The University of Minnesota’s hunt for a new vice president of equity and diversity is almost over after a four-month-long process narrowed the search down to two finalists.
The University hosted two forums last week for the finalists, Kortet Mensah and Michael Goh, the current interim VP, to make their cases for the job in front of faculty, staff and students. University President Eric Kaler is expected to make a final decision in the coming weeks, said University spokeswoman Emma Bauer.
“This is the final stage,” said Scott Lanyon, dean of graduate education and co-chair of the VP search committee, which launched last May. “We’re all really excited to be nearing the end of this process,” he said.
The candidates – one internal and one external – both bring lengthy resumes to the position.
Mensah served as the associate vice president of diversity and inclusion at St. Mary’s College in Maryland until the end of the 2017-2018 school year. She previously worked in a variety of multicultural, human development and counseling roles in higher education.
Goh has spent much of his career at the University, focusing on counseling, psychology and education development. He’s held the interim position for the past year after former VP Katrice Albert left the University last September.
“I think there are strengths that come with external candidates and internal candidates,” Lanyon said. “An internal candidate obviously understands the University quite well. An external candidate just brings [a] different perspective,” he said.
Lanyon said the search committee – made up of undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, and faculty members – was looking for a candidate that has “a very broad definition of diversity." Additionally, candidates must be able to handle the University’s large and complex system, he said.
Mensah laid out her vision for equity and diversity at a forum on Wednesday, emphasizing a personal approach to the job.
“An inclusive and diverse community always looks to transform the people in the community,” she said.
Goh plans to take a more collective approach, looking to “empower anybody who wants to join in this work,” he said at the Thursday forum. “I’m inviting you [all] to the struggle.”
The next VP will have to address a variety of challenges at the University and across the nation.
Several forum attendees questioned how the candidates plan to navigate the University’s bureaucratic system and implement change across all five University campuses.
Others raised concerns about campus climate, including ongoing controversy related to free speech.
“There’s a lot of issues here, as well as there are on other campuses, of hateful speech that is protected free speech,” Ann Freeman, director of OED’s campus climate initiative, said at the forum Wednesday.
In the last several years, the University has experienced several racist incidents, including neo-Nazi propaganda posted around campus and anti-Semitic graffiti found in residence halls.
“There are a lot of factors – especially in this political climate that we’re facing today – that are making diversity and inclusion more important topics to talk about,” said Tala Alfoqaha, a member of the VP search committee and the director of the Minnesota Student Association’s diversity and inclusion committee.
Alfoqaha hopes the next VP will take steps to ensure “students of color, students of different backgrounds feel safe and included and welcome at this university,” she said, “Because a lot of them right now don’t feel very safe in this country.”
At the Thursday forum, graduate student Noel Gordon Jr. asked Goh to address “incidents of racial harassment.”
“One of the [University’s] grand challenges … not only that affects the University, but cities and states across the country ... is racism,” Gordon said in an interview. “I’m hoping that the new vice president will be able to act quickly and decisively to address these incidents.”
Lanyon is optimistic about the new VP, whoever that may be.
“We’ve got really strong people,” Lanyon said. “I’m really excited regardless of who gets appointed from this.”