In the wake of rich, white kids being able to buy their way into college and faculty growing increasingly concerned about the lack of diversity in their leadership, it’s easy to turn to UCLA’s designated solution-maker: the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
But cut through the sleek website, carefully crafted copy- and buzzword- filled seminars, and it’s clear the office is mainly just that – and a couple of smart administrators.
It comes down to inclusion, something the EDI office ironically needs to work on.
The office is run by Jerry Kang, the vice chancellor for EDI, and a handful of other administrators. While these individuals have various advisory councils, an office tasked with matters of diversity and inclusion should certainly have a more reflectively diverse leadership team.
The EDI office’s actions seem almost comically narrow with regard to its student initiatives, campus outreach and much touted seven-part video training series on implicit bias.
As the EDI office is currently structured, it passes some policy and expects staff and faculty to follow it. It’s the opacity of this process that is especially frustrating to those affected. The most recent example of this is the office’s requirement of faculty candidates for hire or promotion to submit EDI statements. This has led to pushback from faculty members confused about how exactly this is going to affect their departments, internal mobility and academic freedom.
UCLA needs to restructure the EDI office from the ground up, drastically expanding its influence and opening up its governance to a council comprising administrators, staff and professors. A broader structure would bring in more faculty voices to the decision process and create a campus body more invested in the office’s operations – something necessary to truly bring about equity, diversity and inclusion.
The difficulty is in pinning down what exactly the EDI office is doing and seeing how a wide variety of faculty and staff feel included in the policy-making of their university.
Take, for example, the office’s work on revamping the faculty hiring process. It has put concrete policies in place, including approval from Kang at certain steps in the selection process. However, it’s not clear how effective these measures have been. At the end of the day, UCLA’s faculty is still primarily white and predominately male.
“People running faculty searches are conscious of the oversight and are trying to be more conscientious,” said Ted Porter, a distinguished professor and vice dean of personnel for the history department. “It’s affecting hiring implicitly, rather than anything I’ve actually directly seen.”
While the EDI office only came into being in 2015, a radical problem deserves a radical solution. If such an entrenched issue like biased hiring is ever going to be surmounted, we’re going to have to do better than making faculty a little more conscious.
Moreover, the EDI office’s top-down administrative structure makes it difficult to design catch-all policies while ensuring departments’ specific needs are respected.
“Hiring happens locally, which is why it’s hard to change – it’s done at the department level since they have the expertise,” Kang said. “To have administrators second-guessing, that would be inconsistent with the knowledge being decentralized and shared governance between academic programs and administrators.”
Ultimately, it comes down to an administrative office trying to craft broad policy for a process which really requires special, department-based knowledge.
“I didn’t have any role in crafting the policies,” Porter said. “Certainly some people (in the history department) had a role in crafting these policies.”
If individual departments are involved in the EDI office’s leadership structure, it would have the instructional knowledge necessary to draft stronger policies tailored to each department’s specific needs, while also having the power to implement real changes.
The David Geffen School of Medicine’s recent bungling of the search for a new chair of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior aptly demonstrates the need for a broader EDI office. The school had to pause the search, which otherwise seemed to adhere to the EDI office’s policies, after outrage from faculty about the lack of diversity in the selection committee despite the institute’s diverse patient body. Including more faculty voices in the EDI office’s decision-making could have anticipated this criticism with real, actionable solutions that make sense for the specialized institute.
Certainly, as Kang put it, much of his office’s work is not forward facing and won’t be truly seen for at least a couple of years. But while groundwork is important, doing it behind the scenes just doesn’t cut it when dealing with problems like lack of diversity and inclusion. These changes need to be upfront and scrutinized. If not, there’s no way to know what we are seeing isn’t just more of the status quo.
Including an array of campus members in policy deliberation is a good way to start doing that. In fact, it might just make the EDI office a little more diverse and a lot more effective.