Q & A with Clyde Howard, director of the office of affirmative action at K-State
By Keener A. Tippin II
Clyde Howard has been the director of the office of affirmative action at Kansas State University since 1994. In that capacity his job entails the following basic tasks: Administering the university's affirmative action plan; administering the university's policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment; providing training and technical assistance to departments for everything from prevention and awareness of sexual harassment, all the way to training that is provided to search committees; and he serves as the designated Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator. Perspectives recently sat down with Clyde to discuss K-State's affirmative action plan and how successful it has been.
Q: What is the university's affirmative action plan?
A: The university's affirmative action plan is basically a federal model that says basically that the university will in good faith attempt to recruit and promote underrepresented persons and typically those underrepresented persons are persons of color; blacks, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans. The affirmative action plan itself is a document of some 500-plus pages that outlines what each department looks like in terms of its demographics and outlines in general form its plan to correct any underutilization of women or any member of those minority groups. Then the plan is put into effect each time there's recruitment. Each agency or each department develops a recruiting plan designed to reach out to underrepresented persons to invite them to apply and then to review their qualifications based upon the other qualifications that have been set.
Q: How is it working so far?
A: So far the university has not been as successful hiring persons of color for faculty positions as it has hiring persons of color for administrative positions such as assistant vice president, associate provost, associate dean, program head, director, assistant and associate director. There has been some success in hiring women for faculty, department, college and university-level administrative and central administration positions. Women hold positions as associate provost, assistant provost, vice provost, dean, associate and assistant dean, department head, director, associate and assistant director. Women hold positions in all faculty ranks and as distinguished university professor. The availability of under-represented persons of color and women indicate there should be more members of these groups in these positions. The challenge is to achieve even greater representation.
Q: What's the problem in recruiting in those two areas?
A: Recruiting is more than placing ads and waiting for applicants, especially in the competition to attract applicants from a relatively small pool of persons of color and women. Recruiting is a very personal process. I have identified three problems: First and foremost, few at the university have the kind of trusting relationships with, for example black scholars or administrators to call upon them to refer qualified persons for an opening at K-State. Second, salary and other benefits that other universities offer are often greater than K-State has been willing to offer. Third, many do not "sell" potential applicants on the positives about the location. Instead they focus on how close it is to Kansas City as opposed to how it is located near four major research universities: University of Kansas, University of Oklahoma, University of Colorado and University of Nebraska.
Q: The term "affirmative action" sometimes stirs negative connotations of people.
A: Yes, they do. And what we have typically dealt with is the word "quota. " That is that affirmative action means there is a quota. But what affirmative action really means is taking an extraordinary step to do something extra to identify, to recruit, and bring in persons who are members of underrepresented groups. Now, affirmative action also means that once you get the person there, that you act affirmatively to ensure that they are comfortable, that they feel welcome and they can be productive. Now, what it does not mean, is treating someone special or lowering standards. Rather it means treating each individual as an individual, trying to identify what they need to succeed and providing it if possible. But too often when we take the word affirmative action, it either means we have a quota or we are treating someone differently or we're doing something special for one group or one person that we don't do for other persons and that simply is not the case.
Q: How do we do that here then?
A: Well, we try to take affirmative action in three ways. We try to identify places that are likely to yield qualified candidates and we try to invite those persons to apply. Once they're here, let's say they come as part of an applicant pool, then we try to sell the good things about the university, about the college, about the department, about their ability to do research and interact with people who have a similar research motive and so on. We try to do it that way. Once they're here, we try to identify those things that they need to be successful. Sometimes we do a good job, sometimes we don't do a good job and it's one of those things where there's no one template. We have to sort of identify what individuals need and then try to provide that. And a lot of people do that; a lot of people are still trying to figure out how to do it.
Q: You said it hasn't been a perfect system so far. But has it enhanced the diversity?
A: Well, affirmative action has enhanced the diversity of Kansas State University. Now, we have to keep in mind that affirmative action is a legal obligation. Diversity is something that is nice to do. Now, when you put both those things together what you get is a sense that we're doing the right thing, both because it is a legal obligation and it is a nice thing to do. Affirmative action typically has involved as a matter of course because this is what we do, we count and measure. So affirmative action has been used in that vain. That we count and measure how well we're doing. And that is part is lead to that part about quotas. On the other hand, diversity is, has as one of its main purposes, to change the culture. Affirmative action was more about simulating into a culture that is already there. Diversity is about remaining yourself and maintaining your culture in a world of difference, if you will. And so, what we've tried to do is to mill those two and say to people, you don't have to give up your culture to come here and be successful.
Q: How has K-State been successful in terms of affirmative action?
A: I think one of the things that we've been successful at in terms of affirmative action, is convincing people that it is important to do. And we've had a lot of persons who understand that and who try to do their very best at it. The thing that we have not been very successful at, and we need to improve on, is developing a network of relationships, such that when we begin recruiting it isn't like a cold sales call. We can contact persons whom we know, and who we know trust us and trust our judgment, that there's a mutual respect and trust there. Our pools will get to be more diversified because persons from various walks of life, from various cultures will be contacted and they will provide information into us, they will identify persons, they will nominate persons and we can begin to get better at it. But we won't get better at it until we develop that network and we won't achieve greater success at it, I don't believe, until we have the network and we conquer that whole matter of that supply and demand, because that issue will always haunt us in the sense that there are persons who recognize that minorities and women are a premium and so we should pay more. But then there are others who say that, well, gee, but what about the rest of us who have been here for years. It creates salary compression, we're underpaid so why so other persons be paid more.
Q: Thats a basic thing with students, but court cases like University of Texas, University of Michigan, do they have a bearing on the future of our plan?
A: They have a bearing in two respects. Although we deal exclusively with employment, and those issues deal with admissions, in many ways they're dealing with the same issue and that is what are the criteria that define entry into a system. And so to the extent that they continue to say race can be a factor to be considered in admissions, they're reaffirming what has been a practice on the employment side for a number of years, that is, race can be a factor to be considered in an employment context. The other thing, on that side, in terms of the University of Texas and the University of Michigan cases, what they're doing on the employment side is giving administrators, deans, department heads and others, more confidence that if they do the right things at the right time, then they can be successful and they can avoid or minimize lawsuits and other actions that might be taken against them. So to the extent that the court is sort of laying out blueprints relative to admissions, those are transferable to the employment context in some ways. And I think that's been helpful. Although I do believe that there is, probably in the next few years coming, another big employment case and that will then begin to sort of tie all these things together.