Diversity Champion institutions exemplify an unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout their campus communities and across academic programs. At the helm of these colleges and universities are the presidents who instill organizational values and goals. Under their guidance, Diversity Champion schools are able to create accessible, diverse, and inclusive campus communities that serve as progressive, exemplary national models of higher education.
In this article, INSIGHT Into Diversity recognizes the professional achievements of and educational opportunities made possible by these dedicated leaders.
Jonathan Alger, JD, has served as president of James Madison University (JMU) since 2012 and is a long-time advocate for diversity in higher education. Early in his career, Alger was attorney-adviser for the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, where he developed national policies on diversity issues in higher education, such as creating parameters for awarding minority scholarships. He went on to serve as assistant general counsel at the University of Michigan, where he helped coordinate the successful defense of the university’s affirmative action admissions policies in two landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Under his direction, JMU has developed a strategic plan to focus on community and civic engagement. As part of his outreach efforts to provide access for underserved students in the state, he initiated the Valley Scholars program, which provides educational enrichment and support for first-generation middle and high school students in the Shenandoah Valley region.
Alger recently created the JMU Task Force on Inclusion, comprised of various campus constituents with diverse perspectives. The task force is designed to ensure JMU remains a supportive and welcoming educational and work environment by reviewing policies and programs affecting the campus climate.
Alger has been recognized as a leader by his peers in many ways. He is a member of the Campus Compact Board of Directors, which builds connections between institutions of higher education and their communities. He also serves on the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Council of State Representatives and the Council of Presidents for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. He is a nationally recognized scholar of higher education policy and presents on diversity topics in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2002, Lee C. Bollinger, JD, became the 19th president of Columbia University (Columbia). Since that time, the university has continued to advance its reputation as a world-renowned research institution focused on academic excellence, global engagement, and community outreach.
Prior to joining Columbia, Bollinger served in the roles of president, dean and faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School. He led the school’s historic litigation Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, in which he successfully defended the benefits and legality of affirmative action in college and university admissions, in the U.S. Supreme Court.
While at Columbia, Bollinger has applied his knowledge and passion for diversity in higher education by overseeing extensive, long-term efforts to recruit and retain faculty from underrepresented groups and to provide teaching and research support for junior faculty. Under his leadership, the university has committed to a total investment of $185 million to fund these efforts.
Bollinger is also credited with creating the university’s Manhattanville campus in West Harlem — Columbia’s most ambitious expansion in over a century. The new campus benefits the historic community of West Harlem by providing an investment for decades to come.
Columbia is advancing on an international scale under Bollinger’s leadership, with the development of eight Columbia Global Centers on four continents, as well as on-campus venues — such as the World Leaders Forum and the Committee on Global Thought — for research and teaching on global issues.
Bollinger, who is one of the country’s foremost First Amendment scholars, is also Columbia’s inaugural Seth Low Professor of Law. His most recent book, Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century places him at the center of public discussion about the importance of global free speech.
David L. Boren, JD, now in his 24th year as president of the University of Oklahoma (OU), has served longer than any current president of a flagship university in the U.S. He is a former Oklahoma governor and member of the U.S. Senate.
Since his inauguration at OU, the university has experienced significant growth and earned the status as a national model of educational and inclusive excellence. Thirty-one major programs have been added during his presidency, including those that foster understanding between cultures — such as the College of International Studies and the religious studies program — and others that serve residents of the local community and the state of Oklahoma, such as the Institute for Quality Communities. Boren’s presidency has also seen the development of more than $2 billion in construction projects across OU’s three campuses. Chief among Boren’s accomplishments is the development of wide-ranging programs, initiatives, and services to recruit and retain a diverse student body and to foster an inclusive learning environment.
Under Boren’s leadership, OU established the National Diversity Recruitment Model, which encompasses a five-point plan designed to recruit students from underserved communities.
Boren also oversaw the establishment of a Faculty Diversity Council, which coordinates diversity programs and initiatives across campus, among other responsibilities. As recommended by the council, each college has hired a staff member whose sole focus is recruiting and creating a welcoming environment for underrepresented students, faculty, and staff.
Boren’s commitment to campus inclusion also involves the establishment of a Tribal Liaison Office to meet the unique needs of Native American students; designated lounge spaces for LGTBQ students and those who are active military or veterans; and the Freshman Diversity Experience to ensure all OU students are educated about the importance of respect for other cultures. Boren is retiring from OU in 2018.
