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Ohio’s Kent State U. rebrands DEI efforts as lawmakers debate bill to outlaw it

ANALYSIS: DEI efforts all-encompassing at Ohio’s Kent State University

Kent State University has embedded DEI efforts throughout its academics and programming in recent years, creating a new Division of People, Culture and Belonging and adding administrators, faculty, and projects centered around the ideology, a College Fix analysis found.

The new division, established in September, merged the Human Resources department and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices. The rebranding came as Buckeye State lawmakers considered legislation to ban mandatory DEI in higher education.

What’s more, Amoaba Gooden’s new title is vice president of the Division of People, Culture and Belonging, according to her faculty bio. She previously served as vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion department.

Although the higher education bill recently stalled in the state House, Senate Republican leaders have vowed to keep fighting to pass it.

Sen. Jerry Cirino, the lead sponsor of the bill, told News 5 Cleveland last week that he believes there is “tremendous support in the House.” His office did not respond to The College Fix’s requests in the past week for an update on the bill and questions about the rebranding of Kent State’s diversity office.

Kent State media relations also did not respond to several requests for comment this week from The Fix, including questions about the legislation and the name change.

In the meantime, the university remains dedicated to DEI.

Each of its 11 colleges employ diversity officers, according to the university’s website. These individuals – some faculty, some staff – “advocate for students of color and underrepresented student populations within their college,” it states.

The university also launched an Anti-Racism and Equity Institute in 2021, aimed at embedding “racial justice” across the university and supporting “anti-racist programming and research,” its website states.

Additionally, Kent State maintains an Anti-Racism Task Force comprised of more than 264 students, faculty and staff with 14 subcommittees and aims to enhance “inclusivity, diversity and equity across” the Ohio public university’s campuses.

MORE: Ohio State University prioritized DEI over merit in hiring, documents show

Despite the flurry of DEI programming in recent years, the ratios of faculty to students and the ratio of administrators and support staff to students have remained fairly consistent over the past decade, The College Fix found.

The ratio of faculty to students increased slightly from 52 faculty per 1,000 students in 2013 to 55 in 2022, the analysis found; the ratio of administrative and support staff to students decreased slightly, going from 117 to 116 per 1,000 students, according to information the university filed with the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Administrators and support staff include management, student and academic affairs divisions, IT, public relations, administrative support, maintenance, legal and other non-academic departments.

Within that decade, however, Kent State began hiring more DEI-focused faculty and staff.

Since May 2021, the university has added three full-time faculty to its Department of Africana Studies, web archives of its full-time faculty list show. The department webpage currently lists 19 faculty and staff.

In the past two years, web archives show the university also added six new deans: one in the College of Communication and Information, two in the College of Public Health, one in the Honors College, one in Graduate Studies (formerly Graduate College), and one in University Libraries.

These officers and their individual colleges promote DEI efforts in different ways.

For example, the College of Public Health has an Office of Academic Diversity Outreach, which is “committed to developing strategic engagement that positively impacts retention, persistence, and a sense of belonging” of its students, faculty, and staff.

The College of Communications and Information has a director of diversity and career development, and the College of the Arts promotes DEI on its webpage, describing itself as an “advocate for students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first-generation students, students with differing abilities, students from all economic backgrounds, international students, as well as students of all ethnicities, religions, and cultures.”

As for Kent State’s newly created Division of People, Culture and Belonging, it spends approximately half a million dollars annually on the salaries of its six staff, including Vice President Gooden, whose salary was $234,284 in 2022, up from $190,800 in 2020, according to GovSalaries.

The university has been actively recruiting “diverse” faculty as well. Its DEI office hosts an annual New Hire Diversity Luncheon to welcome and “honor” newly hired “diverse” faculty and staff.

Another project, Supplier Diversity, encourages university administrators, state agencies, boards, and commissions to do at least 15 percent of their contract business with “minority and women-owned businesses.” The project includes a Business Diversity Database, a searchable list of more than 1,200 vendors.

The university’s Anti-Racism Efforts webpage highlights 14 faculty who are working specifically on DEI-related research. One project, the PRADAA Lab, has 13 faculty, staff, and students researching anxiety disorders among African Americans.

In October, Kent State also partnered with Ohio University and Miami University to host a new Reimagining the Academy Conference to promote “inclusivity” on their campuses, The Post Athens student newspaper reported.

On the ideological diversity front, however, the university has faced criticism.

In 2018, Kent State met with legal trouble after demanding the student group Liberty Hangout pay security fees for a gun rights event. That same year, its theater department canceled a production of “West Side Story” after students complained about casting non-Latino students in Latino roles.

Two years earlier, a poster distributed by Kent State leaders asking if the statement, “You need Jesus,“ could qualify as hate speech also drew backlash.

MORE: UW-Madison employs one administrator for every four undergrads: analysis

IMAGE: Daniel Allan White/flickr

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.