They say hindsight is 20/20, yet it's only 20/20 if we have applied what we learned from the past. Tim Wolfe resigned this week as the president of University of Missouri in a racially charged campus environment where African American students felt alienated and disrespected. The situation came to a head as the University's football team refused to play until he resigned, forcing the school's management to make decisions about their embattled leader who was thrust into the spotlight at lightning speed.
Having seen this game play out in financial services firms like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley in the 80's and 90's where I had field level box seats to the drama, there are some takeaways that apply to corporations and universities alike. There are some tough and complex lessons to be learned but a diversity and inclusion becomes a front of mind priority at universities and companies around the globe, there are strategic moves to be played. However, there are many questions campus leaders need to ask themselves when creating a diversity policy that will bring about change to their administration.
• How seriously do we take diversity and inclusion issues? Are we proactive or reactive?
• Do we view diversity and inclusion as an issue of compliance, tolerance, acceptance, or full inclusion/integration?
• Is the topic generally talked about as "the right thing to do" without action or strategic plans? Or is there a strategy in place to diversify, integrate and educate?
• How engaged are the president, senior faculty members and administration (direct reports) with the student body, particularly in discussing challenges and issues on campus and around the world?
• How do they visibly demonstrate that they are listening to and acknowledging the issues that exist?
What kinds of forums and groups exist on campus to give full expression to racial, religious, disability, gender, and other issues of diversity?
• What are the processes that will be deployed to mend and heal the community?
• What steps can the administration take to put in place a framework that acts as an enabler of good practices and an inclusive culture and a deterrent to intolerance and lack of fairness?
I believe the University of Missouri can and will heal, taking a series of steps
to move the campus community forward. Here are some recommendations:
Form the right team
Some solutions to bridging some of these gaps include creating the right team around you that can offer you diverse perspectives. Whether in the form of the President's direct reports being diverse themselves or creating external advisory boards, these teams can help shape your D&I strategy. These stakeholders will become great allies and sounding boards for the new Chief Diversity Officer.
Leverage your talent
Internally, universities (and companies), have great resources at their disposal. Student groups on campus such as Black Student Unions, Hispanic, LGBT, Asians, are chock full of ideas, experiences and perspectives. Assign a senior faculty or advisor as the sponsor for each of these student associations and ensure the President and senior administration participates in their diversity events and dialogues orchestrated throughout the year. In doing so, they will have a finger on the pulse of both the issues and the solutions.
Create a process for resolution
As issues are identified, there should be a clear process in place for dealing with them. Consider a formal grievance committee or diversity council that consists of students, faculty, alumni and administrators that can examine the issues and provide collective and intelligent solutions. As an example many schools have honor councils that examine honor code violations and decide on the penalty. A University diversity council can be a forum for creating a set of policies or values to oversee how the university will create an inclusive environment for its faculty and administrators and especially its students. "Respect for the Individual" and "Integrity" are cited by many of our Diversity Best Practices member companies as guiding values.
Whether in higher education or in the corporate world, diversity and inclusion must be complementary and integrated concepts. It's not just about representation or numbers but also must be about creating an environment of openness, trust, credibility and dialogue.
The University of Missouri has an incredible opportunity to heal and turn this situation into a positive one. Start by bringing together the passionate change leaders of the football team, faculty, and administration that so boldly believed and took a stand. Add Board of Trustees, Administration, alumni and subject matter experts. These are your stakeholders and change leaders that will lead you into a bright future.