Eli Capilouto, PhD, has served as president of the University of Kentucky (UK) for seven years. Capilouto was previously provost of the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) and dean of the UAB School of Public Health. A native of Alabama, he holds several undergraduate and graduate degrees from schools within the University of Alabama system, as well as a doctorate in Health Policy and Management from Harvard University. During his tenure at UK, he has proven his commitment to inclusivity and has championed efforts to increase affordability and access for UK’s diverse student body.
Through the Unconscious Bias Initiative — established in 2016 — Capilouto is working to initiate an open and honest conversation about stereotypes. As part of the initiative, the university’s Board of Trustees, executive leadership, faculty, staff, and students, have undergone training to identify and manage the impact of their unconscious biases. To explore this complex topic in an ongoing, thoughtful way, the university will host a series of online, in-person, and immersive learning opportunities.
A central focus of the university’s strategic plan, developed with Capilouto’s guidance, is closing the achievement gap for underrepresented minority and low-income students. To achieve that goal, the Alliance for Diversity mentoring program was created and currently serves nearly 50 underrepresented minority graduate students. In addition, the William C. Parker Diversity Scholarship Program has been expanded.
Under Capilouto’s leadership, UK has undertaken many other steps to cultivate diversity on campus. For example, the university has directed increased financial resources toward hiring and retaining underrepresented minority faculty. The provost’s office is working to expand course offerings on race and ethnicity. Also, UK recently formed an African American Faculty Advisory Committee and is in the process of developing a Faculty Diversity Council.
John A. Delaney, JD, has served as president of The University of North Florida (UNF) for the past 15 years. During this time, Delaney has instilled diversity and inclusion as core institutional values. Similarly, his focus on providing individualized attention and support for students includes extensive measures to ensure every individual is supported while at UNF.
To this end, Delaney has overseen the growth and development of multiple student resource centers, including the Interfaith Center, the International Center, and the Women’s Center. In addition, Delaney added an LGBT Resource Center with full time staff — one of only two universities in Florida to do so. He also championed gender inclusive housing opportunities to further promote an environment where students of all gender identities would feel safe and supported.
In 2015, Delaney established the Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations, which explores racial inequality through interdisciplinary research. The institute is expanding the community of scholars conducting research on race and ethnicity, while providing UNF faculty with professional development and students with new research opportunities.
Delaney created UNF’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion to receive regular, direct input from a group of university stakeholders on issues related to diversity. Part of this effort includes the Courageous Conversations series to encourage respectful and open dialogue to cultivate a respectful and inclusive community.
Prior to Delaney’s leadership at UNF, he led a distinguished career as a public servant, serving two terms as mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. In that office he spearheaded The Better Jacksonville Plan — a $2.2 billion improvement effort that gave the city new public facilities and other amenities — as well as the Preservation Project, a massive land conservation program that provided Jacksonville with the largest urban park system in the country. Delaney is retiring from UNF in 2018.
Burns Hargis, JD has been president of Oklahoma State University (OSU) for the past decade and in that time, established a bold vision for creating a modern land-grant university that prepares students for success. Essential to this endeavor is a focus on diversity and inclusion.
Hargis played a significant role in the creation of the OSU Center for Sovereign Nation Engagement and Partnerships, which launched in August 2015. The center has a three-part mission: to improve respect for and understanding of tribal sovereignty; to promote the success and graduation rates of American Indian students; and to improve the number and quality of partnerships between OSU and the 39 federally recognized tribal nations in Oklahoma. The center is jointly funded by OSU and local tribal nations.
Hargis is also responsible for OSU’s Branding Success fundraising campaign, which has significantly increased resources allocated toward diversity and inclusion. Under his leadership, the campaign surpassed its fundraising goal of $1 billion two years ahead of schedule, resulting in $594.8 million toward student support, including the establishment of 1,180 new scholarships.
The Branding Success campaign supports many efforts, including a new Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, which provides student veterans with experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business. Six million dollars of the funds went toward expanding OSU’s study abroad programs, and the academic advising services through The Learning and Student Success Opportunities Center (LASS0), which includes the Paul Milburn Tutoring Program.
Hargis is an OSU alumnus and led a successful business and law career prior to joining the campus administration. He has held leadership positions with a number of organizations, including Bank of Oklahoma, N.A., the Oklahoma County Bar Association, and the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, among others.
W. Ken Harmon, PhD, assumed the role of interim president at Kennesaw State University (KSU) in February 2018, having been the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs for the last seven years. With a background in business education and leadership development, Harmon is a former director of the university’s accounting program and later served as dean of the KSU Michael J. Coles College of Business. Prior to his positions in academia, he was a staff auditor with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, president of his own software company, and a consultant to numerous companies and universities.
