By Grace Austin

The University of Oregon, birthplace of Nike and home to the green and yellow Ducks, has undergone a long process of finding a new chief diversity officer within the past year. As happens in the process of hiring a new diversity executive, the process was tedious but ultimately successful, resulting in a new vice president for Equity & Inclusion, Yvette Marie Alex-Assensoh, who will take office in August.

“The task [of finding a chief diversity officer] was difficult because every constituency wants to be better represented and be able to contribute more,” said Scott Coltrane, head of the search committee and dean of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences. “Every voice on campus wants a champion.”

The search for a new VP of diversity commenced in early 2010. Charles Martinez, the school’s second diversity officer, gave notice of his retirement from the position and return to teaching full-time after more than six years in the position.

“There is a reality that positions like this need a constant renewal. You seed it, and then you help create the context for it to continue to build momentum and move on with new leadership and new vision. In many ways it has always been my plan [to leave],” said Martinez. “I’m not sure I would have thought I would have been in this position going on seven years.”

Fun Facts

In a letter to the campus community on February 11, 2010, President Richard W. Lariviere stressed “finding an excellent candidate in a national search will be critical to furthering our commitment to diversity among our faculty, staff, and student body.”

A 15-person search committee was convened of Oregon faculty, community leaders, and students. The committee first held a series of “visioning sessions” during spring 2010, open to the public. Search firm Diversified Search used feedback from those sessions and committee meetings to draft the position description. They later built and screened a diverse pool of candidates. From there, the search committee began reviewing applications and conducting interviews in the fall of 2011.

“The job description was constantly evolving. In the interim, the search firm used social networking and outreach [in their search]. There were several months of making sure the pool was large and strong and deep,” said Coltrane.

Oregon welcomed public feedback. The visioning sessions incorporated meetings with the faculty, undergrad and graduate populations, and the Eugene and Portland communities. These sessions stressed campus and community members’ thoughts on past diversity efforts, potential challenges, and characteristics necessary for a well-qualified candidate. Public interviews were an integral part as well as the final step in the process.

With the new VP, few changes have been made to the diversity position. A noticeable change, though, has been the title’s evolution from vice president for diversity to vice president for equity & inclusion.

“We changed the title slightly, but we mostly wanted to signal that equity is important and the focus of the position is diversity,” said Coltrane. “The position is fundamentally the same as it has been, with the goals of coordinating diversity efforts across the campus.”

New VP for Equity & Inclusion Dr. Alex-Assensoh is prepared and enthusiastic about the changes. She previously served on the Indiana University faculty for eighteen years, and as dean for women’s affairs since 2008.

“I am most certainly looking forward to serving the University of Oregon as the vice president for equity and inclusion (OEI). Top on my agenda is to collaborate with the OEI staff as well as the senior leadership, campus-wide faculty, staff, students and the Eugene community to build on the existing foundation of success in ways that establish University of Oregon as a global model in this area. I was initially attracted by University of Oregon’s understanding that equity and inclusion are not accoutrements of academics but, instead, are integral to academic excellence,” said Dr. Alex-Assensoh.

Alex-Assensoh is prepared to develop the school’s relatively new diversity program. She is looking to expand on its significant diversity growth within the past five years, which has seen a major influx in minority students and diversifying of its faculty and staff. First, though, she wants to understand challenges at Oregon before she tackles them.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity of learning a lot more about all of the existing programs within the ambit and operations of OEI in order to understand how each contributes to the mission of the university and also the office,” said Alex-Assensoh. “Initially, at University of Oregon, I plan to spend some quality time to listen and, in the process, learn, in order for me to understand what the needs of my office and the entire campus are, coupled with how we can use the best practices in the areas of equity and inclusion to continue to move the university forward.”