Establishing the Office of Equity at WWU
Western’s 2018 – 2025 strategic plan recognizes that our single most important challenge is to eliminate opportunity gaps for students from diverse and under-represented socio-economic backgrounds and to ensure that we increase retention and persistence rates and the number of such graduates. The strategic plan clearly defines our accountability measures — metrics associated with retention and graduation rates, closing opportunity gaps, degree expansion to meet the needs of Washington employers, and campus climate.
Our approach to diversity, equity and inclusion work has been based on a recognition of needed progress in three essential areas: resources and support, systems and structures, and learning and traditions. Along with accountability measures, these three elements comprise the framework for our efforts. Over the past 2-3 years, we have made significant investments of time, effort and resources across the university to help advance several key aspects of the Accessibility, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) framework.
The issues and challenges facing Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in our community have been further aggravated by the twin pandemics of the past 12 months. Our work is motivated by the belief that improving conditions for the most marginalized people at Western will undoubtedly improve the experience of the entire Western community. To that end, we are now establishing an institutional-level Office of Equity. Establishing this office also honors the many voices who have been speaking for some time about the need to build central ADEI leadership into our organizational structure, in particular to better coordinate and elevate this work across campus.
The Office of Equity brings together two complementary functions: the existing compliance function and a more robust education and community training function.
While the compliance function is currently housed in the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance, the vision for the new Office of Equity is much broader than the traditional compliance function. An assessment of patterns in our compliance issues can lead to a deeper understanding of barriers in Western’s systems and structures. The Office of Equity also encompasses the broader functions of engaging individuals and groups in education, dialogue and learning; building community; examining Western’s systems and structures through an equity lens; and providing visibility to, and advancing, key initiatives for inclusive student success and ADEI work on campus.
In its work, the Office of Equity will partner with academic colleges, divisions, and departments across campus. In many ways, the work of the Office of Equity is to provide broad alignment across the university with institutional goals for ADEI, develop allyships to advance key priorities, and work with the President and the executive and academic leadership team of the university to ensure that as an institution we are making meaningful progress on our ADEI goals and metrics.
The Office of Equity will be headed by a cabinet level leader, the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Chief Diversity Officer (Executive Director/CDO), who reports to the President of the University. The title reflects the role of providing the oversight to the Office and a university-wide responsibility to provide leadership and coordination of ADEI efforts. The Executive Director/CDO will be supported by two experienced director-level positions, one for the compliance function and the other for the education and community training function.
In addition, our university conversations have been unfolding against the backdrop of work happening at the state level. The Washington Legislature and Governor Jay Inslee have recently established a statewide Office of Equity to work with state agencies, including state universities, to increase access to equitable opportunities to bridge opportunity gaps and reduce disparities. The Office of Equity, and more specifically the Executive Director/CDO, will serve as Western’s liaison to the state office.
Opportunities for Input
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Timeline and Updates
The first step in establishing the Office of Equity will be hiring the Executive Director and Chief Diversity Officer. The hiring process will be facilitated by a university-wide committee, appointed by the President, with input from appropriate governance and other groups on campus. While the committee may be appointed before the end of the 2020-21 academic year, the search process will commence in September 2021 when the entire community has returned from the summer break. The goal will be to hire the new Chief Diversity Officer before the end of Winter Quarter 2022.
In addition to building the team within the Office, including the Directors of the compliance and community education and training areas, the first task of the new Executive Director will be envisioning the development of those functions to best serve the Western community and advance institutional strategic plan goals with respect to equity and inclusion. This process will necessarily involve outreach and engagement of diverse stakeholders throughout the Western community to develop an understanding of Western’s opportunities, weaknesses, and strengths.
Related Communications from President Randhawa
Establishing the Office of Equity at Western - March 3, 3021
Reflections on Our DEI Work - February 12, 2021
Questions and Answers
The Office of Equity is a new entity which brings together two complementary functions: the compliance function and a more robust education and community training function. To clarify, it is not a placement within the existing Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance but rather a new office into which the compliance functions of the CRTC will report.
The Office of Equity will be headed by a cabinet level leader, the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Chief Diversity Officer (Executive Director/CDO), who reports to the President of the University. The Executive Director/CDO will be supported by two experienced director-level positions, one for the compliance function and the other for the education and community training function.
The Executive Director/Chief Diversity Officer will report directly to the President. In the university’s org chart, the Office of Equity will have a direct reporting line to the President’s Office.
Perhaps this question was submitted before a decision was made on the current title of Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. The CDO addition to the title reflects the institutional-level visibility and responsibility and is consistent with such titles at other institutions. The CDO title has also been advocated by several members/groups of our campus community.
As mentioned in the previous question, the title of the position now is Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. It’s not a placement within CRTC but rather a new office into which the compliance functions of the CRTC will report. Co-locating the compliance and community education functions within a larger office allows for continuity and leveraging of strengths and capacities in both areas.
