Tilghman appoints group to examine staff diversity issues

Princeton NJ -- President Tilghman has asked a group of University staff members to identify proactive strategies and potential barriers that affect the recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion of a diverse workforce at Princeton.

The Diversity Working Group, formed by Tilghman late last fall, is chaired by Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, and Mark Burstein, vice president for administration. Terri Harris Reed, associate provost for institutional equity, is serving as executive secretary. The group will work in conjunction with the provost’s office both to analyze problem areas and to develop strategies to address those concerns.

“Both Provost Eisgruber and I understand that these issues are complex,” Tilghman wrote in a letter to group members. “The mechanisms that lead to what may be perceived as an unwelcoming work environment are often subtle, as are the informal policies and procedures that may create and sustain them. We hope that the members of the Diversity Working Group will assess the various dimensions of these problems, share their own perspectives and solicit suggestions and advice from other members of the University community. Over time we expect the group to propose processes and procedures — at both the unit and organizational levels — that will promote change and increase accountability, in the near term as well as in the future.”

The group is focusing its efforts on people of color among non-faculty employees at all levels. The initial phase of its work, which is expected to take until August, involves gathering information and, when possible, forwarding recommendations to the relevant University officials for consideration. In the late summer or early fall, the group will set priorities based on the information gathered so far and decide how to best structure its work moving forward.

According to Tilghman, the work of this committee will complement a broader effort under way at Princeton. “Building a strong, diverse community is a high priority throughout the University,” she wrote, noting that the deans of the faculty, the college and the Graduate School are working to increase and strengthen the diversity of the faculty and student body.

Nearly 20 staff members from a range of departments, levels and backgrounds are serving on the Diversity Working Group. They have identified three topics on which subcommittees have been formed: work/life issues; managing a diverse workforce; and employment policies and practices.

“These are areas in which we felt we could immediately focus and make some progress,” Burstein said. “Many of our initiatives, although directed to staff of color, will benefit all employees.”

The entire working group meets once a month, as do the subcommittees. In their initial meetings, group members have looked at previous diversity initiatives on campus, including a report on campus race relations prepared at the request of President Harold T. Shapiro in 1992-93. The report was produced under the leadership of Ruth Simmons, then vice provost at Princeton and now president of Brown University, with the support of a race relations working group.

“We are building on a blueprint from the Simmons report and from other related initiatives undertaken in the recent past,” Reed said. “We want to move some of those recommendations forward and look at why other efforts have not been sustained.”

“We want to initiate a real conversation,” Burstein added. “Things have changed incrementally since then — but these issues still remain extraordinarily important to the institution and the president.”

“In terms of response to the Simmons report, there was much about resources for students and faculty,” Dickerson said. “We would like to highlight staff issues.”

Dickerson, who also co-chaired the recent Task Force on Health and Well-Being, said there is much information to be mined from that report as well.

Once the group determines what information is available, it hopes to identify a set of initiatives to tackle as well as areas where it might do additional research.

“We’re taking the temperature of campus — what do people think and what do they know?” said Reed. The group also will look outside the campus to the local community and to other institutions for ideas.

According to the co-chairs, the key to the group’s success will be its ability to make the effort a part of the fabric of the University.

“There is always a lot of attention when these reports first come out — a time of sharply focused attention,” Dickerson said. “We don’t want people to get comfortable; we will be seeking sustainable solutions.”

“What we want to do is institutionalize our efforts and strategies so that it doesn’t depend on an individual or group to make it happen,” said Reed.

“We want to raise the consciousness of the members of the community,” Burstein added. “Success is when people realize that this is a priority and take action to support the priority.”