Harmon’s acumen in organizational leadership, as well as his passion for community service and engagement, have helped guide KSU toward becoming an even more inclusive learning environment. He has focused on increasing student success as evidenced in graduation rates and improved first-year experiences for students.
As provost, community engagement was an ongoing priority for Harmon. He helped establish a committee called Engage KSU as part of the university’s 2012-2017 strategic plan that was charged with promoting collaboration between Kennesaw State and its larger communities to create mutual benefits through the exchange of knowledge and resources. Harmon was integral to the creation of local partnerships that allow students to learn through service and interactions with diverse members of the surrounding community, while in turn giving nearby residents access to the university’s considerable resources. Such partnerships include collaboration between the KSU Writing Center and area high schools, in which KSU offers tutors to provide instruction, tutor training, and mentorship.
Under Harmon’s leadership, Kennesaw State has also undertaken a comprehensive study of its campus climate and culture, with the goal of ensuring swift action based on the responses of faculty, staff and students, to provide an even more welcoming and inviting campus community.
Stephen M. Jordan, PhD, was president of the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) from 2005-2017. A defining characteristic of his presidency was the school’s significant growth in recruitment, retention, and graduation rates. In the 2014–2015 academic year alone, 1,400 more students graduated from MSU Denver than over the course of the past decade. Of the university’s roughly 85,000 alumni, 33 percent graduated during Jordan’s presidency.
Jordan’s focus on recruitment and retention included prioritizing educational outcomes for underserved students and students of color. Under his directive, MSU Denver developed a thriving and inclusive learning community; today, 35 percent of the student body identify as people of color and 32 percent are first-generation.
Jordan also led the university’s efforts to create comprehensive support programs designed to meet the needs of underserved students to ensure their academic success. He created the First Year Success program, a learning community with support services for incoming freshmen. As a result, each year of Jordan’s presidency the number of graduates increased, including students of color.
Jordan has also been a staunch advocate for the rights of Colorado’s many undocumented students. To ensure these young people have equal opportunities to obtain college degrees, Jordan created MSU Denver’s own nonresident tuition rate, which drastically reduced the costs for them. The decision ultimately triggered the passage of Colorado’s ASSET bill in 2012, allowing undocumented students who graduate from a Colorado high school to apply for financial aid. Jordan also set a goal of making MSU Denver a Hispanic Serving Institution by 2018, meaning that Latino enrollment would reach 25 percent. Today, the university is at over 20 percent.
Michael A. McRobbie, PhD, has served as president of Indiana University Bloomington (IU Bloomington) since 2007. In little over a decade, he has managed to transform the university around six principles of excellence that prioritize diversity and inclusion.
He has worked hard to reinvigorate the university’s global outreach, including recruiting and supporting international faculty and students, establishing dual degree programs and partnerships with other countries, and growing international alumni networks. He has improved study abroad opportunities and facilitated collaborative research between IU Bloomington faculty and students with overseas scholars.
McRobbie works to ensure that the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts support underrepresented students at every phase of their educational careers. He has successfully led IU Bloomington in creating a vast network of programs and services that address the unique needs of first generation, ethnic and racial minority, LGBTQ, international, and veteran student populations, among others.
He has also been instrumental in expanding financial support for diverse students. Along with Provost Lauren Robel, McRobbie recently obtained funding to grow the Group Scholars Program — which serves in-state, underrepresented, and first-generation students — from a one-year to a four-year, full tuition scholarship, resulting in a significant rise in retention for participants.
McRobbie facilitates purposeful and educational interactions among IU Bloomington’s diverse student population. Beginning with new student orientation, IU Bloomington students learn to respect and explore intercultural perspectives and to integrate them into their studies and lives as an essential part their education.
McRobbie is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves as co-chair of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on the Future of Voting: Accessible, Reliable, Verifiable Technology.
David C. Munson Jr., PhD, became the 10th president of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in 2017. With a background in electrical engineering innovation and research, Munson has 38 years of experience in higher education as a professor and administrator. Previous leadership roles include chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at University of Michigan (U-M) and dean of the U-M College of Engineering. Throughout his career, Munson has been a proponent of diversity in STEM and, at U-M led large-scale fundraising campaigns and other efforts to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who pursue STEM education.
Munson’s expertise and passion in this area made him an ideal leader for RIT — the third largest producer of undergraduate STEM degrees among private universities — and its mission to grow enrollment and support for underrepresented students. In the words of RIT board chair Christine Whitman, Munson “shares [RIT’s] commitment to outstanding career-focused education, research and innovation, love of both technology and the arts, and a desire to help students from widely diverse backgrounds succeed.”
