A Question For Charles R. Middleton

How can trustees support the LGBTQIA community?

By AGB    //    Volume 27,  Number 3   //    May/June 2019

Campus diversity and inclusion efforts often fall short in recognizing the needs and perspectives of LGBTQIA students and employees. Trusteeship asked Charles R. Middleton, PhD, the president emeritus of Roosevelt University and the former chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Board of Trustees, to share his insights into the role of governing boards in ensuring equality for the LGBTQIA community. Middleton recently facilitated a session at the National Conference on Trusteeship, held in Orlando, Florida, on April 14-16, that examined strategies and best practices for achieving inclusiveness at higher education institutions.

As institutions strive to support LGBTQIA inclusion what areas rise to the level of governing board inquiry?

Boards of trustees play a crucial leadership role in determining an institution’s real and perceived commitment to full equality for LGBTQIA people. One of the critical ways in which they can assure the attainment of this goal, both in practice and in public percep-tion of the institution, is to ask the faculty and administration to develop policies that the board will adopt. These policies should not be limited to the rights of students to associate with each other in safe spaces but also employment policies for faculty and staff that explicitly grant full and equal rights to their partners and spouses on the same basis as they are granted to other employees. Then annually, as part of routine business, boards should ask for a report on how these are being implemented and experienced by students and employees.

During times of campus unrest, what should trustees do to support the president, the LGBTQIA community, or other marginalized populations seeking redress or help?

Several things are vitally important here. First, regular communication with the president on how the issues are being addressed is critical. Second, since boards do not meet often it is likely that the unrest will occur between meetings. Thus, the chair should act to ensure that the president is publicly supported when and as that is needed. Individual board members ought otherwise to refrain from public comment. Third, and perhaps most importantly, in private conversations with political leaders, the alumni and other stakeholders, an affirmation by each board member of the principles and practices embedded in institutional norms and policies can go a long way to help create an environment in which the president and others can perform their work successfully. And remember, the LGBTQIA community will have allies who will be working toward the same goals of inclusiveness and so an eye for the broader implications of those alliances for the institution is imperative.

Over the course of your career, what strides have boards made
in accepting and hiring LGBTQIA presidents and what can convince more boards to consider queer leadership?

Using the standard that out presidents must be publicly acknowledged as such by their boards and institutions, we have come a very long way since my appointment as the president of Roosevelt University in 2002. In that year, there were only two of us as far as we knew. Today, more than 90 individuals have served and/or are serving in this role, and in institutions as diverse as the academy itself. That said, we still have a long way to go to gain full and broad participation, especially in some regions of the country and in certain types of institutions. In hiring presidents, boards should keep in mind the very practical reality that hiring the truly best prepared person means that some of us will naturally emerge as the most suitable candidate if we are given an opportunity to compete. Making clear to the search firm that the board will, indeed, hire an out president helps enormously in ensuring that you and we have better choices. It also signals to other marginalized groups that they, too, will be welcomed. My favorite way to do it, however, is stating explicitly in your advertisements for all positions that LGBTQIA individuals are encouraged to apply. Everyone will notice, including your employees and students, both current and prospective. Indeed, some straight people will not work at or enroll in institutions that discriminate against us, which further erodes the pools of candidates and your student body. Therefore, in the end it’s just plain smart, too!

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