Introducing VP Wimbush: Interview on WFHB

Bev Smith and Eric Love of WFHB’s Bring it On! spoke with Vice President and Dean James Wimbush about his goals for the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs.  The interview took place during the fall semester 2013 about a month and a half after Dr. Wimbush assumed the position of Vice President for DEMA.


Listen to a clip from the interview.


Transcript of the Interview

Back in August, IU President Michael A McRobbie selected James C. Wimbush, Dean of the University Graduate School, as a successor to Dr. Edwin Marshall as a Vice President for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs. 

Vice President Wimbush, who will continue in his position as dean, has served as IU's top graduate school administrator for the past seven years, and has been a professor at the IU Kelley School of Business since 1991.

Recently, "Bring It On" requested, and was granted, special access with the Vice President to acquaint himself with our listeners and discuss his vision for DEMA. What follows is a pre-recorded interview featuring "Bring It On" contributors Bev Smith and Eric Love. 

ERIC LOVE: All right, well, we would like to welcome our guest, Dr. James Wimbush, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs and Dean of University Graduate School.

JAMES WIMBUSH: Thank you. It's good to be here. 

LOVE: Welcome to "Bring It On."

BEV SMITH: He did practice that introduction.

WIMBUSH: It is a long title, and especially when you get it both in.

SMITH: Thank you very much for being with us on today. Just for the listening audience, when we say, and I'm used to saying DEMA, what does that mean for IU, Indiana University, and also for the community? How can they relate? What is DEMA?

WIMBUSH: When I think of DEMA, I think of the place, the office where we not only talk about diversity and look to bring in faculty, students, postdocs of color, staff of color, but it's a place where we actually generate ideas about how we can become more inclusive, how we can facilitate inclusiveness on the campus, through bringing in a diverse faculty, staff, students. But it's also a place where we facilitate discussion about many of the still unresolved or unanswered questions about some of the issues of societal concern related to diversity. So it is a place where we're not only engaged administratively, and how to make things happen, and how to plan for great things to happen, but it is a place where we discuss ideas, where we really provide a refuge for people, students, faculty, staff, a place where they can come to seek answers to questions about their experience, to bring their ideas to us, to help us in our planning and going about the things that we do, a place where when someone just feels like they need to have a discussion, maybe it was because of something that happened, something they observed, but a place where they're just not sure about something that has affected them. They can come to us, talk to us, and we can listen, even if we can't solve the issue for them or provide the level of understanding that we would like. It's a place that they can at least come to knowing that there will be someone there to listen.

SMITH: It sounds very much like a place I want to visit. 

WIMBUSH: You're welcome any time, any time.

SMITH: Utopia, nirvana…

WIMBUSH: Well, it's not that, but …

SMITH: Not quite that way.

WIMBUSH: But we're getting there.

SMITH: All right. It sounds good.

LOVE: Yes. And the thing I would ask, there are multiple units underneath the overarching DEMA. Could you explain maybe what some of those units are? You don't have to go in-depth, but I know that there's an academic wing, and then there's a cultural awareness wing, kind of.

WIMBUSH: There are lots of wings. When I took the position about a month and a half ago now, I knew that DEMA was large, I knew that it provided a lot of support services, it had a lot of academic units to it. To be quite frank, I didn't know it was as large as it was. It took me a little bit more than three weeks just to make it to all of the Program Directors to have a discussion with them to learn about their units and to try to sort of get my hands around what we have. I won't speak about it in terms of the support wings, or the academic wings, or any other wings, because again I'm still trying to get my hands around.

LOVE: Sure.

