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Leading Toward Impact: Diversity and Leadership in Higher Education

The nation and its colleges and universities have wrestled with racial injustice and the challenges of diversity for centuries. Cans were kicked down the road from the Constitutional founders to the Civil War to the long-hoped gains of the 1960s civil rights era. There have been twists and turns, steps forward and back. A confounding hurdle since the 1970s and 1980s has been the aspiration to increase the number of previously underrepresented, especially people of color, in the ranks of university professors.

Ivy League college presidents took up this challenge, and in 1992, Brown University, led by Dr. Vartan Gregorian, founded The Leadership Alliance. The Leadership Alliance is a consortium of 41 leading research and teaching colleges, universities, and private industry dedicated to increasing the participation of underrepresented and underserved students in Ph.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. training programs. The alliance has mentored over 6,000 undergraduates, and more than 1,000 Leadership Alliance summer program alumni, known as Doctoral Scholars, have earned a Ph.D. or M.D.-Ph.D.Dr. Taiese Bingham-HickmanDr. Taiese Bingham-Hickman

The political, cultural, and legal climate of the nation has been constantly tossed and turned in the more than three decades since the early 1990s. The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in many times, overall supporting their Bakke decision (1978) that upheld the goals and value of increasing diversity in the make-up and constituencies in colleges and universities. But then the Harvard and University of North Carolina decision last year upended Bakke regarding the weight colleges could place on diversity factors in admissions. Institutions of higher education have been forced to react, reorient, and refashion how they will comply while still pursuing the goals they hold for the value and crucial nature of diversity in campus communities and in the education of students.

In response, The Leadership Alliance serves as the preeminent ideal for how pipeline programs and investments in underrepresented talent produces and secures diversity in the research workforce outside and within the gates of our colleges and universities. The work of the alliance is not easy, but the reality is that it never has been. But the benefits of the Leadership Alliance are clear and obvious, and form an unparalleled legacy of achievement and value. Through the undergraduate students and over 1,000 doctoral scholars that it has had a direct hand in producing, the alliance has played a major role realizing diversity on our campuses and in the research sector.

The Leadership Alliance is guided by the principle that promoting and advancing underrepresented talent in research produces a significantly equitable and diverse research workforce and society. Catalyzing a culture of academic achievement, belief in expanding diversity in faculty ranks, and promoting mentorship, The Leadership Alliance creates change that promotes and contributes nationally to discourse about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our colleges and universities and the research workforce.

In the pursuit of diversity in education is, today more critical than ever, The Leadership Alliance is a pillar that transforms academic leadership and more diverse inclusion. The Leadership Alliance Presidential Forum, held in our nation’s capital marked a 30th anniversary and signaled the demand for continued call to action. The Forum celebrated the achievement of 1,000 doctoral scholars and marked continued pursuit of the pathway for diversity in our colleges and universities that participating college presidents, provosts, scholars and philanthropic and private supporters made clear.

The forum underscored the crucial need for diversity in our colleges and American society. The Leadership Alliance is a force that expands the pipeline of diversity in the future professors and leaders in the diverse workforce of tomorrow.

The Presidential Forum amplified the testament and impact of The Leadership Alliance and its role as a beacon guiding students and scholars in today’s complex academic environment. In the tumultuous landscape of political and legal jousting about the agenda of diversity, the alliance serves as a critical blueprint about what works in the pursuit of diversity in a manner that is fair and lifts all students and the interests of our colleges and universities. Its call to action is clear: leaders, philanthropic organizations, private companies, and educational institutions must unite in this journey of expanding the fortunes of the rising generation within and beyond the gates of higher education. This call is extended to all to embrace the complexities of today’s academic environment. The alliance's legacy provides a roadmap for progress and spells out how college and university leaders can support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the future of the academy and in the research workforce.    

Dr. Taiese Bingham-Hickman is the executive director of The Leadership Alliance.

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