Building Diversity & Excellence

October 6, 2010

KU Faculty, Staff, and Students:

What makes KU great is its people. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to be part of the KU community — one grounded on valuing each individual’s worth and dignity. An important component of that value system is advocacy for diversity and excellence; it is a major responsibility entrusted to all campus community members.

In this issue of Provost eNews, I focus on three interrelated topics that weave together our simultaneous quest for diversity and excellence. The first announces next week’s Tilford Conference that we at KU are honored to be hosting. The second item highlights a workshop held last week on hiring for excellence — how we as an institution can use innovative approaches to hire the most talented and impactful faculty and staff, and in the process increase diversity as well. And finally I want to encourage grassroots input on an important part of our current strategic planning effort, which follows up on a key recommendation from last year’s Research Task Force. We seek your input to design a faculty activity reporting system that will allow us to take advantage of synergies, analyze our strengths and weaknesses, and make better informed decisions and budget allocations.

In the next issue of Provost eNews, I will include updates on the strategic planning process. We have set up an email address, where you can submit comments and suggestions that you want to bring to the attention of the steering committee or work groups. You can also send an email by following the appropriate link from the strategic planning web site. As always,

Michael Tilford conference

October 11-12, 2010

Diversity matters at the University of Kansas. It matters because diversity enriches our ability to find innovative solutions to complex problems and to create new knowledge. As the foundation of our campus community, we seek to have a rich mix of perspectives, ethnicities, life experiences, interests, worldviews, and cultures. However, the importance of diversity extends beyond its contributions to a rich academic environment.

A diverse and inclusive environment strengthens KU’s ability to excel. Diversity and excellence go hand in hand. Diversity enhances our productivity, spurs new ideas, and helps us perform on a higher level. It provides our students valuable experiences that will help them prosper after graduation in an increasingly global and multicultural world. Through such interactions, we gain the opportunity to broaden our worldview, as well as build a community of learning and fairness marked by mutual respect.

Hiring for Excellence workshop

Hiring faculty is the most significant opportunity that a major university has to enhance its excellence. With so much at stake, it only makes sense to examine how we do faculty searches with the same rigor and resourcefulness that we devote to our scholarly pursuits. To that end, about 60 search committee chairs, deans, faculty, and staff participated on September 28 in a Hiring for Excellence Workshop, conducted by Vic Hunter, president and CEO of Hunter Business Group LLC.

The goal of the search process is to hire the very best people — to enhance the excellence of KU. Hunter’s basic tenet is that, once you screen applicants to make sure the remaining pool satisfies the basic high standards, the few dozen applicants who remain cannot be distinguished on paper from one another in order to determine long-term excellence. Another key aspect of his approach is that there are a small number of key traits that determine the long-term excellence of a candidate, and it is important for the search committee to consciously determine those key traits and to focus on them. By rigorously screening the remaining candidates for those traits, often by using an intermediate stage of phone interviews, the search committee can ensure that the candidates ultimately chosen as finalists to visit campus are all extremely competitive. In addition, the process includes consideration of excellent candidates who may not have made the finalist group if judged on paper alone. Those candidates tend to be more diverse, and ultimately the hires made are not only excellent, but more diverse as well.

These hiring techniques have been used successfully at Purdue University, and this year we will be piloting them at KU in our searches in chemistry, journalism, political science, and psychology. Search committees interested in the approach are invited to view a video of last week’s workshop, which will soon be available online from the faculty development web site. For additional information, please contact Vice Provost Mary Lee Hummert (; she is assembling a team of KU consultants to assist search committees interested in employing Hunter’s methodology.

Faculty activity reporting system

Our strategic planning efforts are all about enhancing excellence. Reliable data are essential to measure our current levels of excellence, to evaluate how we can improve, and to guide our use of resources.

One recommendation emerging from the 2010 Research Task Force report is to develop a faculty activity reporting system — to chart in an organized way the contributions of KU faculty (and related staff in faculty-equivalent roles) to the teaching, research, and service missions of the university. KU currently has no comprehensive database of faculty activity. Information is presently stored in departments and schools in a variety of formats, and the many reports and annual reviews done each year require tedious and duplicative work in pulling together information. There is no good way to gauge faculty productivity fairly and fully or to identify colleagues on campus doing synergistic work. This lack of consistent and reliable information makes it difficult for departments to compare their productivity to programs at peer institutions and, more importantly, to determine what steps could best advance their levels of excellence.

Last week the National Research Council released its quantitative assessment of research doctoral programs, and the prestigious Association of American Universities — to which KU proudly belongs — uses quantitative data to review its institutional members. We have an opportunity at KU through the new reporting system to “get it right” and, by so doing, to influence how other organizations like the NRC and AAU measure and value institutions.

A large group of stakeholders representing the Lawrence and KU Med Center campuses has been assembled to provide important input on the design principles for the faculty activity reporting system and then to give continued feedback as it is developed. I encourage you to contact your departmental or unit representative to share your views on which data categories are most representative of excellence in your unit. Our goal is to have the reporting system operational for departmental and school use by late 2011.

In the spirit of supporting such a diverse learning community, KU will once again be the host institution for the Michael Tilford Conference next week on Monday, October 11 and Tuesday, October 12. The welcome reception takes place at the Dole Institute of Politics the first day from 5:30–7:30 p.m., and the conference program begins the second day at 8:30 a.m. This year’s theme, “The Power of Diversity in Action,” brings together those from the Regents universities and our community college colleagues to continue conversations and share information that will not only continue to move each institution forward, but also provide for personal and professional growth. I am pleased to learn that nearly 250 participants will be attending this year’s conference. You can access the complete program on the web page for the KU Office of Diversity and Equity.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

This issue of Provost eNews as well as past ones can be found on the Provost eNews web page.

Office of the Provost
Feedback/Let Us Know

Do you have a concern, or would you like to offer your thoughts on a proposal put forward by this office?

The Provost Office offers an anonymous form so you can raise issues important to you or respond to issues and activities on campus. 

Let Us Know.

RT @KUAdvising : A big shout out to all the nominees for this year's Advisor of the Year Award. A BIG congratulations to Rosana Godinez on w…

Policy Library Search

Visit the Policy Office for more information.

Green Office

Why KU
  • One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
  • 44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
    —U.S. News & World Report
  • Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
  • 5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times