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Leading the Diversity Charge at UT

Leading the Diversity Charge at UT

Over the past decade, the University of Texas at Austin has had its share of headlines related to cases of racial insensitivity and minority access, particularly after the Hopwood v. State of Texas case, which banned the use of race in college admissions in the Lone Star State. But perhaps symbolic to the university’s commitment to diversity, Dr. Gregory J. Vincent was hired in 2005 as vice provost for inclusion and cross-cultural effectiveness. And this past May, he was promoted to vice president for diversity and community engagement, a new position that reports directly to university president William Powers Jr. 

Vincent has held several university positions over the years, and he says he decided to enter the realm of higher education because of what he saw as attacks on minority access to elite institutions. This former corporate and civil rights attorney has big plans for UT, starting with holding the academic leadership accountable for the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty and student body.

DI: What is your strategy for improving diversity at UT? What are the problems, and how do you intend to address them?

GV: The challenges facing the University of Texas are making the university accessible to first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students; recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and work force; and helping students take advantage of the diverse opportunities available at the university. We plan to address these challenges by creating the Division for Diversity and Community Engagement and by holding the academic leadership — provost, deans, department chairs and faculty — accountable for recruiting and retaining a diverse student body and faculty.

DI: If you could wave a magic wand and change something in an instant about diversity in this country, what first comes to mind?

GV: Equal schools for minority children and low-income children. I believe if we could give every child a high-quality education, a lot of issues we face would not be here.

DI: If you had a chance to sit down and talk with a historic figure, who would you choose and why?

GV: Charles Hamilton Houston. He was an architect of the legal strategy to dismantle Jim Crow. One of his mentees was Thurgood Marshall, the first director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was a perfectionist, a visionary, a mentor and a true patriot.

DI: How do you deal with racist or discriminatory behavior?

GV: One of the things that I and my siblings were taught is that racism is real — no question about it. But don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t let it stop you. Don’t let any obstacle get in your way. My attitude has been ‘Recognize it, do not get paralyzed, but fight it.’ I think it’s served me well. I’ve done that through the work I’ve been doing throughout my career, both as an administrator and as a professor.

DI: You’ve spent time in the corporate world, why did you decide to enter the higher education arena?

GV: I moved into higher education from practicing law because of the attack on issues of access. I had access to an elite education, and I wanted to make sure that everyone else did as well, and let their talent dictate their course, not access to money. 

– By John Egan

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