By Kayla Wiles & Amanda Richey, Columnist and Editor-in-Chief
The Thanksgiving holiday break is next week but not everyone will take the time off. The search committee for Furman’s first chief diversity officer just began advertising the position in early November, but their work is far from over to find the ideal candidate.
According to Connie Carson, VP for student life and the chair of the search committee, the group has already received “a number of applications.” The committee will meet for a second time later this month to review the current pool of applications, Carson said. Members of the committee expect to have chosen a chief diversity officer by spring of 2017, after multiple interviews and campus visits with the final candidates.
“That’s of course assuming the pool is good. If the pool is not good we’re going to keep developing the pool,” Carson said.
Provost George Shields is also on the search committee and echoed the sentiment. “There’s this tension between how urgent it is for us to hire this position and how careful we need to be to make sure that we find the right person for the job,” he said.
Once the chief diversity officer arrives, he or she will be responsible for diversity and inclusivity strategic programming across the university. This individual will join President Davis’ inner circle of senior administrators and will work closely with multiple offices, from enrollment management to student life, to support a diverse student body.
The officer will also work apart from student recruitment and support programming to diversify faculty and staff and strengthen diversity in the Furman education itself. The officer will also push for diversity and inclusion measures in the wider Greenville community, according to the job notice on Furman’s human resources webpage.
There are some challenges to the search. First, the chief diversity officer position is not long-established in higher education compared to other administration positions in student life or academic affairs.
“This is an area where there aren’t nearly enough qualified people as there are colleges and universities looking for these people,” Shields said. Shields, who began his career at Furman last July, led the search for a chief diversity officer at Bucknell University, his previous institution.
Carson and Shields also mentioned possible challenges with the history of the region.
“The good news for us is that Greenville is an awesome city. The difficulty is, for a chief diversity officer, it’s in South Carolina. So there might be some regional concerns that people might have with the history of the South,” Carson said. “That’s also sometimes the reason why people are attracted, though.”
The chief diversity officer has the additional challenge of diversifying a relatively non-diverse campus.
“We’re not the most diverse campus in the world, we want to get more diverse,” Carson said. “We also haven’t had one before. So we’ve had pieces [of diversity programming] but we’ve never had anybody help us put the parts together.”
However, the university has already taken some steps to improve diversity on campus while the search committee reviews applicants.
President Davis made the diversity and inclusion committee a standing presidential committee in 2015. Before it had been an ad hoc committee subject to vary with changes in university leadership. The diversity and inclusion committee’s nine subgroups led by faculty and staff have since focused on diversifying the curriculum, recruiting, university communications and marketing, external stakeholders and improving the international student experience.
Dr. Sarah Worth, chair of the philosophy department and co-chair of the diversity and inclusion committee, is excited to work with an administrator who will focus on diversity full-time and help these nine subgroups.
“They [the chief diversity officer] will be able to help us think more strategically about decisions that affect hiring, recruiting, retention of students and faculty and sort of how to make the campus climate more welcoming to everyone,” Worth said. “I think there’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited to think that Furman is ready for this. I’m excited that we’re going to get a mover and shaker on campus.”