Candidate: Diversity demands commitment

UK must make diversity more than a “buzzword of little meaning,” said the first candidate for the university’s top diversity position yesterday.

“It’s like a marriage,” said Judy “J.J.” Jackson. “You don’t say ‘I do’ and that’s it. You have to keep working on it for its life.”

Jackson, dean of the college at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is the first of two candidates for the vice president for institutional diversity position to visit campus.

At an open forum yesterday afternoon, Jackson said if selected for the new job, she would meet with students, faculty and staff to determine what problems exist and how UK could work to fix them.

Some of those discussions, Jackson said, would need to be honest dialogues like those her mother would call “come to Jesus” meetings.

“There will be tears, there will be anger, there will be moments when a person cannot say what they mean to say,” Jackson said.

Along with gauging the campus culture, the new vice president for institutional diversity will be responsible for advising the president and provost on how policy decisions will affect UK’s diversity goals, according to the position advertisement released at the beginning of the search in fall 2006.

Proposing specific plans for what to change at UK would be unwise, Jackson said, because she has not spent much time in Kentucky. However, she emphasized throughout her presentation that cohesion among various UK groups and active participation would be key to any change.

“You’ve got to believe it (diversity efforts),” she said. “If you don’t own it, you’re not going to participate in it.

“If you do it and it becomes something students do, it’s going to be something every generation of students that follows you is going to do. If you say, ‘Oh well, it’s a diversity program the administration has set up,’ future generations of students are going to do that too.”

The next candidate, Overtoun Jenda, associate provost for diversity and multicultural affairs at Auburn University, will speak at an open forum Jan. 17. The university has not set a deadline for selecting a candidate because it wants to focus on finding the right selection rather than when the position is filled, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

UK has been looking at candidates since January 2007 and originally wanted to have the position filled by July 2007. Hiring was put on further hold in October after five of the initial candidates either pulled out or were not selected.

The position will not be affected by the hiring freeze that UK President Lee Todd announced yesterday because it is vital to the university, Blanton said.

Whenever the new vice president for institutional diversity takes office, Jackson said policy must come from the university community, which she would like to see brought together.

“You’re not waiting to see what the ‘University of Whatever’ has decided to do,” she said. “You’ve said, ‘This is where we’re going, this is where we want to go, and we want someone to help us get there.’ ”