UNCW prioritizes race in new 'cluster hires'

The University of North Carolina-WIlmington recently announced the launching of a mass diversity and inclusion hiring initiative for the College of Arts and Sciences.

The interim dean calls the initiative a "primary focus" of his job.

Many students spoke with Campus Reform, voicing several concerns.

The University of North Carolina-Wilmington announced the launch of a “Diversity and Inclusion Cluster Hire Initiative” within the College of Arts and Sciences, particularly in “Africana studies, race, racial inequality, and social justice.”

The announcement came from the school’s communications specialist, Venita Jenkins, who said that “the initiative will also improve the college’s ability to attract diverse and underrepresented students." Jenkins also details that the initiative will help attract more “diverse and underrepresented students.” 

Interim College of Arts and Sciences Dean Richard Ogle noted that diversity has been his “primary focus” since he assumed his position. 

“When I took over as interim dean, a primary focus was to increase diversity and inclusion within the College of Arts and Sciences. This specific initiative was within that charge and driven by department chairs and faculty who felt the need to move beyond just understanding the need and having the desire to diversify our faculty.”

He added that the initiative is important “given the history of Wilmington and our region.”

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He then claimed that a “wealth of research” shows that diversity in the workplace allows for “better solutions.”

“A wealth of research shows that diverse teams provide better solutions to problems. We know that culturally competent individuals succeed in the current marketplace. We owe it to ourselves, our students, and our world to ensure that students have the experiences necessary for them to succeed – awareness of and understanding underrepresented voices is one of these critical experiences. Students often choose a university where they hear their voice and where they get to see its importance lived out on a day-to-day basis."

But several UNCW students expressed their concerns about this new initiative to Campus Reform. Elizabeth Medlin, a nursing student, said her “excitement was paired with disappointment” over the precedent the decision might set. 

“When I read the university’s announcement of the hire initiative, excitement was paired with disappointment. I am in full support of equal opportunity to students of all ethnicities, races, cultures, and beliefs,” Medlin said. 

“I do not think the motivation for promoting diversity should be to meet certain quotas or to atone for incidences of the university’s or city’s past. This motivation leads to singling students out due to their physical characteristics or culture alone over appropriate qualifications,” she added.

Medlin then told Campus Reform that merit should be the central focus in job applicants and students alike. 

“Diversity should be promoted because it is the humane course of action, and students should be hired based on their ability to fulfill the roles of the job--regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture, and beliefs.”

College Republicans member Caroline Bunce expressed similar sentiments, calling the move “one-sided.”

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“I believe that hiring based on merit is in itself the purest form of equality, meaning everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed,” said Bunce. “To set a precedent of preferring one race over another is in itself, inherently racist. This hyper-focus on racial equality is very apparently one-sided.”

Bunce told Campus Reform that UNCW has many exclusively minority race-based clubs, but doubts that the school would allow such clubs to exist the other way around. 

“We have specifically Black and Latino clubs, but any specifically White clubs would automatically be deemed racist. Therefore, there is a danger that these hires will become more inclined to just demonize White people instead of finding real equality. These efforts are themselves brazenly discriminatory and harmful to students who look for the true meaning of equality.”

Charles Hering, another student, said he supports the hiring initiative “as long as the highest quality faculty is still being hired,” but fears that the college may be “willing” to sacrifice qualification. 

“I believe that the University is still focused on hiring the highest quality employees even considering the recent hiring initiatives, but I also think that in order to meet the standards set in place by the initiative, the college will, unfortunately, be willing to make sacrifices in the regions of qualifications and work ethics.”

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Hering also expressed concern over the future of thought diversity on college campuses. 

“Recently, many institutions seem to be pushing physical diversity more than diversity of thought, which I find to be rather counterintuitive and the wrong way of going about hiring professors,” he told Campus Reform.

UNCW spokeswoman Andrea Weaver would not disclose the cost fueling this initiative to Campus Reform, but said that it intends to “utilize existing funding.”

“This news announcement outlines the primary goal and impact of the hiring initiative in the scholarly areas of Africana studies, race, racial inequality and social justice. This initiative is a component of the College of Arts and Sciences’ faculty recruitment efforts, and the university will utilize existing funding and resources to invite scholars with expertise in these areas to join our faculty, enhancing UNCW’s ability to meet the current and future educational needs of students.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft