Humphrey dean search criticized for lack of diversity

Courtney Lewis and

Though it espouses a commitment to government that represents the diverse community, the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs has run into its own problems with minority representation.

After an eight-month search for a new dean, the four final candidates are all white men, raising some eyebrows and stirring controversy within the student and faculty communities.

Vidhya Shanker is four credits from completion of her master’s degree but said she still sees this as a major problem. She said she felt students’ feedback
wasn’t really considered.

“(The students) had a meeting in the beginning of the year about want we wanted in a dean,” Shanker said. Once she saw the candidate results, she said officials “obviously weren’t listening.”

Shanker said she hoped the committee could be more understanding, and she doesn’t see the candidates as representative of the students, faculty and diverse Minneapolis community.

“I think the results of this effort proved to me that institutional racism is so deeply imbedded,” Shanker said.

Andy Heuer, a public affairs graduate student, said the issue is more complicated than it seems at first glance. His greatest concern is what message this will send to the community.

“I was initially surprised and embarrassed that the four candidates were white men,” Heuer said. “But I think the committee made the most diverse and qualified choice.”

Heuer said he thinks the Humphrey community is doing itself a disservice by not evaluating the issue beyond race.

“But the question is, ‘What do we do now?'” Heuer said.

What students did was draft a memo identifying their concerns over the search process.

Scott Marshall, Public Affairs Student Association president, said the memo should act as a call to action.

“We’re hoping it will cause people to look at two things: the process of searching for the dean, and the factors that might be involved in the lack of diversity in both the candidates and the student body in general at the Institute,” Marshall said.

Current Dean John Brandl announced his resignation in March 2001 and will step down this summer.

A committee, comprised of seven men and five women, narrowed down the candidates to the final four. One of the 12 members of the search committee was a minority.

The committee was selected by University Vice President and Provost Bob Bruininks. Bruininks declined to comment.

Tom Fisher, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture dean, was chairman of the committee.

Fisher and fellow members began searching in the fall before realizing they needed outside help in recruiting minorities in the pool of candidates.

“We made a pool to bring in as diverse a group as possible,” Fisher said.

Korn/Ferry – the recruiting company that brought University President Mark Yudof to campus and is currently seeking the next provost – was enlisted to help find more diverse applicants.

Out of 193 potential candidates, 33 sent statements of interest along with their resumes. The committee chose to invite 10 applicants to Minneapolis for interviews.

Within that group of 10, there were seven white men, one Asian male, one white female and one black female.

“The committee is disappointed in the diversity,” Fisher said. “But I think we’ve brought forward the best candidates for the job.”

Fisher said the search’s goal was to find someone academically
qualified who had experience. He said it wasn’t easy to find someone who fit both categories.

But some faculty members question whether the candidates had the type of experience that would best fit the institute’s mission.

Samuel Myers, director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice, said in an e-mail the candidates don’t collectively have interest in domestic poverty, segregation, gender issues and nonprofit management.

“It is puzzling to me that none of the final four candidates demonstrates a strong command of the very domestic policy issues that attract many of our students,” Myers wrote.

The committee is compiling the complaints and will hand them over to the provost – along with the resumes and interview results – on May 27 for review, Fisher said.

“While diversity is an important issue and will continue to be,” Fisher said, “I hope it doesn’t take away from the quality of the candidates.”

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected]
Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]