Candidate: More communication needed across campus

Communication across campus and within colleges will be key to improving UK’s diversity programs, the last candidate for UK’s top diversity position said yesterday.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that most of the things that are being done to improve diversity, they are done all over campus, and these guys aren’t talking to each other,” said Overtoun Jenda, the second candidate for the position of vice president for institutional diversity.

In an open forum yesterday, Jenda answered questions from the audience on his impressions of UK’s diversity efforts as well as on his experiences at Auburn University, where he teaches math and serves as associate provost for diversity and multicultural affairs.

Uniting minority groups and women’s groups for resource requests was a successful strategy at Auburn, Jenda said, and resulted in about six times as much funding.

“If you go there as a group, I’ve found nine out of 10 times you’ll get your resources,” he said. “There’s much more power working together.”

Coordinating UK’s diversity strategies would be part of Jenda’s job if he is chosen for the new position.

He would also advise the president and provost on how policy decisions would affect UK’s diversity goals, according to the position advertisement released at the beginning of the search in fall 2006.

Jenda received his master’s degree and a doctorate in mathematics from UK before returning to work in his home country, Malawi. After one year as an assistant professor at UK in 1987-88, Jenda began work at Auburn as a mathematics professor.

At Auburn, Jenda said he found that having strategies for improving diversity in different areas of campus is effective. He believes similar methods in UK’s different colleges may work.

“What you need is a place that kids can go and get help, tutoring, maybe, and counseling,” Jenda said. “I’m sure you have a place like that, but you need someone to direct students there.”

Developing a working relationship across campus, including with college deans and the admissions office, is one of the first things Jenda said he would do if chosen as vice president for institutional diversity.

Before either he or Judy “J.J.” Jackson, the other final candidate, can take the newly created position, Provost Kumble Subbaswamy must select a candidate for the job. Students, staff and faculty can submit comments about the candidates and the position using a form available on the provost’s Web site (

Kenya Cummings, an early childhood education sophomore, said the word diversity is thrown around a lot, and she wants to see what the university is doing in this area.

“I’d love to see a push for inclusion in curriculum … and I’d like to see the programs they already have in place be more effective,” Cummings said.

There is no definite timeline for hiring a candidate, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said last week.

If selected as vice president for institutional diversity, Jenda said he would stay in the position a long time and could see himself retiring in Lexington.

Jenda, a mathematics professor, also said that while he is not fond of administrative positions, he loves his work with diversity.

“People keep asking me, ‘why do you keep doing diversity when you love mathematics so much,’ ” he said, “and I tell people that diversity is one of the very few things I am exposed to where you can go home in the evening and can completely say ‘I’ve made a difference.’ ”