DU Students Rip Korbel School Dean Search With Three White Male Finalists
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DU Students Rip Korbel School Dean Search With Three White Male Finalists

A group called Concerned Students of Josef Korbel School of International Studies is criticizing the University of Denver institution for failing to follow through on promises to promote diversity, and instead naming three white males as finalists in the search for a new dean.

"It is a stated commitment to bring students, faculty and staff from diverse and marginalized communities onto campus, and to both integrate them and facilitate their success," says a student spokesperson who requested anonymity. "But what a lot of these kinds of initiatives and programs end up being is a way for predominantly white communities, especially those present at DU, to reinforce their own values and project the image that they're trying to support other communities when they're really not."

The students sent a letter (reproduced below) to Dr. Jeremy Haefner, the university's provost and executive vice chancellor, and Dr. Daniel McIntosh, dean of DU's College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences. In the document, which isn't signed by individual members of the group, they demand that the dean search be declared a failure and call for the restarted process to include student representatives with voting power. They're also asking for a meeting with Haefner and McIntosh on October 31 to discuss their concerns.

Ambassador Christopher Hill left his position as the Josef Korbel School of International Studies' dean last December.
Ambassador Christopher Hill left his position as the Josef Korbel School of International Studies' dean last December.

The previous Korbel dean was Christopher Hill, who has served as a U.S. ambassador to several countries, including South Korea. He held the dean position from September 2010 until last December, when he transitioned into roles as chief adviser to the Chancellor for Global Engagement and professor of the Practice in Diplomacy.

Pardis Mahdavi, the author of books such as Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution and From Trafficking to Terror: Constructing a Global Social Problem, has been Korbel's acting dean while a search was conducted for someone to take the gig permanently.

The online page detailing the dean opening includes this postscript: "The University of Denver is committed to enhancing the diversity of its faculty and staff and encourages applications from women, minorities, members of the LBGT community, people with disabilities and veterans. The University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer."

At this point, the identities of the three dean finalists have not been released externally. But according to the student group, the search committee has revealed that its initial pool of applicants consisted of 231 individuals, more than three-quarters of them both white and male. That percentage remained roughly the same throughout the search process before landing on a trio that, as characterized in the letter, "were 100 percent white, and 100 percent male."

This outcome exemplifies the way business is done on the campus in general, according to the student group's spokesperson. "The maintenance of the status quo results in a hostile and unwelcoming campus climate that prohibits students from actually excelling and requires them to do a lot of unpaid work to educate and change the institution on their own," the student says.

Pardis Mahdavi is the Josef Korbel School of International Studies' acting dean.
Pardis Mahdavi is the Josef Korbel School of International Studies' acting dean.

DU students of color, in particular, are regularly "subjected to microaggressions in the classroom, as well as from their peers," the spokesperson continues. These reactions have occasionally produced physical corollaries: "I've spoken to students who have been egged while they were walking." But more prevalent is "the idea of mental harm" and "a general exasperation that we've observed on the part of faculty, staff and students from marginalized communities."

As pointed out in the letter, the Korbel school has signed on to a diversity statement that reads:

The Josef Korbel School of International Studies is committed to fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students, staff and faculty. We value the diversity of backgrounds, ideas and individuals that enrich our community. By diversity, we include the broad range of identities that individuals and groups bring, including (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, class, language, culture, national origin, generation/age, ability, veteran status, documentation status, academic experience, and intellectual perspective.

We also recognize a special responsibility to undertake particular efforts to include the participation and voices of those from historically underrepresented groups who have experienced systematic marginalization, oppression, and lack of access. Diversity and inclusivity, therefore, also entail a commitment to equity, to understanding that not all individuals have had the same opportunity of access, and a collective responsibility to try to make such access more equitable.

In all of this, diversity alone is not the only goal; we also strive to hear, listen to, and incorporate all respectful and inclusive voices in our teaching, research, and service. Diversity and inclusivity must also be accompanied by the provision of resources and an openness to listening to and making space for new voices. We hold that embracing and supporting new perspectives, individuals, and ideas invigorates academic excellence and pushes our entire community forward in today's rapidly changing global marketplace. As a school of international studies, within a university dedicated to the public good, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence is critical for preparing and ensuring the success of the next generation of community and global practitioners, scholars, and leaders.

To the student, the statement hasn't translated into actions at Korbel specifically or DU generally: "We've seen these kind of superficial-seeming committees and initiatives, but they don't seem to lead to any kind of change. There's definitely a feeling of institutional inertia that's a legitimate and real thing, but it can't be presented as a scapegoat for actual change and development."

