First candidate for long-awaited diversity position visits campus

The first candidate for UK’s newly created top diversity position will answer questions and share her thoughts on the job during an open forum today.

Judy “J.J.” Jackson, dean of the college at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is one of the two candidates selected by the search committee last semester for the position of vice president for institutional diversity. As part of a two-day tour of campus, she will participate in the forum from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in room 209 of the Main Building.

If selected, Jackson will be responsible for advising the president and provost on how UK’s policy decisions will affect the university’s diversity goals, according to the position advertisement released at the beginning of the search in fall 2006. The position will also include developing and coordinating diversity programs throughout the university.

Jackson said she wouldn’t know her specific responsibilities until after meeting with members of the university community. Having a set plan before spending time at UK “would be like trying to suit everyone up in mail-order outfits for one the most important events of the university’s life,” she said.

UK had planned to have a vice president for institutional diversity in place by July 1, 2007, but the initial five candidates either pulled out or were not selected for the position.

The search committee decided to find a new pool of candidates, this time actively recruiting people the committee members thought might fit the role rather than simply advertising the position, said search committee chairwoman Carol Jordan.

Jackson said she was asked to apply after she and her research partner conducted a workshop on faculty diversity at a national conference in the spring. She initially declined, but her focus on higher-education diversity efforts led her to agree to meet with the search committee, she said.

“I felt compelled to talk with the search committee about its strategy — both to learn and perhaps to be useful in some way,” said Jackson, who later decided to seek the position.

After another round of interviews with Jackson and four other candidates, the committee selected two: Jackson and Overtoun Jenda, associate provost for diversity and multicultural affairs at Auburn University. Jenda will speak at a forum on Thursday, Jan. 17.

There is no definite time frame for when a candidate will be hired, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. Setting a specific time frame for searches for high-level positions, especially those following a national search, would be a “mistake,” he said.

UK will benefit regardless of which candidate is hired, Jordan said.

“I think UK is fortunate that we have selected two very strong candidates — individuals that we believe in either case could make important contributions to the cause of diversity on UK’s campus,” Jordan said.