A Campus Combats its Whiteness: The University of Kentucky’s Search for a Diversified Provost

Question: What upcoming contest has Lexington turf accountants working overtime?

If you answered “the Run for the Roses”: no mint juleps for you.  The match-up that has fans of diversity rushing to place their bets is a barn-burner at the University of Kentucky, where three diverse finalists are running neck and neck in the Provost’s Derby.

The race began when the highly diverse Kumble R. Subbaswamy said farewell to his old Kentucky home and headed to the Chancellor’s Office at the University of Massachusetts, located in none other than Collegetown USA! He left behind an empty provost’s chair, and thus the University of Kentucky embarked on a search for a new chief academic officer.

Faculty and administrators bustled busily to create the appropriately balanced search committee: evenly divided by the sexes, the sixteen-member group also embraced (which is the kind of thing you do when you want to be diversity-sensitive) “three people from underrepresented minority groups.”  Just which three groups, it’s hard for an outsider to tell, although I am pretty sure the insensitively and diverse-adverse named committee member “Lee Blonder” isn’t one of them. According to some reports, it must have been a challenge for the university to come up with the rainbow committee. Put another way, the headline of  a March 16 expose on Kentucky.com screams:

White men make up most of University of Kentucky leadership team

Can’t have that. So, as reported in Inside Higher Ed, the committee’s co-chairs

took purposeful steps to ensure a diverse pool, including bringing on a search firm, Witt/Kieffer, that they said had a track record of cultivating diverse pools and reaching out personally to prospective candidates.

Apparently, the “purposeful steps” did not include noticing the lack of diversity in Witt/Kieffer’s own sixteen-person all-white “leadership team.”

Here at Witt Kieffer, in order to ensure YOUR poll of candidates for leadership positions is diverse, we keep ours all white.

Here at Witt Kieffer, in order to ensure YOUR pool of candidates for leadership positions is diverse, we keep ours all white.

Lists were drawn up, constituencies consulted, vision statements drafted, airports visited, expense accounts run up, and then now–late April–the runners are in the home stretch.

The university announced three finalists–two white women and one Columbian-born-but-raised-and-educated-in-the-United-Kingdom male.  Take that, all you skeptics who doubted UK President Eli Capilouto’s commitment to ensuring that all Kentuckians who may or may not be female but are of Columbian-but-raised-and-educated-in-the-United-Kingdom descent are represented in the campus’s senior leadership.

This week, the finalists gave thoughtfully prepared public presentations on campus.  These highly choreographed star turns are essentially the swimsuit competition portion of the contest and can, in fact, make or break a candidacy. If you have not already done so, now is the time to make your bet. 

The variables you must take into account include the depth and quality of each candidate’s academic and administrative experience, understanding of and support for the university’s mission, scholarship and research, and a host of other characteristics.  Since anyone of the three can check off the diversity box, that’s no longer an issue.  What is at issue is which one President Capilouto thinks is the best fit for his administration.  Will he make the right choice?  Let’s give him a little help:

Check back in a few weeks for the thrilling conclusion to this race!

NOTE TO READERS: The search for a provost at UK appears to be representative of many searches for top academic administrative positions on college and university campuses…the big search committee, the pricey consultant, the love-hate relationsip with making a candidate’s color, sex, or accent germane to the hiring process. In spite of–or because of–all of this, the search committee and Witt Kieffer in this case seem to have come up with a good pool, in which there appears to be an obvious and stellar choice. I wish them all well.

6 thoughts on “A Campus Combats its Whiteness: The University of Kentucky’s Search for a Diversified Provost

  1. Pingback: College, Unless it’s a Really Good One, is for Idiots | freedomisfabulous – from freefabulousgirl

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