WIMBUSH: But we have many different units. We're all working towards the same thing. And that is to create an inclusive environment, not just on the Bloomington campus but throughout the campuses of Indiana University, and we're trying to not just have an inclusive environment today but to also establish a pipeline so that in years to come we can have sustained increases in diversity on our campuses. So, we have a few signature programs. Our Hudson Holland program is a program that has been in existence for quite some time. It is a program where we have some of the highest achieving students join us, and have wonderful experiences throughout the design of the program. Marsha McGriff, she's the new director of the program, is doing a tremendous job. And so this is a program that is one that we value greatly. Its alums value it greatly. They're very much concerned about the success of the program. And, the program has been successful. The graduation rate for Hudson Holland mirrors that of the campus, and we're very, very, pleased with that. It's a program that certainly will continue and one that we will continue to provide resources for. We have the Groups Program. The Groups Program is probably one of the most known programs. It is older than the Hudson Holland program. It is one that has its own alumni association, with very engaged alumni. And it is one that has really been the way for many individuals, some who were at risk, others who just simply because of their first-generation status just didn't know how to navigate a large university, a large campus like Bloomington. It has been really a refuge for a lot of students, has helped to navigate, at least help them navigate the rigors of an academic campus like Bloomington. And so when you talk to alums of the program, you sense right away their pride, their continued commitment, their continued concern about the program being one that is one of our signature programs. And I always enjoy talking to the alums because they make me giddy with excitement about a program that I didn't have a chance to be part of, but I could tell that it's a program that gave people opportunities, opportunities and chances in many cases, that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

SMITH: That's correct.

WIMBUSH: And so that is a tremendous program. And then we have the 21st Century Scholars Program, which is a program, as you know, that is a part of the state, a program that is really a covenant on the Bloomington campus that can make it such that a family does not have any out-of-pocket cost for the individual to be on our campus. It is a four-year program. This year, we welcomed 2,300 students, the largest 21st Century Scholars class that we've had.

LOVE: Wow.

SMITH: That's amazing. 

WIMBUSH: It's just a tremendous program, a tremendous opportunity, and I think we're fortunate to be in the state of Indiana, and at Indiana University Bloomington, that makes it so easy in terms of finances for someone to come get educated in Bloomington, coming from circumstances that wouldn't have necessarily allowed for this type of opportunity because of the financial strain. This is a program we're very proud of and again, one of the three signature programs that we have. 

SMITH: What you have described in terms of programs, locations, are pretty ambitious in terms of undertaking. Now, you mentioned, Dr. Wimbush that you've been in the office about a month and a half.

WIMBUSH: Yes.

SMITH: Why does one aspire to do this? I understand that you also have some other duties out of DEMA as well. So why take on this particular role, challenge, at this point in your career?

WIMBUSH: Well, I have always had an interest in diversity. I'm not new to Indiana University. I've been around for about 22 years, a faculty member in the Kelley School of Business. My academic background is in Management. My PhD is in Management. I did a dissertation that was related to climates. And if you don't mind me putting on my professor hat just for a second …

LOVE: Not at all.

WIMBUSH: You know, a climate is a shared perception that a group has about a phenomenon, and so you could have multiple climates within an organization. And one of the things that I have always had an interest in, and some concern for, is the climate on campus, the climate for diversity, the climate for inclusion. And I've watched from the sidelines, if you will, Charlie Nelms do an outstanding job in creating the office, and promoting inclusion, and being an advocate. I then I had the good fortune of watching my good friend Ed Marshall build upon what Charlie had created, and if you would sort of take it to the next level. And I have been impressed with the work of both of those individuals. And so given my background having instead of the notion of climate, I've done some research on diversity at, it wasn't part of my main research program but I do have a few articles that are diversity related. I certainly in the Kelley School taught diversity for a number of years as part of the curriculum for the courses that I taught. When I managed the MBA Program, I was Chair of the MBA Program back in the early 2000's, and diversity was something we were concerned about for our MBA students, and we would often try to find diversity programming that the students would be very receptive to. And so it's something that I've always been concerned about. With the graduate school, we've had many struggles, we've had successes in terms of recruitment and retention, but we've also struggled like many academic units to make sure that we have the type of diversity, the level of diversity that would make for a more inclusive graduate student population. And so there was a lot more that we wanted to do. The graduate school, it's now stand-alone. It was a part of the Office of Research. And so we didn't have the resources to do a lot of the things we wanted to do. And, so, when it was, when the position was offered to me, and I would be able to keep the graduate school, and when I also listened to the President talk about his commitment to both diversity and graduate education, it was something that I could not turn down because there are synergies between both diversity and the graduate school. By having both positions, we will be able to form some collaborations between the two units to achieve some of the goals for graduate education, as well as for our undergraduates, faculty, and staff. But also with the President providing $1 million in base funding to help us with fellowships, with various programming and initiatives, to diversify the graduate student population even more that was something that I could not turn down.