Under Munson’s leadership, RIT’s 2017-2018 freshman class is the most racially and ethnically diverse in the school’s history. In addition, 69 percent of RIT’s underrepresented minority students are enrolled in STEM programs, as are 56 percent of its female students. Munson attributes these significant numbers to the “diverse voices that constantly participate in the RIT conversation, impacting creativity, critical thinking, and productivity throughout the RIT culture.”
In 2018, Munson established RIT’s first annual Let Freedom Ring celebration to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through public readings of his speeches and music and poetry inspired by his work.
Neville Pinto, PhD, began his career in higher education in the 1980s, when he came to the U.S. from Mumbai, India, to pursue graduate studies in chemical engineering. He was on the University of Cincinnati (UC) faculty for 26 years and went on to hold a variety of administrative positions with the university. He also served as dean for the School of Engineering at the University of Louisville (UL) and as UL’s president. In 2017, he was named the 30th president of UC.
Pinto’s extensive service to the university includes helping to establish and advance its diversity and inclusion goals throughout his time as a professor and administrator. He served on UC’s first diversity council and, as vice provost and dean of the graduate school, created a mentoring program for underrepresented and minority graduate students.
As president, Pinto has helped create a strategic plan that prioritizes a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives. At the forefront is the mission to increase UC’s impact and support for the City of Cincinnati. Pinto’s mission to increase the number of local public school students who attend UC, for example, has led to the creation of programs and partnerships to introduce and prepare underserved high school students for the college environment.
One of the most innovative and impactful initiatives to come out of the strategic plan is Co-op 2.0. Through this unique endeavor, UC’s corporate partners offer paid work opportunities for local students to help offset the cost of a college education. Students are able to participate in this program from high school through college. In order to effectively implement such programs and maximize the university’s impact in Cincinnati, Pinto has expanded the role of UC’s vice president for equity and inclusion to include community engagement.
Tim Sands, PhD, has served as president of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) since 2014. A scientist, educator, and inventor, Sands has dedicated much of his career to advancing the impact of research and innovation in public education. A prolific researcher, he has published more than 250 papers and conference proceedings and has been granted 20 patents in electronic and optoelectronic materials and devices. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Materials Research Society, and the National Academy of Inventors.
As president of Virginia Tech, Sands has focused on creating a detailed and ambitious vision for Virginia Tech’s future that places a diverse student body and a progressive, inclusive school culture at its center. Named “Beyond Boundaries,” the extensive plan includes a variety of diversity-related initiatives. For example, it outlines specific qualities for the “VT-shaped student,” such as being service-minded and valuing diverse life experiences.
Under the plan, the initiative InclusiveVT encompasses a range of action steps to accelerate accessibility and to create a campus community more reflective of the outside world. For example, the Beyond Boundaries Scholars program aims to make UVA more affordable for underrepresented, high-achieving high school students. Through the program, dozens of donors have created scholarships matched by the university. As of fall 2017, 90 freshmen were enrolled as Beyond Boundaries Scholars.
In addition to these new programs, Sands has also identified a set of broader, transformational future directions for Virginia Tech. These include eventually offering flexible and personalized degrees to support the increased demand for interdisciplinary study, increasing Virginia Tech’s worldwide leadership in addressing global challenges, and leveraging new technologies so students can more easily share their international experiences with each other.
Lawrence Shovanec, PhD, was appointed president of Texas Tech University (TTU) in 2016. His 32-year career with the institution includes serving as provost and as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as interim president for nine months in 2012 and 2013. In each of these roles, he has consistently emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion in expanding and improving the university.
As provost, Shovanec coordinated initial planning for the establishment of Texas Tech University Costa Rica, which was finalized shortly after he assumed the role of president. The newly established campus will provide students in the U.S. and Costa Rica with opportunities to participate in innovative, intercultural education programs. Shovanec also created the Office of TTU Worldwide eLearning, which enhances the quality and availability of online courses for both residential and nonresidential students.
During his presidency, Shovanec has advanced his goal of offering pathways to a quality TTU education for all individuals. During his first year in office, he increased funding for merit and need-based scholarships by $8 million, which ultimately led to growth in the number of underserved and underrepresented students enrolled. The university’s 2017 freshman class was 27.8 percent Hispanic, surpassing benchmarks to establish TTU as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
In addition, Shovanec’s efforts to improve educational outcomes and support student success have resulted in record retention rates over the last two years. He continues to strive for improved retention, and has set a goal of achieving a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent by the year 2025.
