Dearth of diversity in leadership at Georgia’s top colleges

Jere Morehead, president of the University of Georgia, and Deborah Ann Roberts (second from left), commencement speaker, leave after UGA's 2019 spring undergraduate commencement ceremony at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Friday, May 10, 2019. (Hyosub Shin /



Jere Morehead, president of the University of Georgia, and Deborah Ann Roberts (second from left), commencement speaker, leave after UGA's 2019 spring undergraduate commencement ceremony at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Friday, May 10, 2019. (Hyosub Shin /

Georgia State University student Kenneth Lockett’s plans for an opinion article for the school newspaper changed with the big news on campus.

The university’s president, Mark Becker, in mid-September announced plans to leave in June.

Lockett and other students at the paper discussed potential candidates, and he had a thought that became the theme of his piece. Georgia State’s next president should be Black, preferably a woman.

“Shaking the boat and placing a Black person, especially a Black woman, into the university’s highest position would truly make a STATEment,” Lockett, 20, a junior political science major from Brooklyn, New York, wrote in The Signal. “Being the first Black president and the first female president would again make Georgia State a global leader.”

Georgia State University student Kenneth Lockett wrote an opinion article in the university's student-run newspaper, The Signal, advocating for the school's next president to be Black and preferably a woman. (Contributed)

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Lockett’s article reflects an issue that is garnering more attention at colleges nationwide: the lack of Black administrators on campus.

At Georgia’s largest universities, students and staff are responding to the national conversations about systemic racism by organizing campaigns to improve racial diversity on their campuses. The individuals who make the key decisions about academic programs, faculty hiring and student affairs, though, are overwhelmingly white.

White leaders make up more than 70% of the presidents, vice presidents, provosts and deans at the University System of Georgia’s four research institutions — Augusta University, Georgia State, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia — and at Emory University, the state’s largest private university. The percentage of Black people in those jobs range from nearly 18% at Georgia State to about 6% at UGA.

More people are saying the numbers must change.

Lockett said he’s discussed the issue with classmates, and many students are unaware Georgia State has never had a Black president, he found. Most of the presidents at Georgia State and the four other universities have been white men even as enrollment at those schools has evolved. Now, more than half of the students at Emory, Georgia State and Georgia Tech are non-white.

‘Diversity brings better decision-making’

Conversations about diversity in leadership are also taking place in other parts of the country and in other industries. A New York Times analysis in September of about 900 officials and executives in prominent positions nationwide found 20% were people of color, although 40% of Americans identify as a person of color. The analysis included U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 national universities. None of those presidents are Asian or Black. One is Hispanic.

Experts say greater diversity in higher education leadership could better address long-standing issues, such as helping the increasing percentage of low-income and first-generation students in Georgia colleges earn degrees.

“The students have made the business case for us,” said Yves-Rose Porcena, one of four Black vice presidents at Agnes Scott College, the private, women’s school in Decatur. “Students need to see themselves in the leadership.”

Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur, has four Black vice presidents. They are part of the nine-member executive cabinet. Pictured here (from left to right), they are Karen Goff, vice president for student affairs and dean of students; Yves-Rose Porcena, vice president for equity and inclusion; Danita Knight, vice president for communications and marketing; Robiaun Charles, vice president for college advancement. (Courtesy of Agnes Scott College)

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Nationally, about 8% of college administrators are Black, research shows. The percentage has changed little since researchers started tracking such data in the 1980s, said Karen Goff, Agnes Scott’s dean of students, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education administration. Goff is also Black.

Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel said there’s a practical issue to improve the numbers.

“Diversity brings better decision-making,” she said in an interview.

Georgia State University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Wendy Hensel. Photo Credit: Georgia State.

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Hensel and administrators at each university agree they can do more. They attribute the diversity gap to the lack of Black faculty members being groomed for senior leadership positions, a need for better mentoring, not recruiting doctoral students with upper management potential and not broadening their search criteria or where they look for job candidates.

Increasing the number of Black administrators was among the list of demands by a group of Georgia State faculty members in a June petition. A task force on racial equity, convened by Becker, included in its September recommendations creating a position of Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Hensel said the university began training all search committees during the spring to avoid implicit bias during the hiring process. The university is also developing a program to expose employees to different experiences to develop skills necessary for administrators. Georgia State, she said, is also working on a campuswide mentoring program.

Augusta University said it expects its search firms to come up with a diverse pool of job candidates for any and all positions. At Emory, officials said they also attempt targeted outreach for applicants who are women, people of color, LGBTQ and other diverse groups in leadership job searches. Emory’s Learning and Organizational Development program attempts to prepare employees who may soon transition to a manager role or were recently promoted.

