Dean’s ap­point­ment sparks protests

White man is first to lead cen­ter that hon­ors Gwen Ifill, who sought di­ver­sity

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

The ap­point­ment of a white Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity Mary­land ad­min­is­tra­tor as the dean of a new cen­ter that hon­ors Gwen Ifill, the late African-Amer­i­can host of the “PBS News Hour,” has be­come the fo­cus of crit­i­cism at Sim­mons Uni­ver­sity.

Brian Nor­man, who founded the AfricanAmer­i­can stud­ies pro­gram at Loy­ola, was named dean of the Gwen Ifill Col­lege of Me­dia, Arts, and the Hu­man­i­ties at Sim­mons in April. Since then, the uni­ver­sity has had to can­cel a se­ries of events this fall meant to in­au­gu­rate the new col­lege that was an­nounced af­ter Ifill’s death two years ago from can­cer.

Ifill, a 1977 grad­u­ate of Sim­mons, was known for her fierce men­tor­ship of young, black jour­nal­ists. She was a former Evening Sun re­porter, cov­ered seven pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns as a cor­re­spon­dent for NBC News and was a White House re­porter for The New York Times. She also mod­er­ated two vice-pres­i­den­tial de­bates, in 2004 and 2008, and wrote a book, “The Break­through: Pol­i­tics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

A year af­ter Ifill’s death in Novem­ber 2016, Sim­mons de­cided to name a new school in her honor. When alumni and stu­dents learned that Sim­mons had hired a white man to be the first dean of the col­lege, they ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that Ifill’s pi­o­neer­ing spirit was not rep­re­sented in the se­lec­tion.

Alumna Juli­ette Mayer said she was dis­heart­ened by the nam­ing of a white man to the po­si­tion.

“Given who she was and what she stood for and in honor of her me­mory, it would have been my pref­er­ence that a per­son of color had been in the role,” said Mayer who was the first re­cip­i­ent of the Gwen Ifill Trail Blaz­ing Lead­er­ship Award given last spring by the uni­ver­sity.

Mayer said she hopes in the fu­ture the uni­ver­sity will cast a broader net to at­tract ap­pli­cants, in­clud­ing us­ing its alumni net­works in the search.

Alumni and black stu­dents told uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent He­len G. Dri­nan they would boy­cott events sur­round­ing the open­ing of the Gwen Ifill Col­lege, so Dri­nan said she, along with a mem­ber of the Ifill fam­ily, de­cided to put off the events, in­clud­ing a sym­po­sium that would fo­cus on Gwen Ifill’s work and “truth in news.”

“If there is this much heartache, then … the last thing I want to do is have any con­tro­versy about Gwen’s legacy,” Dri­nan said.

Dri­nan ac­knowl­edges that mis­takes were made dur­ing the search process.

“African-Amer­i­can women are not as large a seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion as white men. You have to add a lot more peo­ple to the pool [of can­di­dates]. And that is the way to in­crease the like­li­hood that a woman of color would end up with the job,” she said. “No doubt we should have done that.”

Legally, the uni­ver­sity can­not con­sider only peo­ple of color for the po­si­tion, Dri­nan said.

One fi­nal­ist was a woman of color who dropped out of the run­ning when she took an­other job.

Dri­nan said the uni­ver­sity was not go­ing to restart the process. With the col­lege open­ing at the start of this school year, Dri­nan said, she be­lieved the uni­ver­sity couldn’t launch the col­lege with­out a dean in place.

Nor­man was named to the post in April, has moved to Bos­ton and is in the job.

Nor­man said he be­lieved Ifill was “a model of pro­fes­sional ex­cel­lence, civic en­gage­ment, in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity and this com­mit­ment to in­clu­sive com­mu­nity and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion.” In his work with the fac­ulty, Nor­man said, he hoped he could build a col­lege that could carry on her legacy.

Nor­man spent a year as a re­search fel­low at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County be­fore tak­ing the job at Sim­mons. In his schol­ar­ship, he said, he has tried to “un­der­stand and take se­ri­ously the ex­pe­ri­ence of marginal­ized groups across the spec­trum.”

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