Dupont Circle associations wrestle with meeting high diversity expectations.
WASHINGTON — The American Council of Education recently lost two of the most visible minorities in higher education.
Dr. Deborah Wilds, the association’s deputy director of the Office of Minority Concerns, recently left to become a program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (see related story, pg. 26).
Dr. Hector Garza, the vice president for minority affairs, left last fall to head up the National Council for Community and Educational Partnerships, a new organization working to encourage partnerships between colleges and elementary and secondary schools.
When the most visible minorities leave the most visible association — albeit for different reasons — people start talking.
The whole higher education enterprise here at One Dupont Circle becomes subject to speculation, because when the leading higher education associations meet to discuss major policy issues, there are few senior-level minority executives at the table.
Critics say Washington’s higher education associations spout a lot of rhetoric about affirmative action and outreach efforts, but do very little to make sure that their staffs are diverse.
And a new Black Issues survey shows the associations have a long way to go. Despite a decent showing, constituents expect the minorities to occupy a larger percentage of the executive seats.
Concise head counts are hard to come by because there are discrepancies in who associations consider to be senior-level employees. Further, different associations have different names for the same position. For our purposes, Black Issues defines senior-level executives to be people who hold the position of vice president or above. Yet associations — some eager to boost their numbers, others genuinely puzzled by who should count as a senior-level employee — do not report the numbers in a uniform standard.
But, as one Dupont Circle insider put it: “The bottom line is, are there African Americans and Hispanics in the room when the vice presidents in these associations sit down to a discuss a policy issue affecting an American higher education decision?”
William “Buddy” Blakey, a higher education lobbyist, answers his own question in the negative.
“The associations are saying to their constituencies, ‘Do as I say, don’t do as I do,'” says Blakey, a partner with Dean, Blakey and Moscowitz. “The associations ought to stop telling colleges to hire Latino faculty if they aren’t going to hire any Latino staff members.”
At a time when affirmative action is under attack and states are backpedaling on their commitment to provide access, it is more important than ever to have people of color in top positions.
But when jobs do open in associations, critics say people of color often are overlooked. And they say the few people of color who do hold senior-level positions either hold jobs that are solely responsible for minority issues or don’t hold the jobs that count, like the vice presidencies for governmental relations.
Still others worry that new people aren’t being groomed to replace the few minority people who do hold positions in associations. Finally, higher education observers say the makeup of the association staff will not change until diversity issues became part of the broad agenda.
Diversity at One Dupont Circle is a touchy subject that many people did not want to talk about with Black Issues. Others would only talk under condition of anonymity because they feared they would be singled out as troublemakers. As one source put it, “We still have to eat.”
The hush-hush only begs speculation as to the associations’ combined commitment to diversity. But one thing is certain: Not much has changed since Black Issues conducted a similar survey ten years ago.
In 1990, four Black men were in the 35-member Washington Higher Education Secretariat, a body composed of the executive directors or presidents of the education establishment. Today, three Black women and one Asian/Pacific American woman are among the heads of the 42 associations (the number of associations has increased) as well as two Black men and one Hispanic man.
The women are Sheila Trice Bell, president of the National Association of College and University Attorneys; Joyce Smith, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling; Dr. Carmen G. Neuberger, executive director of the American College Personnel Association; and Dr. Gwendolyn J. Dungy, executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
The men are William H. Gray III, president of The College Fund/UNCF; Dr. Henry Ponder, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education; and Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
In 1990, only two associations had vice presidents who were minorities, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the American Association of Community Colleges. According to Black Issues’ most recent count, 61 Blacks hold senior-level posts today.
The most notable are: Mortimer H. Neufville, executive vice president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; Charles Lee, vice president of finance and administration at the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education; and Wendell Rayburn, vice president of administration at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Because associations disseminate information through their publications and set the agenda for what issues will be discussed through their conferences, workshops, research and lobbying activities, those at the top should reflect society’s diversity, many say.
Others say higher education is no different than other American institutions.
“The associations are a microcosm of society,” says Dr. Adib Shakir, former president of Tougaloo College and consultant with Cassidy and Associates. When jobs open at associations, minority candidates get overlooked. “Black people (and other minorities) are not seriously considered as candidates. Diversity issues are usually dealt with as nontraditional issues. They’re not included in the broad discussion but in the context of appendages, something that needs to be added on. Until diversity becomes part of the mainstream, Black and Brown people will not be seriously be considered as candidates.”
Critics say associations need to do more to reach outside their insular networks to identify people.
“The common complaint you hear is that they can’t find anybody,” says Dr. Roland Smith, associate provost at Rice University and past chair of the Black Caucus of the American Association for Higher Education. “But everybody wants a Deborah [Wilds] or a Hector [Garza]. No wants to put the time or effort into training anyone. They want people who are already seasoned.”
