The new diversity officer at the University of Missouri will be working at the system level, but that doesn’t mean he plans to remain aloof from students, faculty and staff at the four campuses.
“I love working with students, and I love working with faculty and staff,” Kevin McDonald said Wednesday after the university announced that he would be the system's first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. "I'm hoping I can build relationships on all four campuses that will allow me at some level to stay connected in ways that the chief diversity officers on those respective campuses feel support their efforts."
McDonald's position is part of the university's response to protests in Columbia that led to the departure of system president Tim Wolfe and R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of the Columbia campus. Students were upset at the way the university's administration had handled racially-charged incidents.
In addition to hiring McDonald, who starts his new role June 1 and will make $235,000, the university's Board of Curators pledged to fill similar roles on the St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City and Rolla campuses; recruit and retain a more diverse staff; review policies on staff and student conduct; and boost support for those on campus who have experienced discrimination.
The curators also named as interim president Michael Middleton, a deputy chancellor emeritus at Mizzou with a long history of dealing with issues involving African-American students.
In announcing McDonald’s appointment, Middleton said the system “will benefit immensely from [McDonald's] experience as he plans to foster more inclusive campus environments that embody a true culture of respect.”
Though each campus has its own diversity officer, McDonald said some uniformity is also important.
“Some of these issues are universal and warrant a universal approach, he said. "Identifying resources to address that, both on those respective campuses or in a way that crosses the campuses, I think will be helpful, particularly from a central location.”
Since 2010, McDonald has been vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Rochester Institute of Technology. Before that, he served in a similar post at Virginia Tech. Though his experience is at a campus level, he said he can apply it across an entire system.
One of McDonald's initiatives in Rochester was titled MOCHA – Men of Color, Honor and Ambition -- which was designed to foster leadership among male undergraduate students. He hopes to get involved in similar projects in Missouri.
“I am so hopeful that I will be able to work in ways that will allow me to stay connected in ways that are deemed appropriate," he said.
McDonald said he is prepared to work with all stakeholders, including faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community, to improve diversity across the UM system.
"They come with their own particular interests,” McDonald said. “They cross constituencies. But my job is going to be really engaging them at a level that is appropriate and try to build credibility and strong relationships, then identify some particular avenues to pursue that are well-resourced, to impact some of the issues of the day.”
The university is getting its search for a permanent president started, with listening sessions set for each of the four campuses next month. The St. Louis session is April 4 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Millennium Student Center.
The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.
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