The Westerhaus Way
With the newly created position of vice president for diversity and inclusion, the NCAA hopes to improve the hiring practices of their member schools
By Ronald Roach
In 2005, the NCAA took a significant step towards combating one of the most consistent criticisms in intercollegiate athletics. Despite the growing visibility of women’s sports and the abundance of excellent minority student-athletes, most of the top college coaching and athletic administration jobs have remained largely closed off to both women and minorities. That changed when the NCAA established a senior-level office of diversity and inclusion. The selection of veteran academic and corporate diversity specialist Charlotte F. Westerhaus to head the new office has boosted speculation that the NCAA could be ready to break new ground in getting its member schools to improve their hiring practices.
Since assuming her post last August, Westerhaus has convened a
strategic planning committee to explore the issues and come up with strategies and recommendations for improving the diversity in college sports’ power positions. Made up of athletic directors, conference commissioners, coaches, student-athletes and even university presidents, the 45-member NCAA Diversity Leadership Strategic Planning Committee is also charged with coming up with strategies to diversify student-athlete participation and strengthen the position of women’s sports in intercollegiate athletics.
“I think that the committee has tremendous potential. The creation of it and the office for diversity and inclusion can give some strategic direction to the issue of diversity within the context of intercollegiate athletics,” says Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s senior vice-president for governance and membership.
Notable committee members include Dr. Joe Crowley, the interim president of the University of Nevada; Dr. Kenneth Shaw, the chancellor emeritus of Syracuse University; Lisa Love, director of athletics at Arizona State University; and Tyrone Willingham, the head football coach at the University of Washington. Andy Geiger, a former athletics director at The Ohio State University, co-chairs the committee along with Westerhaus.
For at least two decades, the college sports establishment has faced often bitter criticism for its record of hiring minorities and women into coaching and sports administration jobs. After the 1972 Title IX federal legislation, women’s participation in college athletics shot up dramatically. One of the main complaints has been that women’s ascent into top coaching and administration jobs has not kept pace. Black men have taken on increasingly central positions in the men’s college basketball ranks, but for other minority males, there has been only token movement into leadership positions.
Some experts hope that an active and vocal diversity and inclusion office will help overcome what they see as an impasse in college sports in regard to minority and female hiring. The influential forces brought together on the planning committee could be the first step.
“It’s an extraordinary group in terms of senior officials from college presidents, athletics directors to other significant players … It’s a group who wouldn’t otherwise devote their time to this effort if they didn’t believe they could accomplish something significant,” says Dr. Richard E. Lapchick, president and chief executive officer of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport and a member of the committee.
Building A Consensus
For her part, Westerhaus is getting positive marks so far for coordinating the committee’s efforts from the NCAA’s national headquarters in Indianapolis. In her position, she reports directly to NCAA President Myles Brand. Committee members have credited Westerhaus for her responsiveness and her accessibility, particularly at diversity conferences and events away from Indianapolis.
“She’s everywhere. I have seen her at all the conferences that I go to in my capacity as a diversity advocate,” Lapchick says.
Gloria Nevarez, an associate commissioner for the West Coast Conference (WCC), found herself recruited by Westerhaus to join the committee after she questioned why its preliminary roster did not include any Hispanics.
“I made a point to talk to Charlotte and the next thing I know I’m on the committee,” says Nevarez, who is Mexican-American and a former college basketball player.
Westerhaus says she believes that success requires a strong commitment to consensus building among committee members and the NCAA leadership. She says it’s a skill she has cultivated over the years as a corporate and academic diversity officer.
“The position I have is a dream job for me,” Westerhaus says, adding that she’s been motivated her entire career to work in positions that help create opportunities for others.
Prior to going to the NCAA, Westerhaus served as the director for equal opportunity and diversity at the University of Iowa and as an assistant to the university president. An attorney, Westerhaus previously was the manager of diversity and equal employment opportunity at Rockwell Collins, a communications and aviation electronics company. She has also served as the director of Purdue University’s affirmative action office and as the assistant to the chancellor for equity and diversity at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside.
Fred Mims, the associate athletics director at the University of Iowa, had the opportunity to work with Westerhaus when she was at Iowa.
“She was very effective. She was good at getting others to work through complicated issues and getting people to see solutions to problems,” he recalls.
A Career in Diversity
Westerhaus says her career in diversity advocacy grew out of her early focus in student counseling and services. She graduated from Ohio University in 1976 with a bachelor’s in journalism, but gravitated to the student counseling field after not finding a job in sports broadcasting, her original career interest.
“It was virtually impossible for a woman to get into sports broadcasting as a journalist at the time I graduated from college,” Westerhaus says.
The oldest of four daughters, Westerhaus grew up in Cleveland and was raised by parents who strongly valued education for their children. Her mother worked as a seamstress and her father was a factory worker in the auto industry.
“My parents weren’t formally educated, but they read widely and took my sisters and I to the library and to museums,” she says. “I went into student services because I wanted to help provide opportunities for others in the way my parents created them for me.”
After a stint in the Air Force, Westerhaus worked in student affairs and obtained her master’s in education from OU in 1986. Seeking to advance her career prospects in academia, she went on to earn a law degree from Indiana University in 1991, becoming the first Black female to serve as an editor on the Indiana Law Journal. One of her professors at IU encouraged Westerhaus to try private practice after receiving her degree.
She says working for a law firm in Milwaukee and in the corporate
sector rounded out her legal experience and helped bolster her credentials. It was an experience that she says helped secure her later diversity officer positions.
Dr. Percy Bates, a professor of education at the University of Michigan and a member of the NCAA search committee that recommended her for her latest job, says it was Westerhaus’ broad legal experience in equity and diversity matters that made her a standout candidate.
“We saw that she was highly knowledgeable about all of higher education,” Bates says. “We believed that you’ve got to be able to see the big picture.”
The diversity leadership committee meets as a complete body in late April in Indianapolis, and members say they are eager to air their perspectives. Clyde Doughty Jr., the director of athletics at the New York Institute of Technology, predicts that developing a recommendation list will be challenging given the wide range of institutions and interests represented by committee members.
“I’m pleased to see committee representatives from Division II schools, such as myself, and Division III schools,” he says. “I think that with such a diverse group we’re going to hear perspectives that you ordinarily wouldn’t get if this was just a group of the big Division I-A institutions.”
WCC’s Nevarez says she hopes to bring up diversity concerns that are especially pertinent to the growing numbers of Hispanic and Asian American athletes. Among other suggestions being considered is producing Spanish-language informational literature for high school student-athletes.
“The Latino student-athletes themselves are typically fluent in English. The literature should be accessible to their parents and others in their communities who don’t read and speak English,” Nevarez says.
Expected to present its recommendations in 2007, Westerhaus says the committee has the opportunity to build upon existing NCAA diversity programs. Currently, programs like the Men’s and Women’s Coaches Academies help minority coaches expand their professional networks and boost their exposure.
Westerhaus says the committee has the unique ability to send a powerful message that the push for diversity and inclusion has to come from the leadership of individual schools, she explains.
“It’s going to require that we increase our members’ awareness of the importance of diversity,” she says.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com