ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A few years ago, a group of University of New Mexico employees paid a visit to then-President David Schmidly to voice concerns about the racial atmosphere on campus. The ripples of that meeting are still reverberating today.
Schmidly thought the group raised some legitimate issues. He commissioned a study that found many African-Americans felt out of place at the university and were sometimes treated unfairly. The inquiry – now known as the Campus Climate Study – found that UNM had trouble retaining black faculty members and that many felt there were gaps in compensation when compared with other races or ethnicities.
One of the original group was Scott Carreathers, director of UNM’s African American Student Services. In an interview last week, he said the discussion was not centered on racist incidents on campus.
“Instead, it was what we weren’t seeing,” he said. “No black vice presidents, no black deans, that sort of thing.”
Since Schmidly stepped down nearly two years ago, the new president, Bob Frank, has picked up the baton. Frank and representatives of the Alliance of African American Groups have been meeting regularly to establish an ongoing dialogue and open new lines of communication.
The Alliance of African American Groups consists of community representatives, organizations, professionals, ministers and UNM faculty and staff. Its primary purpose is to work with Frank and his leadership team to develop strategies to improve the overall campus climate of African-American students, staff and faculty, said Harold Bailey, president of the Albuquerque chapter of the NAACP and chair of the alliance.
During the Frank presidency, one-on-one meetings, working sessions and other efforts have resulted in the appointments of several African-Americans to leadership positions on campus:
⋄ Carreathers was designated official liaison between the president’s office and the Alliance.
⋄ Almost as soon as Frank took office, Kymberly Pinder was appointed dean of the College of Fine Arts.
⋄ More recently, the College of Arts & Sciences appointed Robert Jefferson as director of Africana Studies.
⋄ Charles Becknell Jr. was reinstated as associate director of Africana Studies.
⋄ Last year, Jewel Washington was named interim vice president of Human Resources. A search for a permanent vice president is ongoing and she is a contender.
⋄ Long-time Law School Professor Sherri Burr was named Regents Professor of Law in 2012.
⋄ Just this year, Dr. Brian Gibbs became associate vice chancellor for diversity at the UNM Health Sciences
Center and a professor in the School of Medicine. He comes to UNM from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
As a newcomer to the Land of Enchantment, Gibbs finds himself in a unique position to improve the way health care is delivered to all of New Mexico’s communities; as an African-American, he is solidly positioned to improve communication between the university and Albuquerque’s black community.
One of his goals – he calls it a “mission” – is to improve the quality of health care for all New Mexicans, regardless of age, race, cultural heritage, income or where they might live. Gibbs has begun doing this by listening and not rushing in, giving relationships time to take hold and building bridges with various communities. In conversation, he often uses the word “collaboration.”
Internally, he is in close contact with fellow HSC professors, students and staff, which helps him understand the various communities, and their shakers and doers. He wants to see people achieve “a brighter, more significant and relevant future.”
In an interview, the Michigan native talked about the importance of bringing students of color into the discussion at all levels. Getting kids interested in medical careers is crucial. For example, there is a vigorous give-and-take between HSC and Albuquerque’s high schools and middle schools in the Dream Makers Health Career Program.
Meanwhile, Provost Chaouki Abdallah has introduced a diversity requirement to UNM’s overall curriculum. He also formed an achievement-gap task force to review issues and suggest solutions.
About 2.5 percent of UNM’s student body is black, about the same as the general population of the state.