Editor’s note: Shortly after this story ran, Brian Agnew withdrew his name from contention and is no longer a candidate for the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chief position.
Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief
The search began last Fall when a committee was created to select the next Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity, who will join Utica College no later than next Fall 2020.
The main goal of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity according to Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Todd Pfannestiel, will be to promote diversity, equity and inclusion,especially in a campus that has been struck by racial incidents in recent years.
Bernadette Tiapo, Brian Agnew, Anthony Baird, Robinette Kelley and Mark Montgomery are the five candidates that advanced to the final stage in the selection process, which involves a full-day visit to the UC campus for a candidate presentation and an open session with students. The search committee will take information and feedback from members of the community during those visits and President Laura Casamento will make the final decision.
The first candidate, Bernadette Tiapo, will be at UC on Wednesday, Feb. 13, followed by Brian Agnew, who will visit campus on Thursday, Feb. 14.The reception for Anthony Baird, Robinette Kelley and Mark Montgomery will be on Monday, Feb. 17; Tuesday, Feb. 18 and Wednesday, Feb. 19 respectively.
President Laura Casamento described the candidates to be “exceptionally strong.”
“The candidates have a wide range of professional backgrounds and experiences, and each of them articulated both a passion for the work they do and a genuine interest in the opportunity to join a community like Utica College,” she said. “It’s an impressive group, to say the least.”
The search committee, which is encompassed by 14 members, including staff, faculty, students, trustees and alumni, has been reviewing several applications and selected those five finalists in hopes of finding a professional with broad experience in the field of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, higher education and positions of leadership, among other relevant qualities.
“Whomever we select will have a deep demonstrated commitment to student-centeredness,” Casamento said. “We’re looking for someone who is approachable and seeks opportunities to interact, collaborate and build relationships with students as well as other members of the college community.”
According to Casamento, the need for the position comes from the fact that UC lacks an executive-level figure whose goal focuses on “ensuring diversity, inclusion and equity are infused across institutions” and directly reporting to Casamento on those issues.
However, Casamento also recognized the work done by many individuals on campus –staff, faculty and students– towards achieving diversity and inclusion.
“That’s not going to change,” she said. “I won’t allow that to change.”
Pfannestiel explained that the creation of the position will allow UC to “stay ahead of its game” when it comes to continuing the efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion as the number of students from underrepresented populations grows at UC and nationally.
“Let’s be ahead of the change that we know is coming and be sure that we are doing our best to have a leader who is accountable and responsible for leading this team,” said Pfannestiel, who is also the chair of the search committee.
In terms of trying to diversify the pool of applicants, Pfannestiel said UC has been doing “really well” but he added that true inclusion goes beyond counting underrepresented populations.
“(Diversity) is a piece of it but it is much more than that,” he said. “The real issue is how do we know that everybody, from students, administrators, staff and community members are having an equitable experience and how do we know they feel included.”
The new position will also serve as a leader that addresses racial incidents when they occur and transforming them into learning opportunities, according to Pfannestiel.
Both Pfannestiel and Casamento expressed their optimism towards the creation of the new position.
“I’m confident the creation of this position will help ensure that issues of diversity, equity and inclusion always remain at the forefront of discussion, as they are so vital and integral to our mission, to our institutional values and to being the institution we all want to be,” Casamento said. “I’m confident we will identify someone who will work in collaborative fashion to build off the work that is already happening and find new opportunities to affect positive change.”