IU President Michael McRobbie plans to step down in June. This spring, IU will conclude its search and name McRobbie’s successor. The next president will be selected by an 18-member committee in charge of conducting a nationwide search, screening and interviewing candidates.
The committee is composed of five IU Board of Trustee members, one student government member and a former Eli Lilly company CEO, among others. The majority of committee members do not interact directly with students on a day-to-day basis. Melanie Walker, an IU Board of Trustee member and white woman, is the chair of the committee.
The committee will name three to five finalists in early 2021, and a new president will be selected and ready to step in by the time McRobbie retires.
According to IU’s website, it is prioritizing minority and female candidates. McRobbie is IU’s 18th president, and all of IU’s presidents except Adam Herbert — IU’s 17th president — have been white men. None have been women.
The committee is evenly split with nine men and nine women, but of the 18 total members, roughly 75% are white.
The committee is tasked with picking a diverse slate of candidates to replace McRobbie, but it isn’t diverse itself.
Underrepresentation on the search committee
IU’s student body is roughly 66% white across all campuses, according to IU’s fall 2020 diversity statistics. Students and professors alike have voiced complaints over the committee being significantly more white than the student body.
Many minority IU community members feel their voices are not being heard enough in selecting the highest ranking administrator in the university. Minority students and faculty said they want to feel represented, but do not feel they are.
Carmund White, the Kelley School of Business Director of Diversity, said he expected nothing less as he scrolled through the committee website page for the first time.
Upper levels of administration — McRobbie, vice presidents and deans — are overwhelmingly white and may not necessarily have the same interests in mind as those of minority backgrounds.
IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said the committee wanted to represent a cross-section of IU where people who will be directly affected by the new president are heavily involved in the search. He said the even split of men and women on the committee will be influential and considering candidates from a variety of backgrounds is a top priority.
“If we didn't meet the other numbers in diversity, we certainly feel that the committee that we have are made up of people who have this at the top of their charge,” Carney said.
White said he knows and trusts some committee members, but that doesn’t alleviate White’s concerns. White has seen IU make efforts to increase student diversity, but he doesn’t believe he’s seen increases in diversity in the administration.
And not seeing a diverse committee leads him to think his low expectations will not be changing soon, he said.
The advising committee
There is a 26-person advising committee in addition to the search committee. Its task is garnering input from various student groups, departments inside IU and groups outside of the IU community on qualities and goals an ideal candidate for president should have. Some of the outside representatives on this committee come from local law firms, the Indiana Business Journal and the Indiana Dental Association.
Rachel Aranyi, IU’s student body president, is the only undergraduate on the main search committee. All other student input was relegated to the advisory committee. There are only two students on the advisory committee, and only one is an undergraduate — Victor Creed, a political science major in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and a Black man.
Carolyn Calloway Thomas, the chair of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, is the only advisory committee member whose expertise clearly lends itself to studies in diversity.
But there is no way for IU community members to directly reach the search committee. Carney said there have been town halls held to receive input on what the IU community wants in a new president, but those have been held with the advisory committee, not the search committee. The advisory committee is the supposed bridge.
That concerns White, too.
Even on the advisory committee, meant to bring more diverse backgrounds to the discussion of the next president, white men and women are again largely overrepresented. Of those 26 advisory committee members, 20 are white.
AJ Boyd, a senior African American and African Diaspora studies major, said she rolled her eyes when she first looked at the committee members. Boyd said she hopes some minority faculty members or students may have turned down spots on the committee due to other projects or roles pulling them in other directions.
“I hope that's what happened,” Boyd said. “It did stop me from judging harshly, but I still think if that was the case, then there should have been an even harder push to find available POC candidates. It shouldn't be, ‘Oh well, we tried.’ No, I want them to try harder.”
Problems with search committees
Israel Herrera, a senior lecturer in the Spanish and Portuguese department, was on the search committee to select Rick Van Kooten as the executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2019.
He said that white deans of diverse programs don’t necessarily represent diverse staff in their schools. For example, Lee Feinstein, the dean of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies is on the advisory committee, but Herrera isn’t sure he can fully speak for international professors.
“I was able to see that there isn’t a strong representation of diversity and including representation from international faculty,” Herrera said.
White wishes the search committee was larger. He is happy with the committee’s gender parity, but he, like Boyd, wants more representation for other marginalized groups, like Black, Hispanic and international members of the IU community, among others.
“Some people would say, ‘Well, when is it enough?’ And my response is: It will never be enough,” White said. “I would like to believe that there's not a concern that the voices of the majority won't be represented. I would imagine that we all can agree that having more minorities, more women, more very hugely diverse people on such a committee would not all of a sudden tamp down on the voice of the majority — our white faculty, staff, students and administration.”
Bigger than the presidency
White is less concerned with picking a candidate from a minority group, and more focused on the fact that those minority voices are not part of the discussion in choosing the next president.
He said Herman B Wells, a white man, certainly promoted and advanced the interests of Black students. Among his accomplishments, Wells desegregated parts of campus like the Indiana Memorial Union and helped recruit Bill Garrett — who would become the first Black basketball player in the Big Ten — to IU.
White said there could be white allies on the committee, but those voices don’t replace minority ones.
Without more diverse perspectives on the committee, committee members are unaware of their blind spots, he said. A more diverse committee would help ensure no matter who is chosen as the next president, no matter what race, they have the interests of minorities at the core of their agenda.
“If it's somebody who is a superstar ally and is going to uphold and consider all the voices that exist in this community, then so much the better,” White said.
The timing of this presidential search coincides with a year of Black Lives Matter protests and a national racial reckoning. White sees this timing as significant for IU and no matter who is chosen as the next president, people should not sit back and assume all diversity issues will be taken care of. White says there is still a lot of work to do at IU.
He wants to change his expectations.