Structures and approaches at other universities in the state and at our peer institutions were explored, not only in their current forms, but as they have improved over time. The outcome was also informed by input conversations with the campus community over the past 2-3 years.
A director-level position, reporting to the Executive Director/CDO, will lead the compliance work of the CRTC. We have frankly had unacceptable staff turnover in the CRTC and we are in the process of staffing the CRTC to a level more commensurate with current institutional needs. Having a director who is fully charged to supervise the compliance work will enable the Executive Director/CDO to focus on the broader educational, generative and alignment work at the institutional level.
The Executive Director/CDO is a new and additional position to whom the Director of CRTC will report.
This will be the responsibility of the Office of Equity to determine and develop, and more specifically the focus of the education and community training unit within the Office. The Executive Director/CDO will be a cabinet-level position which will work with vice presidents on strategic matters. We also expect the position to have a seat at Board of Trustees meetings to help inform and influence conversations at that level.
While the compliance unit is a relatively well defined and necessary function on any campus, the shaping of the education and community training function is still underway and will benefit from engagement of the campus community once the Executive Director has arrived. While we will continue to advance a few current initiatives, like the Provost’s Diversity Hiring Initiative, we expect that the Executive Director/CDO will have proven expertise in this area and will lead the process of better defining the education and training functions in collaboration with the campus community.
Yes. The Executive Director and Chief Diversity Officer will be a member of the President’s Cabinet and participate in the university’s budget and planning process, including engagement with shared governance leaders.
Advancing equity and inclusion at Western is the responsibility of every member of the WWU community, especially those in positions of leadership and authority. The Office of Equity and its CDO will assist the Western community in advancing these goals in a more strategic, coordinated, and informed manner. This will not replace the expectations and accountability for individual engagement. On the contrary, the hope is that these can be brought into greater focus and alignment to accelerate Western’s progress toward a more equitable and inclusive institution and campus environment.
The Executive Director will have an opportunity to determine these relationships and structures when they arrive at Western.
Yes, the hiring process will be facilitated by a university-wide committee, appointed by the President, with input from appropriate governance and other groups on campus. While we may appoint the committee before the end of the academic year, we will commence the search process in September 2021 when our entire community has returned from the summer break.
While it is expected that we will be able to leverage existing resources in the CRTC, the Office of Equity will require additional investments to deliver on expectations. The 2021-23 budget proposals currently being considered by the university include a request for providing competitive-level funding for hiring an Executive Director/CDO and a staff function. The position at this level will be expected to have a budget for campus-level strategic initiatives. Additional investments in the Office will be made over the next 2-3 fiscal years, particularly in the education and community training function. For instance, in the recently passed 2021-23 operating budget, WWU will have recurring state funding of $506,000 for ADEI training.
The compliance function is essentially a unit unto itself within the larger structure. The goal in structuring the Office of Equity in this manner is to avoid exactly what is described in the question. Similar to the complementary nature of the BRT (Bias Response Team) and SET (Structural Equity Team), an assessment of the deeper causes of compliance cases can lead to important learning about issues in our systems and structures and the deeper work of changing them.
The ADEI work remains everyone’s responsibility on campus. The strategic plan clearly articulates our strategic priorities, where inclusive student success and an institutional culture that enables substantive progress towards that end, is central to our aspirations. To ensure the success of the Office of Equity, we need to hold each other and the community as a whole responsible and accountable for creating a culture and climate that advances inclusive student success and other goals of the university. That leadership and accountability must continue to reside at the highest level—in the President’s portfolio—and it should be an integral component of the expectations for each member of the executive and academic leadership teams.
Within this broader context, the Executive Director/CDO will serve a critical role in the university. The work of the Executive Director and their staff is to bring a greater focus on ADEI issues, examine our regular operational matters through an equity lens, advance key initiatives that question and challenge our mental models, and engage our community in important and perhaps uncomfortable conversations. However, the point here is that this is not a one-person job, though they can act as a catalyst to promote conditions and enable conditions for change; this will require a continued commitment and effort from every member of the WWU community.
The state’s office of equity has only now started the process of defining its role in the state and how it would like to work with state agencies. The President and several other executive leaders are working with the Executive Director of the state’s office in clarifying our work with the state office.
The Executive Director/CDO position is a WWU position and will be hired as such according to a formal and approved position description. In other words, the same constraints that prevent people in other positions from shifting their focus would apply here. The primary focus of the position is our work at Western, though it is important to acknowledge that Western works within the broader state and societal context.
Centering equity in all we do is one very important way to contribute to the success of the position. The ADEI work remains everyone’s responsibility on campus. To ensure the success of the Office of Equity, we need to hold each other and the community as a whole responsible and accountable for creating a culture and climate that advances inclusive student success and other goals of the university, and ensures that every person in our community is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.