A Word From Chief Diversity Officer Patrick Sims
by Aarushi Agni
Last Thursday, University of Wisconsin-Madison held its annual Reception to Recognize Faculty of Color. Hosted by Chief Diversity Officer Patrick J. Sims and a member of the University committee Ruth Lithovsky, the event recognized the promotion of 16 faculty of color and the 18 new hires of color.
UW Chancellor Becky Blank gave remarks recognizing new hires of color and commented on the Diversity Framework, a report that issued recommendations for the improvement of campus climate toward diversity. While asserting that more progress must be made, Blank highlighted areas of improvement: In the past ten years, the percentage of faculty of color has increased, moving up from 15% to just under 20%. Additionally, the gap in retention rates between historically underrepresented minorities and all other students has closed– a change that Blank said is a result of hard work by the university’s advising staff and student services staff.
At the reception, I was able to speak with Chief Diversity Officer Patrick Sims about how the Office for Diversity and Inclusion works to recruit and retain faculty of color.
What is the Faculty Diversification initiative?
If a department has an open search and identifies a qualified candidate of color for that position, we can provide resources to leverage the hire of that person to the extent that the dean of that school can eventually take on and absorb the cost for that position. We offer bridge funding in that regard.
What kinds of things will attract a more diverse professorial/ staff body?
There’s no one single thing. What drew me to Madison — I’ve been here for 12 years — although Madison may not pay as much, there’s something about the ethos, the culture of the institution that’s committed to social justice. For all of our challenges, and Lord knows we have our share, there’s still a commitment to trying to get it right, to try to figure it out. There isn’t a sense of apathy or disengagement. There are a committed few, but boy are they committed. And I would take a committed few any day to activate and mobilize a larger base. My sense is that larger base whose been on the periphery of this conversation is willing to get involved, but they don’t know how.
How do you respond to people who may have heard of the Race to Equity report, which asserts that Dane County is one of the worst places to raise a Black family?
Those are individual decisions. I’ll be the first to admit — my son, I have in a private school. I have mixed feelings about it. I wonder, if I were white, would I have those feelings? Would I have confidence and faith in the public school system to treat my son the way they’d treat anyone else? At some point, do my philosophical views on the situation override the potential for damage for my son in his career, his path. That’s a major decision, so I don’t fault anyone for saying “Madison, it ain’t the place for me.” There has to be a larger narrative to the conversation. Sometimes folks want to think strategically about those decisions. My wife and I waited nine years before having a family, so we’re better positioned to have that conversation than we would’ve earlier on. Our son will probably end up going to public school — private tuition is expensive!
How have the actions of the University affected the effort to increase in the number of diverse faculty?
We put our money where our mouth is. There’s a lot of consultation that happens. If a Dean finds a candidate, we step in on the initial conversations. I don’t candy-coat. We have a training at the beginning of the year where we talk about how Madison is a wonderful city, but then I bring up the Race to Equity report. There is a real tale of two cities here. And as an informed citizen, it can’t just be the responsibility of parents of students of color. I make sure it’s a tempered conversation. We make those decisions and if there’s community present, spaces to engage dialogue and find opportunities to remedy some of these problems, those are spaces we can capitalize on.
We’ve been in this for 50 years. In 50 years, we’re still in the trenches, we’re still trying to figure it out. Are there problems? Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I stepped in, because we can mend some of those challenges. I understand it, I don’t pretend I have all the answers that I think hold credibility with decision-makers. Sometimes you have to be very strategic. You have your diplomat and your radical– your catalyst– who can push the conversation forward by making people uncomfortable in a way that I can’t, but we’re still working toward the same goal.
Obviously this is all voluntary and as you were saying, there are people on the sidelines. People attend diversity forums, and that’s great, but what are they bringing with them to their jobs afterward? Are they changing the curriculum?
How do we quantify that? We think as we consistently do the Climate Survey, as we establish a critical mass, meaning more folks who bring different perspectives to the decision-making table that those incidences where people have a less than positive experience on campus will decrease and we’ll see an increase in satisfaction. But how do I know the conversation you have with one of your colleagues or your peers is going to change them and what they think of diversity and inclusion? Well, that’s the million dollar question.