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Thursday, August 24, 2017

New UM System president has 'devout commitment' to being inclusive

UM System President-designate Mun Choi led initiatives to increase diversity at the University of Connecticut.

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Courtesy of the University of Connecticut Provost's Office

Mun Choi’s passion for diversity shows through his work at the University of Connecticut, his colleagues said. This passion is why they believe he makes a good choice for UM System president.

The Board of Curators announced Choi as the 24th president of the UM System on Nov. 2. Choi is currently UConn’s provost and will assume his new position March 1.

Several members of UConn’s faculty and staff said Choi has taken the initiative to improve diversity in the community.

“Through the years, Provost Choi has taken on the challenges of leading a diverse community of students, faculty and staff to become an inclusive and welcoming environment for all,” said Willena Kimpson Price, director of H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center.

Choi indicated intentions of personally meeting and listening to MU students.

“I plan to have frequent visits to campus to meet with and really listen to the students on issues that are really important to them on each of the campuses,” Choi said at the press conference following his appointment on Nov. 2.

It was under Choi’s leadership that the University of Connecticut Diversity Task Force was created.

Price said this led to the hiring of a chief diversity officer to serve as the university’s main strategist responsible for assessment and promotion of diversity, inclusion and education and employment opportunities.

In fall 2015, UConn received an invitation from The White House Council on Women and Girls and Wake Forest University’s Anna Julia Cooper Center to join the White House Collaborative on Equity in Research on Women and Girls of Color, known as “The Collaborative.”

Shayla Nunnally, UConn’s campus coordinator for The Collaborative, said in an email that Choi and his office “responded immediately” to the invitation.

“Since this time, Provost Choi and his office have offered another contribution — additional resources and over $100,000 to expand The Collaborative’s efforts to include the promotion of outreach programs and research opportunities for high school students from underrepresented groups in our state, with the ultimate vision of developing a summer research program and recruitment tool for advancing these research-oriented students towards applying to our university,” Nunnally said in the email.

Several UConn professors spoke of Choi’s personable manner when it came to supporting diversity action.

“I specifically recollect one meeting with the Hispanic faculty that lasted over an hour, and he listened to individual complaints and took action to remedy some of the problems,” said Maria Luz-Fernandez, chair of the Diversity Committee of the University Senate, in an email.

Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, director of El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean and Latin American studies, said Choi has been “an active and supportive leader” in creating a welcoming environment.

“Dr. Choi is a personable and accessible individual who listens well and works hard to advocate for his community,” Overmyer-Velázquez said in an email. “The University of Missouri is lucky to have him.”

Overmyer-Velázquez said in the email he witnessed firsthand Choi’s insistence on diversity and equity among faculty, staff and students at UConn.

“Provost Choi has worked to implement new recruitment and retention practices and oversight to make sure the university diversifies its workforce to more accurately reflect its student body and the larger state population,” Overmyer-Velázquez said.

Fernandez said Choi attended several Senate Diversity Committee meetings and was “always a good listener” of problems faculty and staff encountered.

“He also had a list that needed to be checked off by search committees to ensure that everybody had done a genuine effort in ‘casting a wide net’ to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds,” Fernandez said.

Nunnally said she hopes Choi’s actions with the UM System will be as positive as they have been at UConn.

“It is my sincerest hope that efforts like [The Collaborative] … can be replicated [at MU] through Provost Choi’s and others’ devout commitment and willingness to listen to, collaborate with, advocate for and act on behalf of communal voices seeking inclusion,” Nunnally said.

MU interim Chancellor Hank Foley said in a statement he is “thrilled” about Choi’s selection.

“I believe his background in academics and his experience with research will greatly benefit the University of Missouri System,” Foley said in the statement. “MU and the other UM System campuses remain a significant economic driver for the state of Missouri. Educating our future workforce and creating new jobs through discoveries in our laboratories benefit every Missourian. I’m looking forward to working with him as we continue our mission of education, research, service and economic development.”

Edited by Claire Mitzel | cmitzel@themaneater.com

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