Harvey sees his role as catalyst and coordinator
By Anne Bromley
Photo by Dan Addison
| William B. Harvey at Sept. 30 interview.
The words of noted historical figure Frederick Douglass, who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” give William B. Harvey inspiration.
A devoted diversity leader and educator, Harvey is sure to contribute tremendously to the new position of vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity that he will step into on Nov. 1.
He was initially attracted to the U.Va. job thanks to the serious words and thorough plan expressed in the final report of the president’s Commission on Diversity and Equity, he said, which the executive search firm sent to him after initial contact.
“The report lays out the University’s position in specific terms,” said Harvey, who sees his role as both catalyst and coordinator.
For instance, when it comes to working with the Office of African-American Affairs, he wants to build a complementary relationship.
“The office has an absolutely stellar record of accomplishment, leading the nation in the graduation rate of African Americans,” he said. The Office of Student Affairs also is particularly strong, he said.
Harvey brings to this new University post the experience of working as an educator for the past 35 years, most recently as vice president of the Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., the oldest and largest higher education association in the country, representing 1,600 colleges and universities. In that role he helped college presidents and other university administrators come up with ways to be proactive and effective in increasing diversity among faculty and students at their institutions.
Harvey also has visited 15 African nations so far “to build some relationship with that history,” he said, fingering the Egyptian ankh — symbol of life — on a ring he wears.
Born on the North Carolina coast, Harvey’s father moved the family to New Jersey where the 12-year-old finished growing up. “My father [a school teacher] desperately wanted to get us out of the segregated South,” Harvey said.
From his first job after college as a newspaper reporter for the Newark Star Tribune to his most recent, Harvey said his wife of 34 years calls him a term he doesn’t like but can’t deny — “a workaholic.”
Harvey visited U.Va. on Sept. 30 to meet with Board of Visitors members and student groups.
When he officially starts his job next month, he plans to spend a lot of time communicating with students, faculty and staff of the University community, he said, but his top concern, besides introducing himself, will be addressing the “unfortunate incidents” of intolerance against African-American students and other minorities that have happened this fall.
“I hope in the short term to have interactions with student leaders, because they have the opportunity to impact the behavior of their peers.” He also said he wants to get a good sense of how student governance works here, knowing it’s an important element of student life.
Today’s students can benefit from knowing that these kinds of racial abuses are nothing new, even though it may be frustrating to be protesting against them still. These occurrences are not unusual and are not isolated to a particular geographic region, Harvey said.
“People want results. Students want an end to these negative circumstances. We have to send a message in practices and policies that show these kinds of actions are inappropriate and won’t be tolerated,” Harvey said.
Even more importantly, though, is student participation in the effort. “The abhorrent behavior we’ve seen here is not going to be controlled by administrative fiat; it has to come from the students,” Harvey said, noting “I have no reason to think the circumstances here have been dealt with in a less effective fashion than at other places.”
The need for sensitivity to racial antagonisms has a historical context in this country. “Race remains the fault line in America. We’re trying to get past it, but more needs to be addressed about how black-white race relations have affected our society,” he said.
He hopes that knowing recent civil rights history will “help students make a commitment to do what they can to push things forward, so that the next generation of students doesn’t have to go through the same things,” Harvey said.
The fact remains that when students go out in the world they will still encounter prejudice, said Harvey. As students they can learn to deal with those circumstances, through academic and informal interactions.
Students need to understand, he said, “there’s really a value to seeking out others different from themselves.”
“Higher education is what it’s all about,” he said. It is the university’s job to walk students through the history and toward the future. The university is the place where the community should be most engaged in making society better, he said.
In terms of working with faculty, Harvey would like them to be involved in improving the climate for diversity without compromising other objectives, to find ways for U.Va. to become a leader in this area. He hopes they share his presumption that every member wants the institution to be an even better school.
He also hopes to attract more outstanding professors from under-represented groups to join the faculty.
One of his biggest challenges, he said, will be to get a concrete understanding of the nuances of U.Va. culture, since every place has its own. At the same time, Harvey brings with him many ideas about how to weave diversity into the culture of any place.
An excerpt of William B. Harvey’s Sept. 30 remarks to the
Board of Visitors
I’ve heard from a few reliable sources that you all are expecting big things from me. What I need for you to understand is that I’m expecting big things from you too.
Lest there be any scintilla of misunderstanding, let me emphasize that I do not come to U.Va. with a magic wand, or with a silver bullet that will bring an immediate and absolute end to the racial discord that exists at this institution, just as it does at many colleges and universities across the nation.
I do, however, come with an intent to advocate, coordinate, encourage, work with, evaluate, report, and yes inspire all of us here to reach for higher goals in the area of diversity. And if this poetic phrase rings familiar, it’s because it comes from a presentation made by Dean Angela Davis and Professor Michael Smith for the President’s Commission on Diversity and Equity last year.
The conclusion of that report emphasized, and I quote, “No one office or officer can do this work on his or her own. This is a job for all of us.”
But I promise you that I will do my utmost to help U.Va. become the nation’s leading institution that embraces diversity in pursuit of excellence.