Teresa A. Sullivan, PhD, assumed leadership of the University of Virginia (UVA) in 2010, and has successfully guided the school’s efforts to grow the enrollment of underrepresented students. During this time, the university has made extraordinary strides toward diversification of the campus community. Since Sullivan first began the process of developing the Cornerstone Plan — an ambitious strategic plan created with input from members across the campus community — UVA has experienced a 44.2 percent increase in African American student enrollment and a 42 percent increase in first generation student enrollment.
To support this significant growth and the diversity of UVA student backgrounds, identities, and cultures, Sullivan has also overseen the expansion of the university’s office for diversity and equity; in the 2015-2016 school year, there was a 226 percent increase in the number of events hosted by the office to enhance group identity and foster cross-cultural engagement.
In anticipation of UVA’s 2019 bicentennial, Sullivan recently launched the President’s Commission on Slavery at the university. The commission recognizes the school’s historic ties to slavery and the oppression of African Americans, and is charged with investigating historically significant university buildings and sites as well as creating an exhibition and programs to highlight the lives of enslaved people who worked on the university’s grounds. UVA has also approved plans for a Memorial for Enslaved Workers to honor these men and women from the early years of the university.
Sullivan holds many civic leadership roles. She is chair of the Business-Higher Education Forum; a member of the advisory board for the Northern Virginia Technology Council; and serves on the executive committees of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council and the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Before becoming president of Florida State University (FSU) in 2014, John Thrasher, JD, pursued a successful career in business, law, and government, including serving as a state legislator and speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. He is an honored veteran, having earned two Bronze Stars for his service in Vietnam as well as the Army Commendation Medal. Earlier in his career, he served as general counsel of the Florida Medical Association and was the first chair of the FSU Board of Trustees from 2001 to 2005.
As president of FSU, Thrasher has endeavored to support diverse students and communities and to ensure an inclusive campus climate. He is credited with instilling shared responsibility for diversity and inclusion as a guiding principle for the entire FSU community and establishing diversity and inclusion as a major goal of the university’s strategic plan.
To support collaboration and equality in the school’s diversity efforts, Thrasher launched the Student Diversity and Inclusion Council in 2016. Comprised of a cross-section of students from different backgrounds, the council reports directly to Thrasher with input and ideas, such as social media campaigns, to celebrate the diversity of FSU’s campus and promoting the importance of multiculturalism.
Thrasher was instrumental in achieving FSU’s designation as an affiliate of the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), an organization internationally recognized for promoting social justice, diversity, and inclusion. FSU has assumed the responsibility as an NCBI member institution by assembling a team of faculty and staff to provide diversity and inclusion training for a variety of university constituents.
Thrasher has also worked to increase funding for the recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of first generation, low-income, and minority students through financial assistance and academic support programs. His expansion of FSU’s Center for Academic Enrichment (CARE), which assists first-generation students, resulted in a 10 percent increase in the number of African American students enrolled in the CARE program in two years. Most recently, Thrasher established the President’s Advisory Panel on University Namings and Recognitions, a 15-member group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni charged with reviewing university policies concerning campus names and markers, including possible ties to discriminatory or controversial historical figures. In creating the council, Thrasher pledged to protect free speech while ensuring the safety and well-being of the entire campus community.
Beverly Warren, EdD, PhD, has served as president of Kent State University (KSU) since July 2014. Upon assuming the role, she embarked on a six-month listening tour, meeting with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community leaders at all eight campuses. Following the tour, she produced an ambitious six-year plan, “A Strategic Roadmap to a Distinctive Kent State.”
Her plan prioritizes the success and wellbeing for KSU’s diverse population of 40,000 students. Most notably, it highlights student health, as evidenced by Warren’s move to prohibit smoking and tobacco use on campus in July of 2017 as part of a larger initiative called “Kent State of Wellness.” That program focuses on improving students’ mental health, physical activity, nutrition, smoke and tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, preventive medical care, and safety.
As part of the wellness initiative, Warren draws on her background as a widely published scholar in the field of exercise physiology, the topic of her PhD dissertation from Auburn University. Her prioritization of health and physical fitness also stems from her experience as a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine — she was elected to its Board of Trustees in 2004 and is a former president of its Southeast Chapter.
Warren created a $1 million fund to support the recruitment of diverse faculty, which has significantly increased the number of hires and tenure track faculty from underrepresented groups.
Previously, Warren served as provost and senior vice president at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Cleveland Orchestra and also serves on the board of directors for several organizations: Team NEO, an economic development organization focused on creating jobs for the residents of Northeast Ohio, the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, and the Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio Inc.
This article ran in our April 2018 issue.