Presidential Leadership and Building a Pipeline to Increase Diversity: Considerations for Community Expectancy

Presidential Leadership and Building a Pipeline to Increase Diversity: Considerations for Community Expectancy

David V. Tolliver, III, Michael T. Miller, G. David Gearhart, David M. Deggs
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6560-5.ch011
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One of the hallmarks of American higher education is the opportunity given to all types of students to learn and advance themselves as citizens, whether in employment or engaging in civic activities. The academy has historically struggled to enroll and employ diverse populations, and if this is to change, presidents must play an important and vocal role in building a pipeline for diversity. The chapter explores past efforts at diversity recruitment and considers the complex issue of diversity characteristics, resulting in attempting to understand cultural transformation from the perspective of community expectancy. The chapter concludes with a discussion of specific strategies for college presidents to heighten the diversity of their campuses.
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There is little question that the American college presidency has changed considerably over the past 100 years. Once the primary champion for the academic enterprise of an institution, the presidency has evolved into a highly political, business-savvy professional who must be as equally entrepreneurial as fiscally responsible. The college presidency has been described as the most difficult job in America (cite, CHE), and the expectations for financial stability, athletic success, and outstanding student recruitment are within the public expectations of the college president.

Presidents serving their institutions in the current environment face a heightened responsibility, that of diversifying their institutions. Student and faculty diversity, seen as interlocking elements needed by institutions, has become one of the most pronounced and sensitive issues facing higher education early in the 21st century. The explosive activism experienced following the Ferguson, Missouri riots, coupled with the renewed interest in activism seen following the death of George Floyd, has flowed onto the college campus. Campuses throughout the United States have begun renaming buildings and academic programs that have at least naming relationships with historic individuals with racist pasts. In virtually every one of these situations, the college president is called upon to be the voice of both activism and reason, championing diversity and providing access, while simultaneously responding to the needs of all constituents in a respectful manner. The president has the single most important position in directing this national debate on college campuses.

The discussion of race on college campuses is difficult and has a long history. From the resistance of integration at many southern universities to the idea of Affirmative Action and race based admissions, there have been few effective strategies that have been able to transform the academy into an integrated and effective tool for all students. Additionally, the growing political divide in American society offers differing perspectives of what an institution of higher education should be, do, and have the responsibility to accomplish. Some in society see the academy as a great melting-pot, a place for differing ideas to come together, to be critically analyzed, and for students to experiment in their thinking before graduating to become important, integrated members of society. Other opinions see colleges and universities as occupational training grounds, and others see these institutions as overstepping their boundaries in changing the way students think. The president, as the institutional leader, has the obligation and duty to understand these perspectives and to offer a vision of leadership that best corresponds with the needs of the institutional constituency.

Presidential leadership is not alone in crafting the vision for the contemporary academy, as politicians, faculty members, benefactors, and employers all cast a voice into the decision-making process. Rarely does the president have the flexibility to self-define the role of an institution, and if attempted, these presidents often find themselves with limited authority or simply find themselves leaving the role.

There has been a prolonged discussion of broadening access to higher education, and over the past 75 years, these discussions have assumed many different forms and resulted in many different outcomes. The basic question of racial integration has been slow, but generally forward moving as colleges and universities enroll more students of color. Society has not seen this type of growth as being either fast or effective enough, and at many institutions protests and activism have resulted in staff turnover, crippling demonstrations that have led to property destruction, and even declining enrollments and the loss of important revenue.

Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties presidents and their staffs have encountered is their attempt to codify mechanisms aimed at diversifying their student bodies. This means that broadly institutions have attempted to create policies, rules, procedures, and practices that give certain populations some sort of added element that improves access. These might be the waiver of test scores or the consideration of non-academic measures aimed at addressing implied racism and ultimately, a higher number of diverse students enrolled. These practices may or may not be effective, but the divided American population increasingly see these types of efforts as divisive. Instead, college presidents and institutional policy-makers and leaders should be considering access-related programs that begin long before college applications are due on campus.

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