After a critical external review, the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity will establish a new University Diversity Council (UDC) in lieu of individualized commissions.
Last January, a team of college administrators dedicated to diversity from across the country evaluated the University of Rhode Island’s performance regarding diversity initiatives. The report recommended that the University disband its Presidential Coalitions, which were small groups of faculty and staff that reported on issues different groups face. Some commissions regarded women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities. The Equity Council also covered diversity issues, and began as a grassroots organization started by faculty and staff.
As a result of the review, the University created an ad hoc committee comprised of one faculty member, one undergraduate student, one graduate student and many staff members. This committee determined what an ideal new structure for diversity on campus would be.
Interim Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) Mary Grace Almandrez served as a member of the ad hoc committee. The ad hoc committee determined that a UDC would be the most effective means of understanding diversity on campus and helping advise the CDO’s work. The idea of creating a UDC was brought forward to URI’s senior leadership, such as President David Dooley, and approved.
“What [the ad hoc committee] wanted to do was be mindful of the work that had preceded: all the different presidential commissions, but also to be forward-thinking about what we want a newly-established advisory board to do,” Almandrez said. “And at the end of the day, we want them to advise the Chief Diversity Officer, which is why we have the Chief Diversity Officer as one of the chairs. We want to make sure that the CDO hears directly from the community and that they can use that information to make any changes in policies or priorities in the University.”
The UDC will be comprised of approximately 17 total representatives from various divisions and programs across campus. Members will be comprised from the academic affairs diversity task force, alumni of color network, an at-large faculty, at-large staff, at-large student, classified staff, college deans, faculty senate, global steering committee, graduate council, graduate student association, Narragansett Bay campus, non-classified staff, Providence campus, student affairs and Student Senate.
According to Almandrez, the ad hoc committee looked towards peer institutions when developing what the UDC will look like. They looked at what organizations were represented, the size of the committees and their overall work as a group.
Almandrez hopes to see the completion of the UDC by the end of February, having an orientation for the members before spring break. A main task and highlight for the members of the UDC will include developing the campus climate survey that will be released in 2021 to all community members, according to Almandrez. The climate survey will help the CED understand the diversity perspective on campus and work towards assessing it properly.
“We get to build this survey,” Almandrez said. “We get to determine what are the kinds of questions we want to ask? How do we get the word out so there’s a higher response rate? It will be interesting to see the UDC is going to help us think through what questions we want to ask. And certainly part of that will be looking at the past.”
Lynne Derbyshire, who previously served on the now-disbanded Equity Council, believes that a Diversity Council could benefit the University. Derbyshire, however, is worried that not having a group that with grassroots origins, like the original Equity Council, could lack independence.
“I think the chief diversity officer has done an excellent job, I’m very happy with the work that she has done,” said Derbyshire. “I have no issues there. But I do question the replacement of a grassroots university-wide committee with a committee that’s tapped down and does not have the same kind of autonomy.”
Derbyshire is also worried about communications issues regarding the Diversity Council.
“I know I’m not the center of the universe, but I knew nothing about the ad hoc committee and I don’t know anybody who was on the Equity Council who does,” Derbyshire said. “And I did not know anything about this new committee until an email came out to the University as a whole last week simply announcing it was going to happen.”
The creation of the Diversity Council comes alongside the search for a permanent Chief Diversity Officer. Almandrez’s interim period remains until July, but the University is currently in the process of determining who will be the permanent CDO. The final candidates, Almandrez, Sylvia Spears and Amarildo Barbosa, made university-wide presentations this week, and the hiring committee will soon deliberate.