September 27, 2010

Search Set to Begin for OMEA Director

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Since the June departure of Moji Olaniyan, former director of the Office for Minority and Educational Affairs, administrators have worked with student leaders to fundamentally reshape the way that OMEA operates before they officially begin the search for a new director. Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, faculty members met with leaders of student diversity organizations in Day Hall to field feedback about how OMEA functioned in the past and how it should be changed for the future.

The administration previously met with student leaders last spring, shortly after Olaniyan announced her decision to return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for professional and personal reasons, according to Vice Provost Barbara Knuth.

The purpose of the meetings with student leaders, according to Knuth, is to “hear from [student leaders]” about their “perceptions of the OMEA and suggestions for improving diversity [in the University].”

Under Olaniyan, some student leaders said they felt the OMEA was inaccessible and failed to listen to student input.

“[OMEA] used to feel more administrative, it didn’t have much to do with hearing the concerns of the students. Nobody went in there, nobody knew what it was; it was an unapproachable office,” said Sarah Ghermay ’11, co-chair of Black Students United and a member of The Sun’s editorial writing board. She added that students also wanted more academic advising from the office, which they said was not effectively offered in the past.

Ghermay added that “Moji often had to fight with the administration” and was not given enough freedom to run the office.

However, administrators have emphasized that that will change under the new director. According to students present at the meeting, the administration will provide the new director with the leeway to reinvent the office in a way that is more pleasing to the student body.

To this end, Knuth said that the title will officially be changed from “Executive Director of OMEA” to “Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Diversity Initiatives” in order to signal a closer relationship the new office will have with the deans of colleges and student academics.

Student groups will also be included in interviews of candidates –– the timeline for which is still unknown, though they hope to have a new director by the end of the spring semester, according to Knuth.

For now, after taking into account the student input from the meetings, administrators will develop a description of the position, which will be posted publicly within the next few weeks. They are also in the process of completing a list of nominees to serve on the search committee for the new director.

“This is a nationwide search for a leader, if not an international search,” Knuth said.

Though the search has gone on for a while and likely will not conclude until the end of this academic year, students said they were appreciative about the thought that the administration is putting into improving the director’s role with student life.

“Before I went to the open sessions, I was pretty frustrated that nothing has really been getting done,” Ghermay said. “But afterward, I really believe that the administration is thinking about this very carefully and getting real input from students.”

Ben Gitlin contributed to this report.

Original Author: Rachel Rabinowitz