The president of Illinois State University has created a new high-level position to coordinate diversity and inclusion efforts. President Larry Dietz said Professor Doris Houston is the new interim assistant to the president in that area.
Houston is a professor of social work. She currently serves as chair of the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council. She was also one of the leads of the Steering Committee for the recent Campus Climate Task Force.
Dietz said he has been talking about these issues since he became president and gave his first State of the University address in 2014.
"When I made that address and asked people to come and see me and talk to me about ideas they might have on that topic, Dr. Houston was the first person to come to me about that. Since that time she has really been leading the charge on diversity and inclusion efforts" said Dietz. “Dr. Houston’s longtime, stellar commitment to diversity and inclusion ensures Illinois State will advance the University’s values and accountability.”
Work in this area happens in a variety of contexts on campus, in areas of academic study, in student life, in hiring decision for faculty and staff. Dietz said the issue deserves a cabinet-level post reporting directly to the president.
"It's everybody's job. By the same token, in my estimation, we need a person who is really helping collaborate with our different areas that are working on this and then to coordinate those activities and to be a strong voice for areas that need improvement, but also a strong voice to tell people what we are doing to address these issues," said Dietz.
Dietz said the number of universities that have a similar position has increased in recent years, but the landscape is mixed as results have been as well.
"I think the critical part is selecting the right person to get a program like this started, and I have great confidence in Dr. Houston to be that person," said Dietz.
He said the record reflects the creation of the job is not just a response to the #AntiBlackISU protests of last September and October. He said the campus conversation is broader, longer, and deeper than that episode.
"To me this is just a part of the ongoing dialogue about how we address an important value of the university," said Dietz. "This is not a one-and-done situation. This will continue to be a priority of the university."
“I am both honored and humbled to serve as interim assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, which is one of Illinois State’s core values,” Houston said. “This position will provide the organizational leadership necessary to ensure that we foster a campus environment characterized by cultural responsiveness and a commitment to social justice, and I ask that each and every member of the campus community join us in these efforts.”
The title of the position is "interim." Dietz said he expects Houston will help define the position and at that point the university will do a search.
It is both a joy and a stress to help write the job description, Houston said.
"The most important part is listening; hearing what our campus community needs, hearing what is currently working. My job as defined thus far is to help our current leaders across campus coordinate efforts, and then also importantly we want to insure there are outcomes for the work that we are doing," said Houston.
In 2018, ISU began considering creation of a graduation requirement that every student take at least one diversity related course during their time at the University. Houston said that remains active and, as part of the shared governance system, the Academic Senate will take up the proposal this semester as the final step toward adoption of the requirement.
Dietz said a proposal to begin renovating space on Main Street in Normal for a planned Multicultural Center will go to the Board of Trustees on Friday. Dietz said he hopes the Multicultural Center in the old Center for Teaching and Learning Technology building will open this fall.
Houston's new salary will be $112,000 per year.
She also serves as director of the Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies at Illinois State University. In 2017, Houston was named the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Administrative Fellow and also received the Outstanding College Service Award for the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2018, she was the recipient of the David A. Strand Diversity Achievement Award. She is the founder of Together Creating Community (TCC), a peer leadership network for foster care alumni and adoptees who attend Illinois State University.
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