$1.3M to boost arts, humanities faculty to leadership

A $1.3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation will expand the very successful University of Utah Presidential Leadership Fellows pilot program to Salt Lake Community College, Utah State University and Weber State University. The program aims to increase the number of academic leaders from the arts and humanities, specifically those historically excluded and underrepresented from the ranks of chairs, deans and university presidents. In addition to training and mentorship, the fellows will attend a series of high-level meetings to simultaneously learn and apply new skills and observe how seasoned leaders engage.

A generous three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation launched the Presidential Leadership Fellows pilot program in April 2019 as one of a limited number of pilot programs of its kind. Even during a global pandemic, the program was highly successful and advanced many inaugural fellows from the U into leadership roles:

  • Erika George is now director of the Tanner Humanities Center.
  • Joy Pierce is poised to become a dean.
  • Jason Burrow-Sanchez recently accepted the faculty athletic representative position and is also poised to become a dean.
  • Annie Isabel Fukushima is now the associate dean for Undergraduate Studies, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and continues as an associate professor in the Ethnic Studies Division.
  • Harris Smith is now dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico.

“The Presidential Leadership fellowship afforded me the opportunity to connect with leadership at the highest level of the University of Utah where I learned about how institutions make decisions, enact policy and actions, communicate to its constituents and envision equity and inclusion even in the face of multiple challenges and changes—institutional and societal. This has been central in determining my own leadership endeavors and practices, for which I am thankful,” said Fukushima.

“We are excited to deepen this project and expand it to three campuses across the state as we have already seen its benefits here at the U,” said Taylor Randall, president of the U. “I believe our collective commitment to this program will shine a national spotlight on the importance of the arts and humanities in academia—not just as its soul and spirit, but also as the source of gifted leaders and administrators.”

The expansion to new campuses reflects other investments made by the Mellon Foundation, like the partnership of three institutions in Maryland being led by Dean Kimberly Moffitt of University of Maryland, Baltimore County. That program, Breaking the M.O.L.D., is a multi-year program designed to support the leadership of Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native and women faculty in the arts and humanities while also being open to others committed to diversifying academic leadership. If proven successful, the program could provide a roadmap for organizations across the country to expand leadership ranks among scholars from underrepresented disciplines and identities, Indigenous populations and racial and ethnic groups.

“As the flagship we have a responsibility to collaborate with our USHE institutions so that together we elevate and shape emerging leaders in the arts and humanities, positioning them to successfully move into leadership roles. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation and our colleagues at the Maryland consortium’s Breaking the M.O.L.D. program for their inspiration to move this collaborative forward,” said Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion at the U and principal investigator of the grant.

The Utah Presidential Leadership Fellows program has multiple phases. The first is an extensive selection process to identify faculty with a track record of promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusivity on campus. The applicant pool will include all associate and full-level faculty with a professional background in the arts and humanities. The immersive experience phase is at the program’s core; fellows participate at the top levels of campus leadership, professional and development activities and mentoring sessions from the president, cabinet members and other leaders in higher education.

With the expansion of the grant, the U has partnered with three strong leaders to test if the model will be as successful in other environments as it was at the U:

Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) has strong programs and relationships in the performing arts and the humanities, featuring courses, programs and significant community outreach in cultural studies, LGBTQIA+, philosophy, humanities, journalism, performing arts and in social justice. SLCC has also launched programs to recruit and develop a diverse, next-generation cohort of faculty, academics and institutional leaders.

“As the most racially and ethnically diverse higher education institution in the state of Utah, attracting strong talent in our faculty and administrative ranks who can serve as role models for our students is a primary goal,” said Deneece Huftalin, president of SLCC, in her letter of support.

Utah State University (USU) has prioritized diversity and inclusion, from its Latinx Cultural Center to the development and hosting of the annual Inclusive Excellence Symposium to the investment in the USU Inclusion Center. On July 1, USU welcomed Jane Irungu as the inaugural vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In addition, USU has an active partnership with Fort Valley State University—an historically Black college or university in Georgia—that provides opportunities for exchanges of students, faculty, administrators and board members across the two institutions.

“This program will provide our university’s early career faculty with professional development opportunities, specifically focused on the understanding of a higher education institution,” said Noelle Cockett, president of USU, in her letter of support.

Weber State University (WSU) has a thriving arts and humanities program that will round out this collaboration well. To reflect the growing demographic diversity in its region, Weber State established in its five-year strategic plan the goal of becoming an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution and has prioritized equity, diversity and inclusion as its first of five strategic goals.

“Weber State looks forward to collaborating with the University of Utah and other fellow institutions to increase representation in university leadership from historically underrepresented disciplines and identities,” said Brad Mortensen, president of WSU, in his letter of support.

Media Contacts

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Lisa Potterresearch/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
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