Clark: No women, at least 1 person of color among presidential finalists



Steve Clark, chair of WSU’s 2019 presidential search committee, speaks in June at a public forum on the presidential search. Four forums were held in the RSC to gather feedback on the presidential search.

After a months-long closed search process, Jay Golden became the 14th president of Wichita State University last week. Like the 13 university presidents before him, Golden, who most recently served as a vice chancellor at East Carolina University, is a white man.

This homogeneity is not unique to WSU. Seventy-nine of the combined 84 presidents and chancellors at Kansas’s six state universities have been white men.

Because the search for WSU’s president was closed, the identities of candidates have remained anonymous. Steve Clark, who chaired the 20-person search committee charged with reviewing candidates and selecting finalists, said the committee considered a “very robust” pool of candidates. 

“Diversity was certainly a priority, but not to the extent that — we were looking for one thing and one thing only, and that is the most well-qualified candidate for the job,” Clark said. 

The 2019 search committee, which included two students, was majority white and majority male.

Kylie Cameron
Steve Clark and Mark Hutton headed the 20-person committee that selected a pool of finalists for the next president of Wichita State. The Kansas Board of Regents selected Jay Golden, a vice chancellor at East Carolina University, from that pool.

Clark declined to give a complete breakdown of demographics among WSU’s presidential finalists, but confirmed that at least one person of color made the short list of three to five candidates. No women were finalists.

“We did have a female candidate that everyone was very optimistic about,” Clark said. “However, she didn’t measure up in terms of the qualifications and the presentation and so forth, so the committee was pretty unanimous in rejecting her.”

Clark then switched his focus to the nature of The Sunflower’s interview questions. 

“You seem to be focused on the diversity and so forth, which I think is fine, but I often wonder if people expect that to trump qualifications, and it doesn’t in my mind,” he said. 

In a sit-down Q&A with The Sunflower last week, Golden said he plans to start a program called the President’s Diversity Leadership Fellowship, which will focus on increasing diversity in WSU’s administration and faculty.

“In its basic form, it is bringing leaders that are diverse by race, ethnicity, [and] backgrounds onto campus to talk about their real-life experiences and the hurdles that they faced,” Golden said.

“My goal is that we all identify a number of individuals that — if anybody got sick or they go to a new job or whatever — we have the talent pipeline that’s ready to go and wants to come into a leadership position on this campus.”

ODI: Access is key to promoting diversity

Alicia Sanchez, director of WSU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said she was heartened to hear that the new president has concrete plans to foster diversity.


“I am excited as long as Dr. Golden does do the work around diversifying administration or providing opportunities to access, and evaluating how we get more students into doctoral programs,” Sanchez said. “I think that will go leaps and bounds to diversify.

“As long as his words turn into action and we’re walking our talk, I think that will be very powerful.”

Sanchez said access is key to combating the systemic lack of diversity in university administrations.

“What’s the access point for people of color to earn a master’s or a doctoral degree? How do we help groom those that are going into those fields to see themselves to be a university president?” Sanchez said.

“If we’re not intentional about providing resources to offset financial costs for students of color, low-income individuals, then we’re not going to see a shift in the landscape.”

Sanchez said the closed search leaves lingering questions about the efforts of the committee and search firm to consider a diverse cast of candidates.

“I don’t want to say I’m disappointed that we don’t have a person of color in leadership. Again, closed search, so you have to hope that the people that are doing the work did their due diligence to be intentional in bringing people in,” Sanchez said.

“I would have appreciated knowing — did we do everything that we possibly could to diversify the search?”

Wheless Partners, the Alabama-based search firm hired by WSU to recruit candidates for the president job, boasts that 57% of their searches end in “diversity hires.”

“Our strategy for providing diverse, inclusive, and highly qualified candidates includes proactively diversifying our candidate pools and conducting the recruitment process in a consistent and equitable manner designed to help our clients build an inclusive work culture and environment,” reads the proposal Wheless submitted to WSU.

Clark, who also chaired WSU’s last presidential search, said making the search a closed process increased the caliber of candidates who applied for the job.

“I’ve been involved in another search when we obtained Dr. (John) Bardo several years ago, and it was a much more laborious process,” Clark said. “The main problem with that was, we had an extremely weak pool of candidates, and I think the reason we did is because it was an open search. 

“In this case, it was a closed search, and we had a very robust, well-qualified pool of candidates.”