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A New Approach to Diversity

The position of Chief Diversity Officer is a crucial step in the right direction

By The Crimson Staff

Last week, students across campus opened their email inboxes to find a message from University President Drew G. Faust, which detailed  Harvard’s recent advances toward greater faculty and non-faculty diversity, along with plans for future improvement. Her final announcement—that Harvard had hired Lisa M. Coleman as its first Chief Diversity Officer—merits our praise. Without the oversight the position provides, the need to ensure diversity may have fallen by the wayside. For the position to reach its full potential, University Hall should endow it with great responsibility.

The CDO will likely help to promote diversity, and the existence of the position demonstrates that Harvard takes this goal seriously. Seeking to increase the number of women and minorities within Harvard’s ranks does not come at the cost of maintaining meritocratic standards in hiring faculty, since the pool of highly qualified individuals remains so large. Furthermore, by ensuring that faculty members bring a vast array of different life experiences to the table, the University furthers the educational capacity of the institution as a whole.

Because of the importance of the CDO to achieving this aim, the job description should be crafted to ensure that other campus diversity initiatives, such as those within the Institute of Politics and the Harvard Foundation, are included under Coleman’s jurisdiction. It is crucial for Coleman’s position to be all-encompassing, so that she can coordinate and organize more effectively. The absence of one overarching leader could otherwise create a lack of accountability, leading to complacency. The ability to coordinate efforts and take advantage of Harvard’s resources will allow Coleman to work toward greater diversity in myriad ways.

One such way that Harvard can move forward entails looking to its junior faculty. According to Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Judith D. Singer, 46 percent of junior faculty members in the social sciences are women. Harvard has been known to regularly tenure professors outside its junior faculty, but instead should work toward the diversity it seeks by promoting from within, bringing diverse individuals up through its ranks.

Additionally, the officer’s efforts should not be limited to facilitating racial and gender diversity. Diversity is valued, among other reasons, for its ability to provide different perspectives and experiences. In that regard, the University should seek ideological diversity when hiring faculty, in order to broaden perspectives and approaches within an academic field. This responsibility should also fall within the CDO’s job description.

While the CDO is essential to creating diversity, the efforts put forth by a single person are not enough. There also must be more accountability at the departmental level. Faculty diversity should exist within each field, but the necessary steps toward this outcome differ from department to department, and should be addressed locally.

The presence of the CDO is a significant step towards achieving the type of academic community Harvard desires. However, in order to meet the University’s goals, action must continue to occur on a number of fronts. Coleman cannot—and should not—do the job alone.

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