Warren plans to boost campus diversity as deputy provost

By Joel Lanceta

Kenneth Warren originally had no intention to become a deputy provost. He had co-chaired the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues (PIMI), the taskforce that recommended the creation of an official post dedicated to recruiting a more diverse body of faculty and students.

“When we took this recommendation to Provost Saller, I had no intention of stepping into such a position, particularly because I thought we might hire someone from outside the University,” Warren said.

But, Warren said, Saller decided that it would have been better to appoint a current senior-level administrator who was already accustomed to the University. Thus, the administration named Warren deputy provost for research and minority issues on October 6.

This English professor in the College has his work cut out for him. A week after he was named deputy provost, students in May House held a “straight-thuggin’” party, bringing to light many of the shortcomings that the PIMI had stressed in its report last year, including the paucity of faculty and students of color at the University, and the importance of diversity to academia.

Administrators said Warren is highly capable of tackling the “straight-thuggin’” party controversy and implementing the recommendations of PIMI.

“I am extremely grateful that Provost Saller has created this senior-level position to focus on these important issues and I’m thrilled that Ken Warren has agreed to take on this challenging role,” said Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University. “Having worked so closely with Ken over the past few years as his PIMI co-chair, I am now really excited to have these new opportunities to work closely with Ken and to continue to benefit from his experience, wisdom, and energy.”

For a long time, the relatively small size of the College coupled with the emphasis on graduate student training meant that the University was working with a smaller applicant pool than its peer institutions, Warren said.

“But over the past several years, as the size of the College has grown, the tasks have been clear,” he said, adding that the College’s tasks for forming a more diverse student population include: aggressively contacting prospective students, building relationships with counselors at schools with large minority student populations, bringing more prospective students to campus, and creating financial aid packages that “are sufficient to alleviate the financial burdens that often prove to be an obstacle to students of color.”

Warren added that effective advising, the establishment of mentoring plans, and renewed attention to student support services were key programs for the retention of minority undergraduate and graduate students. Also, he said, recruiting faculty of color requires aggressiveness in seeking out candidates and providing them support for research initiatives.

Warren said his immediate and long-term goals center around articulating the ideals of the University’s diversity statement and the annual reports from PIMI, while ensuring minority candidates of the highest quality at all levels has to be a top priority; goals he said have not been changed by the May House party.

“As painful as the issues surrounding the party controversy have been, they don’t substantially change these goals, in as much as all of the issues raised in the wake of that incident appear somewhere in the PIMI reports,” Warren said. “We will need, though, to look harder at the issue of diversity training and student orientation.”

Though his exact duties as provost are still undefined—he is on leave for the 2005-2006 school year to focus on his research in American literature and race—Warren was present at the campus-wide discussion last Tuesday in response to the “straight-thuggin’” party.

His recommendation to any student riled up by the party is to get past the actual event and take action to increase diversity.

“One of the best things students can do is get themselves out of their orbits of comfort within the University,” Warren said. “Use the resources of the Community Service Center or the Neighborhood Schools Program. Get involved in organizations that seek to attack inequality beyond the boundaries of the campus.”