Diversity Shout-Out: University of Kentucky’s Dean David Blackwell

19-university-of-kentuckyA few weeks ago I attended campus community forums to hear from the two finalists for the University of Kentucky Provost vacancy. The finalists were Dr. Timothy Tracy, ask Dean of the UK College of Pharmacy, and Dr. David Blackwell, Dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics at UK. Both candidates were clearly very capable leaders, but ultimately, Dr. Tracy was selected as the next Provost at the University of Kentucky. I send my congratulations to Dr. Tracy and I look forward to working with him as we continue to move UK forward.

But the purpose for my post is to highlight an incredibly forward-thinking comment made by Dr. Blackwell during the campus forums. In response to a question posed by an audience member about moving the University of Kentucky forward in the area of diversity, Dr. Blackwell commented that the University should not limit itself to merely mirroring the diversity of the state. As you might know, compared to most other US states, Kentucky’s racial and ethnic diversity is pretty low. As of the 2010 US Census, Kentucky’s population was about 88% White, about 8% Black, and only about 3% Hispanic or Latino of any race. With that demographic profile, Kentucky ranks as one of the least diverse states in America. In fact, some analysts have placed Kentucky as being one of the top five least diverse states in America.

Even as one of the least diverse states in the country, the demographic profile of the faculty at the University of Kentucky falls short or mirroring the state. Most notably, the University’s percentage of Black faculty members is disproportionately low. During the 2012-2013 academic year, only about 3.5% of full time faculty members at UK were Black. Much more work must be done to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of faculty at UK; particularly with increasing the number of Black full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty members.

The University of Kentucky’s student demographic profile is pretty similar to that of the state of Kentucky. During the 2012-2013 academic year, total Black/African American enrollment at UK was just under 7% and Hispanic or Latino enrollment was just under 3%. So if a diversity goal for the University is for the student body to mirror the demographic profile of the state, UK is close and just a tad more work would put it right at the goal line.

But Dean Blackwell’s comment causes us to rethink such goals. He suggested that even if the faculty and student body at UK mirrored the demographics of Kentucky, more could and should be done to increase diversity at the University. Dean Blackwell asserted that if the goal of the University of Kentucky is to be a highly competitive national university, then the diversity of UK will have to surpass that of the diversity of Kentucky, because the most successful organizations are diverse organizations.

Dean Blackwell’s comments were both insightful and challenging, and I hope leaders at all levels of the University will take on that challenge to continue to move the needle on diversity at UK. I have no doubt that a more diverse UK will be a stronger UK.