The pipeline

Àngel Cabrera, who became Georgia Tech’s president last year, said the school must first do better at recruiting Black students. Less than 6% of its 39,771 students this fall were Black, the third lowest percentage of any University System of Georgia school, behind the University of North Georgia and Dalton State College.

While Georgia Tech has a program that offers enrollment to all valedictorians and salutatorians in the Atlanta Public Schools system, which is predominantly Black, Cabrera wants to create a program to increase needs-based aid to low-income students to increase the percentage of historically underrepresented students on campus.

Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera talks with Sophia Bowie, 18, a first-year Computer Science major, and her mother, Pam Bowie (right) of Chicago, as he helps them moving in outside Glenn Hall on the Georgia Tech campus on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. (Hyosub Shin /


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Cabrera said the school is also trying to increase the number of non-white students in its doctoral programs and encouraging graduates to consider joining the faculty, and potentially, becoming administrators. Improving the pipeline, he and others call it.

“We have an opportunity to be great examples of this,” Cabrera said of increasing diversity. “I feel like we’re in the right place at the right time. We just have to implement it.”

University of Georgia administrators also talk a lot about the pipeline. UGA officials and faculty interviewed note more African Americans earn doctoral degrees at UGA than any public flagship university in the nation. The total was 143 over a recent five-year stretch, UGA says.

Yet, the percentage of Black administrators at UGA is lower than the four others.

Michelle Cook, the university’s vice provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Strategic University Initiatives, said UGA has been working on a strategy in recent years to keep more graduates in Athens as faculty. There’s a long wait for some leadership positions. Some Black faculty, she said, leave for other opportunities.

UGA points to some recent promotions, such as the mid-September announcement of Ron Walcott, a professor in the department of plant pathology, as inaugural vice provost for graduate education and dean of its graduate school. Franklin West, an associate professor in UGA’s College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, was on the search committee. University leaders say West is an example of a Black faculty member who illustrates how the pipeline worked.

West, 38, a Morehouse College graduate, chose UGA for his graduate studies over his initial preferences of two Ivy League schools: Cornell and Princeton.

University of Georgia associate professor Franklin West (left) has been closely involved in stem cell research during his 10 years as a faculty member. (Courtesy of University of Georgia)

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His unofficial duties include talking to prospective students about coming to Athens.

“All the time,” West said with a chuckle of his recruiting efforts.

West believes he could become an administrator if he chooses that path, citing Walcott.

“I feel as if I wanted to, there would be no problems with upward mobility,” he said.

The right ‘fit’

Several Black administrators and faculty interviewed said the pipeline has historically resulted in jobs as the chief student affairs officer. Today, they say they are too often relegated to the job of chief diversity officer.

“The pipeline has many leaks,” said Agnes Scott’s Porcena.

Four of Agnes Scott’s nine executive cabinet members are Black. In early September, they led one of the college’s ongoing “Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation” series.

Four of Agnes Scott College's nine executive cabinet members are Black women. The women led an online discussion on Sept. 8, 2020, that was part of the Decatur-based college's series on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation. Pictured here from the top left: Tawana Ware, a college trustee; Robiaun Charles, vice president for college advancement; Karen Goff, vice president for student affairs and dean of students; Danita Knight, vice president for communications and marketing; and Yves-Rose Porcena, vice president for equity and inclusion. (Courtesy of Agnes Scott College)

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The women said in a group interview that African Americans are too often denied leadership positions because they are not the right “fit” for the job, with whites getting hired.

“I never fit and I was OK with that,” said Goff, who pursued work opportunities that she believed fit her skills and career goals.

Porcena credits Agnes Scott with having diverse hiring panels who think differently about who is the best fit to become a dean or a vice president. That’s one suggestion to improving the numbers, or hiring more minority-owned firms to conduct hiring searches. Other recommendations include better mentoring.

“This is a problem that can be solved,” Porcena said. “It is not a dead end.”

Lockett is skeptical that Georgia State’s next president will be a person of color. He thinks the University System, which recently named a search committee to hire Becker’s replacement, already has a short list.

If it doesn’t happen this time, Lockett said, maybe it will the next time.

“If Georgia State and the University System really want to make a statement, it would make sense."

The diversity gap

Georgia’s four public research universities and Emory University, the state’s largest public university, submitted breakdowns by race to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of their deans, provosts and other top officials. Here are the numbers:

University % White, % Black, % other races; Total administrators

Augusta University 87.5%, 12.5%, 0%; 32

Emory University 77.9%, 14.2%, 7.9%; 113

Georgia State 71.1%, 17.8%, 11.1%; 45

Georgia Tech 74.6%, 14.3%, 11.1%; 63

University of Georgia 81.5%, 6.0%, 12.5%; 232