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December 18, 2014

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UNLV speeds diversity by making key hires

UNLV President David Ashley is chasing an elusive goal: diversity at the highest ranks of campus administration.

Ashley has named a vice president of diversity and inclusion, a job he created at the insistence of community leaders to improve recruitment and retention of minority faculty and students.

Christine Clark, executive director of the University of Maryland's human relations programs office, will start at UNLV on July 1. She will be responsible for developing campuswide diversity initiatives, including working with deans to promote more diverse faculty pools, improving retention of faculty and students, and incorporating multiculturalism throughout the curriculum, Ashley said.

University system Chancellor Jim Rogers in December 2005 mandated the position, which had been a matter of contention with then-President Carol Harter. They quarreled about the need for the position and the job description.

Ashley is sensitive to diversity, having arrived at UNLV about nine months ago from the University of California, Merced - a fledgling research institution founded to meet the needs of underrepresented groups in California's agricultural heartland. From that experience, Ashley said , he appreciated the importance of having one person in charge of overseeing diversity initiatives. He upgraded the position from an associate vice president to a vice president.

Among Ashley's other important hires, which he says demonstrate his commitment to diversity: deans of education and law, both of whom are black, and the new dean of the dental school, a woman, Karen West.

Ashley halted the search for a vice president of research and graduate studies when not enough minorities were in the candidate pool, forcing the search committee to recruit more candidates.

The finalists were white males, Ashley said, but he feels comfortable that the committee did everything it could to generate a diverse pool.

"I am extremely proud of each of our new hires because they were each the best candidate," Ashley, a construction engineer by training, said by phone from Panama , where he has been consulting on the expansion of the canal. "The pool of qualified candidates generally had good diversity, and then we hired the best."

Community leaders and the UNLV members of the chancellor's diversity roundtable said they were glad the university had finally hired someone for the position.

"It is very good that we finally got a diversity officer at the Cabinet level," said Sylvia Lazos, a professor at the Boyd School of Law and a specialist in race relations and Latino issues. "The university has always had good intentions about promoting diversity, but has not always put it in operation."

Clark's academic prowess in the area of diversity, specifically on teaching multiculturalism to a diverse student body, made her an ideal candidate, Ashley and others said.

Her duties are still being defined, Ashley said, but will include working closely with other vice presidents and deans to develop strategies to promote campus diversity. Part of her charge is to make UNLV more welcoming and friendly to faculty, staff and students, including addressing the concerns of professors with young children or who may be caretakers for elderly parents, Ashley said. Hence the "inclusion" part of her title.

UNLV has committed to opening a multicultural center on campus to meet student demands and has committed to ensuring that the university's new grading standards do not have an adverse effect on minority students, Ashley said. Those duties will fall to Clark.

Clark said her preliminary assessment shows a need to improve recruitment and retention efforts of Hispanics, blacks and working-class whites. Working with the Clark County School District to make sure those students are prepared for college would be included.

Diversity, Clark said, has to be a community effort in which "everyone buys in."

UNLV's new deans in education and law also have backgrounds in handling diversity issues. New law school Dean John Valery White has written extensively on the emergence of civil rights law and its role in the social legacy of the Jim Crow period. Education Dean M. Christopher Brown II is known for his studies of historically black colleges, education equity and institutional culture.

"I don't think it is a perfect record so far, but I think we can be proud of our successes," Ashley said.

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