Recent years have seen some tough times for employees and students in the University of North Carolina system, with a number of layoffs, repeated tuition hikes, and few raises. But one group of employees has weathered the storm rather well: campus diversity administrators.
Diversity offices go by different names, but they have two functions: hosting events that attempt to increase appreciation of ethnic and racial diversity and serving as special academic counselors for minority group students.
These offices are controversial; while liberals tend to see diversity appreciation as a key to solving social inequality, conservatives tend to see such focus on race as unhealthy. In some cases, conservatives argue, they further divide races. Conservatives also see the offices as a wasteful attempt to solve a problem that is not a major priority.
Despite the controversy and the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to the UNC system’s budget over the last few years, a Pope Center survey revealed that some offices of diversity in the UNC system have grown, most have stayed the same, and a couple have been reduced.
This survey, conducted using websites and email communication with the offices of diversity, did not include historically black UNC colleges, except for N.C. A& T State University, which has a Multicultural Student Center. Only administrative offices dedicated to promoting ethnic or racial diversity were included in the survey — offices dedicated solely to gender or sexual orientation issues were left out. The survey focused on changes in total numbers of employees at the offices over the last two years.
Three colleges increased diversity staff:
• UNC-Wilmington added one employee, making 12 total. Chief Diversity Officer Jose Hernandez said the increase was a response to growth in student enrollment.
• While East Carolina University’s five-person Office for Equity and Diversity did not add any employees, the university’s Brody School of Medicine added a new Office of Diversity Affairs with two full-time staff.
• UNC-Chapel Hill has been the most aggressive recently in adding diversity staff. Its Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs is in the process of recruiting four new employees. The office’s previous director, associate vice provost Archie Ervin, left the school in early 2011. His replacement, Taffye Clayton, has a higher rank — vice provost rather than associate vice provost. According to the office’s communications specialist Miki Kersgard, this new rank shows diversity has become a “higher priority” at UNC.
Four schools kept employment level:
• N.C. State University, which has the largest diversity office in the UNC system with 31 full-time staff, did not add employees, although the office underwent reorganization.
• UNC-Pembroke’s Office of Multicultural and Minority Affairs kept two people on staff.
• UNC-Charlotte’s Office of Multicultural Academic Services did not add or subtract to its four-person staff.
• UNC-Greensboro has a five-person Office of Multicultural Affairs that, despite the efforts of the university’s leadership, has not increased in staff over the last two years. In the early months of 2011, the university sought to hire a new chief diversity officer. Following public outcry, UNC-G chancellor Linda Brady defended the new position as a cost-cutting measure, but in March of last year announced that the search was suspended.
A couple of campuses shrank their offices slightly.
• At Appalachian State University, one of the four members of the Office of Multicultural Student Development quit and was not replaced.
• N.C. A&T fired the director of its Multicultural Student Center, leaving only one employee.
Based on the News & Observer’s database of UNC employee salaries, these diversity offices cost the state about $4 million per year in salaries alone. With the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule on affirmative action during this fall’s term in the Fisher v. Texas case — and little budget relief for the universities in sight — the offices may be at the center of controversy once again.
Duke Cheston is a writer/reporter for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and a contributor to Carolina Journal.