PSU’s first chief diversity officer

Filling the position of chief diversity officer at Portland State has been an ongoing process, but the university is hoping to do so by the end of this school year.

Filling the position of chief diversity officer at Portland State has been an ongoing process, but the university is hoping to do so by the end of this school year.

PSU General Counsel Chip Lazenby is currently chairing the search committee for the CDO, a new position that will be filled by the end of June.

Serving as general counsel, Lazenby reports directly to President Wiewel, advising on administrative and employment matters.

“This is a brand new position,” Lazenby said, referring to finding a chief diversity officer, who will also report directly to President Wiewel.

According to Lazenby, the university needs someone “who can help retain people of color,” and who will be responsible for areas of affirmative action, equal opportunity, university employment activism and community outreach.

“We want diversity to get bumped up a bit in our DNA,” he said. “If you have a diverse faculty and staff, then students feel more secure on campus.”

The primary functions of a CDO are to guide the diversity agenda of an institution and to ensure that minority faculty and staff are represented.

CDOs are also responsible for guiding efforts to conceptualize, define, assess, nurture and cultivate diversity as an institutional and education resource, according to the Inside Higher Ed website.

Their duties include affirmative action and meeting constituent needs of minorities and women. CDOs define their mission as providing and coordinating leadership for diversity issues throughout the institution.

Increasing the diversity of the PSU student body and workforce has been an ongoing priority for Martha Balshem, a sociology professor and the special assistant to the president for diversity.

The ideal candidate is expected to have the authority to hold administrators and managers accountable for progress toward PSU’s diversity goals, according to Balshem.

“All the candidates I’ve met so far are wonderful,” she said.

The Commission on Campus Climate report of 1999—an investigation of ways to improve student-learning experiences—identified the specific goal to promote diversity throughout the institution.
With the installment of a chief diversity officer position, the university is taking a major step toward that goal.

Soon after Wiewel was hired in November 2008, he wrote to the Diversity Action Counsel and asked them to prepare a description of what a chief diversity officer role would look like.
During that time, student leaders made their voices heard by formally requesting this position to be created.

“This made a big impression on Wim,” Balshem said.

The position is another step towards PSU’s commitment to diversity, as it means more funding for scholarships and students from non-dominant groups feeling comfortable on campus.

“I think that, in representing diversity issues, the [CDO] is standing in for the core mission of the university,” Balshem said. “PSU’s mission has always been about access to higher education, and access means more than just opening the door to students; it means welcoming them once they get here.”

Balshem has been advocating for a CDO at PSU since 1999, reaching back to the report, which included an investigation into how diversity enriches education.

According to the report, campus climate is the cumulative effect of all interactions that a person experiences related to PSU.  The commission recommended that increased awareness be facilitated through diversity training for administrators, faculty and staff.

The fallout from this report lead to the decision to employ a CDO, who will be sitting on the president’s cabinet full-time, Balshem said.

Lazenby said he would like to see the future CDO “build stronger ties” between PSU and the local diverse community, while the president would like the CDO to instigate a new campus climate study.

 “I’ve been doing the work of a CDO half-time, but it’s really a different person that the university needs to do this—someone who has more time and experience, who has a national presence in this work,” Balshem said.

The possible candidates are from all over the nation and are currently working various positions, Lazenby said.

Commenting on the ideal applicant for the position, he said, “What we’re looking for is a person who has made diversity their passion…and definitely someone who has worked in academics.”
Wiewel will have final say on who is hired for the position.