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UT-Knoxville Chancellor Says Diversity is a Goal

KNOXVILLE Tenn.— The chancellor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville says there is slow progress diversifying the faculty, which is mostly made up of White men.

In 2005, about 15 percent of tenure-line faculty were nonwhite. That has risen to about 18 percent now. The percent of women faculty has risen from 29 percent to about 31 percent over the same period.

“When students come here to school, they want to see role models like them,” Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said. “So it’s our job to make sure our faculty are more reflective of the people of the state, and that might have more diversity than where they came from.”

Cheek told The Knoxville News Sentinel the issue is partly generational. The professors who have been in Knoxville the longest are mostly White men.

Cheek said he is working to make the university more diverse each year.

He said engineering is a bright spot: Of nine tenure-line faculty added this year, four are women and one is a Black woman.

On Thursday, he met with a search consultant for the vice chancellor of research position, and the two talked about creating a diverse pool of candidates. He also is asking department heads to increase diversity. 

Diversity became an issue in the recent search for a system president when all finalists were White men.

Some faculty members complained and trustees received requests to suspend the search for a more inclusive pool to be recruited.

“It’s really more about representing the populations you want to attract,” said Faculty Senate President Joan Heminway, a member of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. “We’re not denying the fact that the people whose names were presented to the board were highly qualified. We did get that quality; that’s not the issue. I’m complaining that we didn’t get the quality with the diversity. And I think we should strive for more.”

Presidencies are becoming more difficult and consuming jobs with heftier responsibilities than in the past, said Claire Van Ummersen, a senior adviser at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., and a former university system president in New Hampshire.

A recent poll of women provosts by ACE showed that more than half did not want to move into the presidency, Van Ummersen said.

“There are so many reasons that may deter someone from moving into a presidency, and it’s not a question of ambition, because I think some women have an ambition to be president,” she said.

Van Ummersen said “women aren’t quite as mobile as men, and they’re still the major caregivers, and they’re now doing a large share of elder care and they may be place-bound because of that. And some people just have a passion for teaching and research.”

Cheek said people on campus “need to see diversity all along the way.”

The chancellor’s 10-person cabinet, which includes two athletic directors and the provost, is comprised of five women and five men. There is no ethnic diversity, which Cheek said he wants in the future.

“If we say we believe in diversity…and the senior leadership of the university doesn’t have any diversity, then that’s a contradiction to what we believe,” Cheek said.

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