I once wrote a blog post entitled “The whitest university ever… .” It was about Indiana University.
I’ve been a member of the IU community for more than four decades. During that time I have known thousands of faculty members, thousands of staff members, thousands of students, and hundreds of administrators. Among IU faculty and leaders I have known many, many Caucasians. Plenty of Asians. Just a handful of Hispanics. And few enough Black faculty that I can count them on one hand (Charles Neal, Jim Holland, David Baker, Adam Herbert, Gladys DeVane). Of course, that’s just my experience of who I got to know and work with, but it represents a reality of Indiana University: awfully terribly damn white. And the University community has long suffered as a result – suffered because it has lacked the full and deserved voice of people other than Caucasians, Hispanics, Blacks, and Indigenous peoples most notably.
When Michael A. McRobbie became the 18th President of Indiana University in 2007 he took on leadership of an institution mired in mediocrity. So deeply mired, in fact, that many members of the IU community could not even distinguish between mediocrity and excellence. It is unquestionable that former President McRobbie delivered on his promise to make Indiana University once again an excellent university. During his tenure as President there were notable advances in the diversity of the IU community. Still, President McRobbie had been at IU for a decade+ before becoming President and as he rose to the presidency he put into positions of leadership primarily people already at IU, which meant in practice that many of the people who rose to positions of responsibility at IU were largely white (yours truly included to the extent that I count at all as a former member of IU leadership).
Now IU has a new President – Pamela Whitten – and she seems to be making a richly diverse university community one of her priorities. Since she became President:
- Juneteenth is a University holiday
- $30M in funding to increase the diversity of the IU faculty
- Two of two Executive Vice President hires are people of color – the new Provost (who is an IU alum and an Asian Indian) and the first ever Black Executive VP – IU’s new Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration.
- IU Northwest is now designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, which means that it is also a Minority Serving Institution.
Put together, an interesting set of accomplishments related to diversity of the IU community within the first six months of President Whitten’s tenure. Of the above, the first, and I think not nearly well noticed enough, was the classification of IU Northwest as an HSI. First this classification says to Hispanic Hoosiers that IU Northwest that they are welcome there. It also means that IU Northwest gets special consideration for grant funding. AND the faculty there now become prime targets for being partners on grant proposals led by faculty of IUPUI and IU Bloomington.
It’s far too early to judge the presidency of Pamela Whitten. But today there are more people of color in top leadership positions than ever before and there are now two IU holidays that honor the legacy of Blacks in the USA. That’s two more of each than there were when I first became a member of the IU community more than 40 years ago. So while it’s too early to judge, one can look at IU on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and think that something interesting might be going on.