinghouse for diversity, and continue the All-University Forum on Diversity. My plan indicated a shift from the first associate vice president, Delores Cross, whose focus had been on K–12 initiatives; I would instead focus on the university’s students and the need to effect change within the institution before taking on such challenges as K–12 outreach.
Once my report was approved, I began a search for a strong staff of individuals who would create and maintain stability within the office. My first appointee was Presidential Scholar Robert Jones, an agronomist whose research focused on crop physiology, working specifically with maize. Dr. Jones is an internationally respected scholar whose work is steeped in research and outcomes. He is recognized worldwide for solving some of the critical issues of hunger and had been an academic and scientific consultant to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s South African Education Program. He was also an activist and top-notch administrator who shared my deep concern about diversity at the university and understood the budgeting process. We had worked together to develop the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs and had created the title of Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Provost with Special Responsibility for Minority Affairs.
Back then, university staff and faculty could spend up to 49 percent of their time in other university positions, if they so desired. Dr. Jones was still very much involved in research and teaching, and I believed that the respect the institution had for him as a scholar coupled with his unique ability to listen and to hear what was being said would enable him to work on an equal basis with the deans across the university community. He accepted my offer to spend 49 percent of his time as director of faculty affairs. His charge was to assist me in my effort to raise the campus climate around diversity; to help me shape what was needed to move things to action based on his knowledge of the diversity scene for faculty, staff, and students; and to help the university test its goal of achieving diversity. The staff was a diverse group of wonderfully dedicated and supportive men and women who served in a variety of positions ranging from full-time employment to graduate assistants.
Prior to my appointment, I had worked with President Hasselmo to establish six minority advisory committees. I believed this to be an important step based on information gleaned from interviews with staff, faculty, and administrators during the Self-Reflective Study. The six groups were the University of Minnesota–Duluth American Indian Advisory Committee, the University of Minnesota–Morris American Indian Advisory Committee, the Twin Cities American Indian Advisory Committee, the African American Advisory Committee, the Asian American and Pacific Islander Advisory Committee, and the Chicano/Latino Advisory Committee. My intention was that these committees, consisting of faculty, students, and administrators, would provide a vehicle by which the communities of color could share advice and guidance regarding the recruitment, retention, and graduation of minority students, as well as the scholarly success and satisfaction of minority faculty. I met with each committee monthly and held individual meetings with the committee chairs and was pleased with their generosity in contributing their time and expertise to this effort. They provided the university with invaluable guidance, input, feedback, and advice. They also identified and brought to our attention many issues and concerns specific to each community.
Within the first six months following my appointment, I was able to submit a report to the regents that outlined new recommendations on what the university could and should do to help remove barriers to the successful recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty. And I was proud to inform them of some recommendations that had already been implemented or were in the process of being implemented. I also recommended the establishment of a new annual process to handle the minority advisory committees’ recommendations—a strong, inclusive process that included regular meetings with President Hasselmo to provide him with guidance and advice on addressing the university’s diversity goals, followed by presidential instructions to the appropriate administrators to implement those goals. We would then receive advice from the administrators on the viability of those goals and timelines for implementation, and follow-up meetings with the committees would update them on the status of their recommendations and seek further feedback and advice.
Further, President Hasselmo directed that I submit an annual report on the advisory committees’ recommendations and how various administrative units implemented or acted on them. He also authorized support staff for each of the advisory committees to help facilitate this work. All of this enabled us to substantially enhance diversity on our campuses and to enhance the academic success of our minority students and faculty.