28 November 2023 |
Update as of November 29, 2023: A petition has been created to save the original position of VP for Diversity & Inclusion. It can be viewed here.
In 2017, Andrews University created a new Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion position for the campus (later changed to VP for University Culture & Inclusion), hiring Michael Nixon for the job after a two-month formal search process. When Nixon left the position in July 2023, the university replaced it with an Interim Chief Diversity Officer, currently occupied by Dr. Danielle Pilgrim. Many expected that this would be a temporary move until a new Vice President could be found; however, on November 21, Andrews University posted a new job position for an Assistant to the President for University Mission and Culture, signaling that they would no longer employ a Vice President for University Culture & Inclusion position on campus.
The transition has led a number of students, staff, and faculty on Andrews’ campus to question the position change. Replacing the title of “Vice President” with “Assistant” has increased fears that there will be a shift in empowerment and autonomy for the diversity and inclusion effort, creating a less influential position that is not institutionalized. While the job description calls for skills in “intercultural understanding and engagement,” “international diversity,” and “maximizing the impact of campus diversity efforts, activities, and programs including student international and ethnic clubs and organizations,” there remain gaps within the description. For example, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) experience/leadership is not required, there are no supervisory responsibilities in chairing the existing Diversity Council, and there is no mention within the position of continuing the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Center work on campus.
Additionally, questions remain about the stewardship and continuation of a $38,800 grant that Andrews received in 2022 from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), awarded to “colleges and universities that seek to re-examine and reframe their commitments in ways that balance their history, identity, and heritage with attention to their present circumstances.” The money was previously used to fund short films/interviews that amplified untold stories and non-dominant narratives in the institution’s history. It is not clear whether the new Assistant to the President will be involved in the continuation or further development of these grant initiatives.
On the other hand, language about mission is abundant within the new description. The first responsibility listed is to “promote the mission of the university across the institution and through various formats.” Subsequent responsibilities include “serving as liaison for missional activities involving students and employees locally and globally,” and “providing periodic reports regarding the efficacy of the university in carrying forward its mission and in creating an institutional culture that integrates its core values.” It is not clear how these missional activities will be divided between the existing Center for Faith Engagement (previously Campus Ministries) and the new Assistant to the President for University Mission and Culture.
After Nixon’s departure from the Vice President for University Culture & Inclusion position in July, members of the faculty and Diversity Council were consulted regarding next steps for the position. They reported overwhelming support for its continuation in the current form of a Vice Presidential role. Sources indicate that President Taylor had not yet responded to this report before Andrews posted the new position on November 21.
On November 22, the campus received an email from President Taylor with an update on the Diversity Officer search. In it, he said that he is “committed to affirming and deepening a university community that will value and actively support diversity within the context of the mission and values of the University and the Seventh-day Adventist church.” (Full email below.)
Upon return from Thanksgiving break on November 27th, students sent a message to the President’s office asking for clarification and expressing concern. Additionally on the 27th, a faculty meeting was held with pushback from faculty regarding the change. Sources share that questions presented to President Taylor regarding the issue were met with “short, non-specific answers.”
The Associate Professor of Chemistry at Andrews, Desmond Hartwell Murray, released a public statement regarding the position change and read it at the faculty meeting. It reads as follows:
I rise now at our Monday, November 27, 2023, general faculty meeting to make a clear and unambiguous statement of full and complete opposition and resistance to decisions and actions of the President of Andrews University regarding the existing position of VP for Culture and Inclusion, and the newly proposed position of Assistant to the President for University Mission and Culture.
I offer the following recommendations:
1. That a posting for the board-approved Andrews University Vice President for Culture and Inclusion be done immediately and widely with the job description unchanged based on the one developed by AU Diversity Council, Faculty Senate, and administration,
2. That the Faculty Senate and administration votes to reaffirm that the board-approved Andrews University Vice President for Culture and Inclusion is the de facto chief administrator for all diversity, culture, and inclusion concerns and responsibilities at and involving Andrews University,
3. That the Faculty Senate and administration votes to ensure that any consideration and recommendations regarding the incorporation of diversity into and across university curriculum be carried out solely by Andrews University Center for Teaching and Learning in consultation with the Provost, Associate Provost, Faculty Senate, and Diversity Council,
4. That the current posting for the Assistant to the President for University Mission and Culture be immediately rescinded and removed and the search process halted. Furthermore, that an internal consultative process consistent with biblical principles be put in place to consider the merits of the proposed position of Assistant to the President for University Mission and Culture. The position as described in the current posting is problematic and flawed on several levels, including but not limited to its lack of clear limitations and boundaries vis-à-vis established university positions, and organizational structure, and the process by which it came to be.
It remains to be seen how Andrews University will respond to the concerns presented by students and faculty as the current Interim Chief Diversity Officer position is set to expire by the end of this semester. If a replacement is not chosen within the month of December, there may be a gap in the position starting Winter Semester 2024, possibly crippling the diversity and inclusion efforts of an institution that continues to claim the title of one of the most diverse campuses in America.