This latest controversy follows claims of mistreatment and more from as many as fourteen past and current professors at DU's Daniels College of Business and the subsequent announcement that its dean, Brent Chrite, would be leaving at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.

The Josef Korbel School of International Studies as depicted in an illustration from a video promoting the institution.
The Josef Korbel School of International Studies as depicted in an illustration from a video promoting the institution.
Josef Korbel School of International Studies via YouTube

The letter alludes to the fact that Chrite is the only current permanent DU dean who's also a person of color. Read it here:

Letter from Concerned Students of Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver:

The Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver joined the ranks of institutions dedicated to diversity earlier this year by unanimously adopting a Diversity Statement and commitment to equity stating that:

"Diversity alone is not the only goal; we also strive to hear, listen to, and incorporate all respectful and inclusive voices in our teaching, research, and service. Diversity and inclusivity must also be accompanied by the provision of resources and an openness to listening to and making space for new voices."

Recently the school has returned to the neo-colonial status quo, reneging on their commitment, with the dean’s search that produced three white male candidates in the final pool.

This result epitomizes a larger problem across the University of Denver: a harmful, self-perpetuating campus culture that marginalizes students of color, international students, and other students who identify with historically oppressed identities. Daily, these students grapple with navigating a campus which purports to be progressive and inclusive, but instead alienates, tokenizes, and isolates them. These final candidates mark a continued disregard for the students that the “inclusively excellent” administration claims to support, only alienating them further.

We — alienated, tokenized, isolated, concerned students — find the outcome of the dean’s search to be unacceptable.

Following the announcement of the finalists, JKSIS students wrote an open letter publicly expressing concern with the lack of transparency throughout the search and the blatant disregard for continual student activism that questions the veracity of the school’s commitment to diversity. Addressing the endemic institutional racism at the University of Denver, the letter highlighted the painful discrepancy between the University’s public image, that parades diversity before prospective students, and the lived reality of disenfranchised students who constantly clamor for their right to be present and respected in hostile spaces on campus.

Attempting to quell concerns, the search committee responded with assurances that diversity and inclusion were prioritized, reporting that best practices for hiring were maintained, while repeatedly acknowledging "things we did not think of." They stated that 231 candidates made up the initial pool of applicants — of which 75 percent were white, and 77 percent male. As the process narrowed, 79 percent of the candidates were white, and 75 percent were male, and the third round (of twelve applicants) were 77 percent white and 85 percent male. Ultimately the finalist pool of three candidates invited to JKSIS for interviews were 100 percent white, and 100 percent male. These disgraceful numbers speak not only to faults in the search process, but also to a superficial commitment to stated values of diversity and inclusion.

Furthermore, this finalist pool of three white males is a direct violation of a University-wide Faculty Senate Hiring Resolution, adopted on 20 May, 2015 which states:

"Finalist campus interview pools should include at least one candidate who broadens compositional diversity for the hiring discipline involved, in keeping with the best practices and procedures outlined by DU’s Office of Equal Opportunity."

As of 2016, only 4 percent of appointed faculty at the Josef Korbel School self-identify as belonging to a historically underrepresented race/ethnicity. This lack of diversity is echoed elsewhere in our community by the vacant Dean position at Daniels College of Business, previously held by a person of color. Should the Daniels College of Business’ decanal search produce results similar to that of Korbel, the University of Denver will have zero deans of color. Students of color across campus will have zero representations of their identities in higher education and the U.S. generally.

To begin to redress this situation, concerned students from JKSIS demand the following:

• Fail the decanal search and begin a new process with student representatives on the committee with voting power.

• Conduct target of opportunity hires for the five open tenure-track lines within the school; focusing on candidates who increase compositional diversity at Korbel and demonstrate an intersectional approach in research, pedagogy, and practice.

• Institute accountability mechanisms by hiring a Senior Associate Dean who is responsible for ensuring that Diversity and Inclusion is upheld at JKSIS and is accountable and accessible to students as well as faculty and staff.

• Create five Fellowships to attend JKSIS for students from historically marginalized communities.

For an institution that continues to pride itself on its dedication to the public good, the University of Denver continues to fail the many students that attend this prestigious institution at the expense of their own identities while constantly invalidating their existence on this campus.

We are asking that you hear our voices and make space for a new voice: a Dean that can represent the JKSIS student body authentically.

We solicit the attention of Provost Dr. Jeremy Haefner and Dean Dr. Daniel McIntosh for action on the requests above and to meet with the students on October 31, 2018 at 12 p.m. in Maglione Hall to further discuss your approval of our demands.

We've reached out to the University of Denver for comment. If and when DU gets back to us, we'll update this post.

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