Last year, Smith and other members of the Black Caucus decided not to attend the American Association of Higher Education’s 2000 meeting in California because the association was meeting in the birthplace of the anti-affirmative action initiative Proposition 209. After the controversy, association officials took a number of steps to reach out to its caucuses and decided it needed to do more about diversifying its own staff by hiring a Black director of marketing and membership.
Others say diversity is not a big issue for associations because they are not held accountable for the racial composition of their staffs.
“We hold universities accountable, so the associations should be held accountable,” says a higher education official who did not wish to be identified. “But the associations have a lot of autonomy. The leadership dictates the flavor of the organization. Boards don’t get into the bowels of an organization. They’re looking at the big picture. They don’t question the makeup of the staff.”
But association heads like the American Council’s President Dr. Stanley O. Ikenberry, say they do have to give annual reports to their boards about the makeup of their staffs.
“Diversity is high on [our] agenda because it brings strength to the association and diverse perspective to policy issues,” Ikenberry says.
He acknowledges that minorities did not make up a large number of senior-level positions in the Secretariat, but predicted that could change soon because a number of associations would be looking for leaders this year.
“We need to recognize that diversity is going to be the story of America. The country will be severely disadvantaged in the long term if we think we’re going to develop a strong society without it,” he says.
Ikenberry says he and other association officials realize they have to look outside traditional networks to bring in a greater number of people of color. He points to this association’s director of human resources, Marvin Lynch, who was an administrator at the University of Iowa when a search firm recruited him.
And for his part, Dr. Peter McGrath, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says his small staff is diverse. Four of his eight directors are African Americans.
“Diversity works,” says McGrath, adding that good people are “often right under your nose and are never given the opportunity.”
Neufville, who worked as a director at the National Association of State and Land-Grant Colleges, was promoted when a position opened for a vice president. The search committee recommended Neufville and two other candidates.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” McGrath says.
Associations also need to do a better job of training the minority staff members they do have.
Dr. Reginald Wilson, senior scholar emeritus at the American Council, says associations claim to promote from within. But many insiders complain there is rampant nepotism. Minority staff members say they often feel marginalized in their jobs. Young White people often are hired with little experience and allowed to work their way up the ranks, many say.
“There’s a distinct difference between the career tracks of minority and White staff members,” says the higher education official who wants to remain anonymous. “They get access to the executive director and professional development. That just doesn’t occur at the same level for minorities.”
Associations are also a time-honored way of reviving a career in higher education, but minorities don’t usually benefit.
“[White] presidents get fired, they bring them to the associations, scrub them up, clean them up and send them back out there so they can get another presidency,” Wilson says. But, “when Blacks (and other minorities) get into trouble, they don’t get to be heads of associations and they don’t get the presidencies.”
But the situation is even worse for other minority groups. While there are few Blacks in senior positions, there are almost no Hispanics, Asians or American Indians in any positions in the associations.
“Hispanics and Asian Americans are not there because they don’t have a voice,” says Wilson. “African Americans had a voice and yelled and got some vice presidencies.”
Dr. Antonio Flores says that he, and Dr. Geraldine Bednash, executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, are the only two Hispanics at Secretariat meetings.
“And the only reason I’m there is because I’m the president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities,” Flores says. “There is a real danger in the absence of minority voices. It’s very dangerous because you’re presupposing to represent their interests without their direct input.”
And the few veterans of color worry that another generation isn’t being trained to take over the reins in the associations.
“We are at a critical juncture,” says Jacqueline Woods, community liaison for the U.S. Department of Education. Woods has worked for several associations, including the American College Testing Service and the American Council of Education. “There are a few of us in these positions, but when we retire we don’t see too many people waiting to take our places.”
Last year the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities created a leadership development program to train more midlevel administrators and faculty members to be able to fill more senior-level positions in universities and associations.
While some say much of the burden is on associations, others say minorities need to start thinking outside the box and consider other career paths.
“We often don’t know these jobs exist,” says Dr. Wendell Rayburn, vice president of finance and administration at the state colleges and universities association, and one of the few senior-level executives who is Black.
Rayburn says minorities might know about more association jobs if they would play a more active role in their organizations, volunteering for leadership positions or to be speakers.
When associations look for people to fill positions, “they turn to those who they know.” Rayburn says. “We get so caught up in running our own institutions that we don’t take time out to come to meetings to give ourselves visibility. We need to get in the network, get to be active and significant.”
Others echo his thoughts.
“If you want to be considered you have to be involved,” says Trice Bell, who served on the university attorneys association’s board before she became president.
But associations have to be willing to recognize that people of color bring a new and different vision of higher education.
“Minorities means more than just skin color,” Smith says. “We bring a different world view because of our experiences. We may raise issues that higher education doesn’t want to address. But this is the best dynamic because the outcome is better.”
“Associations need to commit to the idea of having a variety of people on staff,” Bell says. “A monolithic staff won’t anticipate the things they need to anticipate. Diversity is an advantage when you’re working with a constituency that is varied if you have a staff that is varied.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com