Graphic by Ashley Mowreader
On June 8, President Jim Gash announced Pepperdine’s plans to hire a chief diversity officer to oversee diversity and inclusion at Pepperdine. Five months later, the search is underway with administration hoping to fill the position by spring 2021. But what is chief diversity officer, where are the search committees looking and what does this mean for the future of Pepperdine?
Pepperdine community members have long called for more diversity and inclusion initiatives across the University and especially in the past year, following the murder of George Floyd in May and School of Public Policy Dean Pete Peterson’s polarizing petition in October. Administration also shared Presidential Action Steps for diversity and inclusion Oct. 28, including plans for the chief diversity officer position.
“It is important to remember that filling this role will not relieve any of us from the individual and collective work we must do to build and maintain unity and belonging in our community,” Gash wrote in University email Oct. 28.
Starting the Search for a CDO
In an Aug. 6 interview with the Graphic, Gash said he desired to create a chief diversity officer role at Pepperdine prior to the June 8 announcement.
“Before I became president, one of the things that I had wondered about was why Pepperdine did not have a chief diversity officer,” Gash said. “We have diversity councils and committees, and we have diversity officers in some of the schools. My question was, ‘Why wouldn’t we have one?’”
Gash said when he pitched the idea of a CDO at Pepperdine, he encountered unanimity and encouragement from his Steering Team, which then launched the search process officially. The start of the search process began in January but was interrupted when COVID-19 hit Pepperdine, Gash said.
Gash shared the University’s plans to hire a chief diversity officer June 8 in a response to racial injustice in inequality and outlining some of Pepperdine’s next steps in promoting diversity and inclusion. Over the course of the semester, Gash and other administrators have provided additional updates in the search process.
In an Aug. 19 email to the Pepperdine community, Gash confirmed the search was underway. During the Sept. 23 President’s Briefing, the community received an update that the search will conclude in the spring with the hiring of the first chief diversity officer.
The Role of a CDO at Pepperdine
The biggest obstacle for Pepperdine, Gash said, was defining the role and establishing what kind of a model to use for the chief diversity officer position.
“When you’re replacing somebody that’s already in a position that exists, it’s easy to say, ‘Well, here’s the job description because the person before you did this,’” Gash said. “When you’re creating something from scratch, and there are all kinds of different models, you want to pull together which ones you think have the best parts, and then you pick out what you want to build.”
Pepperdine’s job description for the chief diversity officer, officially called the Vice President for Community Belonging and Chief Diversity Officer, states the position will be part of the senior administrative team, reporting to and advising the president.
“Pepperdine is in the midst of a strategic planning process, and the inaugural VP of Community Belonging will play a key role in implementing and advancing the University’s aspirational goals related to diversity, inclusion and belonging,” according to Pepperdine’s job board.
Administrative duties for the position include advising the president about diversity matters, developing a university center for diversity and community belonging and engaging in strategic planning and goals related to diversity.
The CDO will also lead efforts to promote diversity, including working with the five schools and Human Resources to recruit and retain diverse students, staff and faculty and increasing a sense of belonging for underrepresented groups within the University.
To evaluate Pepperdine’s diversity efforts, the CDO will review scholarship information and assess diversity efforts through climate surveys and focus groups, as well as plan and facilitate organizational change to increase institutional capacity related to diversity.
The CDO will also serve as a member of the University Steering Team, the University Diversity Council, the Presidential Action Advisory Team and work with Pepperdine’s Integrated Marketing and Communications team.
To qualify for the position, a candidate: must be a Christian; understand diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education; and be familiar with federal, state and local legislation related to harassment and protected-class discrimination, among other skills such as communication, listening, conflict resolution, collaboration and relationship building. Those holding a doctorate degree with leadership or administrative experience in higher education are preferred., according to Pepperdine’s job board.
Carter Baldwin Executive Search Firm steers the hiring process for external applicants. The firm also works with Duke University, Wheaton College, Taylor University, and Grove City College, among other evangelical non-profits, including Young Life and The Heritage Foundation.
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