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November 16, 2009

Vivian Lewis to lead University’s diversity efforts

Vivian Lewis
Vivian Lewis says her experience in the University’s diversity efforts “from the ground up” has given her a good understanding of the goals for faculty diversity and inclusion.

For the balance of the academic year, Vivian Lewis, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, will serve as acting deputy to the president and acting vice provost for faculty development and diversity. Lynne Davidson stepped down from the post October 1.

President Seligman thanked Davidson for the “magnificent job” she has done, saying “she has been pivotal in chairing our 2006 Task Force on Faculty Diversity and Inclusiveness and in implementing its 31 recommendations. I look forward to Vivian’s contributions to further strengthen diversity initiatives at the University.”

Lewis, a member of the faculty since 1991, has overseen diversity initiatives at the Medical Center and has been a member of the University Faculty Diversity Officers Committee since its inception.

“Vivian’s first-hand experience and leadership in faculty mentoring and development at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and her research on gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in the professions should position her to make an even broader impact for the University as a whole,” Provost Ralph Kuncl says.

The search for a permanent successor to Davidson will begin in the spring semester.

Lewis recently talked with Currents about her priorities and plans in the position.

How do you think your past experience has prepared you to lead the University’s diversity effort?

My experience has been very important because one of the major recommendations of the task force was to centralize some of the support for faculty development as a means of increasing the diversity of the faculty. Having been involved from the ground up, if you will—having a really good understanding of what led to those recommendations has been very important for me. After the task force concluded its work, the office I am taking was created. Lynne Davidson, who was head of the task force, became the first vice provost for faculty development and diversity. So there’s an obvious connection there as well. Lynne convened a group of representatives from each school within the University to help continue to address these issues, and I’ve been representing the medical school and meeting with this group on a regular basis for the past three years.

Can you reflect on the strides the University has made in diversity and inclusion since the inception of the Diversity Task Force? What do you think the biggest successes and challenges have been?

The biggest accomplishment is that diversity is at least being recognized as an issue. I do think we’ve probably made more strides in terms of faculty development than in really increasing diversity. The actual numbers of minority faculty have not changed all that much; but before the numbers can change you have to recognize what the issues are, and I think that is truly taking place. In a decentralized university like ours, much of this has to happen at the individual school level and at the department level, and I think that work is really just starting.

Talk about the top goals you are setting for yourself as you take on this new role.

Over the last year, a listening tour was conducted of selected faculty members across the University, resulting in a report detailing many of the issues faculty face on a day-to-day basis that relate not so much to faculty recruitment as retention. We looked at the experience of both minority and majority faculty here at the institution to better understand the organizational areas that need to be addressed to help us maintain faculty vitality and professional growth. Some of those issues are more germane to minority faculty than they are to majority faculty, but the issues have to come to light. So I think it will be a matter of prioritizing which areas need to be addressed first.

What has been the most rewarding part of contributing to the University’s diversity initiative?

Certainly there are the individual faculty who have been grateful that their voices have been heard, in terms of recognizing the additional attention that needs to be paid to professional development for faculty. I think that in academic medicine we are all really busy fulfilling our day-to-day duties, and it’s often very difficult to step back and take a bigger look at your career. So a lot of what I’ve been doing as associate dean is to allow people some small opportunities to begin to do that, and I’ve been gratified to see that has been well received.

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