SMITH: Well, for our listening audience, we're going to remind them that they are certainly listening to the best show that they could possibly be listening to at this point.

LOVE: At this time, definitely.

SMITH: That's right.

WIMBUSH: Absolutely.

SMITH: Future moments we'll discuss. But right now, they're listening to "Bring It On," and we are on 91.3 FM. And, Eric, who do we have in the studio?

LOVE: We have Dr. James Wimbush. He is the Vice President for DEMA and the Dean for the University Graduate School.

SMITH: Again, we practiced that introduction.

LOVE: I hope I got it right again the second time.

WIMBUSH: And you did. 

LOVE: Okay.

SMITH: Twice, we're solidified now. In terms of leaving a mark, where do you see that you'd like to take DEMA at this point? You mentioned some synergies, some pieces, and knowing certainly the work of Charlie Nelms, Ed Marshall. You, as James Wimbush, what would you like your legacy on this particular piece to be?

WIMBUSH: Well, as I said, Charlie Nelms did a wonderful job in creating the office, and in beginning to lay the infrastructure. Ed Marshall built upon that. What I want to do is to continue with that work to lay the infrastructure so that we can have sustainable gains in a campus, a university that mirrors the race and ethnic composition of our state, of our nation. I think that this is the goal that we have always been after. We have made some strides in terms of our regional campuses. But to be quite frank about it, when you look at the Bloomington campus, it is clearly acknowledged that there is more work to do there. What I want to do is to make sure that we have a very inclusive environment. I want to make sure that we have the environment that not only welcomes and appreciates all who are here, but that lends itself to dialogue, discussion, debate, at an intellectual level about many issues of societal concern. We can't solve all of society's problems, but we can talk about them, we can have a debate. That's what an academic institution like Indiana University is all about. And so what I want to do is to lay infrastructure so that we can mirror the populations that we serve in terms of the race ethnic composition. I want to make sure that we work to improve the climate in a way that everybody feels that this is a place where they can, as Herman Wells would often say, do their best work. 

LOVE: When I hear you talk about the dialogue, and educating people about diversity, it makes me think of society, maybe even politics, where we seem to have a win-lose paradigm, like somebody has to be right, somebody has to be wrong, and they will go to great extents to defend themselves. When I hear you talk, I think of a win-win paradigm, where we exchange ideas, we may not always agree, but we can walk away with both sides winning because we're more informed, we can make a more informed decision, and I love that.

WIMBUSH: Yes. I think that when you're looking at an academic institution like Indiana University, we want people to think about some of these tough issues. We know that there will be opposing views. We certainly respect very highly everyone's First Amendment right. But even more than that, this is a place where we want people to think, where we want people to generate ideas, to challenge thinking, to engage in debate and dialogue, and certainly at an intellectual level. And so while often there are winners and losers, I won't say that it will necessarily always be win-win. Some things are just blatantly wrong.

LOVE: Sure.

WIMBUSH: We saw an example of that just a few weeks ago where people with very racist ideas were on campus, or at least they marched through campus. Those ideas are not consistent with the values, with the beliefs, of Indiana University. I think most of society has come to abhor those types of messages. And so there are situations and there are beliefs that are in my view very much wrong, but we can have a very healthy intellectual debate.

LOVE: Absolutely.

SMITH: In terms of DEMA as a presence outside the university, what kind of community commitment do you see happening, or partnership do you see happening with perhaps even the City of Bloomington, DEMA, or the community at large?

WIMBUSH: You know, it is important for us to be good citizens within the communities in which we reside. When someone comes to Indiana University as a faculty or staff member, they come here to live for the long-term. When someone comes as a student, they come to be a part of Indiana University, but they're also part of the community. It's important for us to work closely together. Just last week, I had lunch with a member of Mayor Kruzan's staff, and we're actually in the process of scheduling lunch with Mayor Kruzan because we think that's important. We think that there should be close collaboration between the university and the city, and there should be the same type of relationships with the town and gown for where all of our campuses are. Just recently a few weeks ago I had an opportunity to have a wonderful dinner with the mayor of Gary, Karen Freeman-Wilson, who is an outstanding individual doing some amazing things.

LOVE: Yes, she is. She's been a speaker down here many times.

SMITH: Multiple.

LOVE: Yes, I'm a big fan.

WIMBUSH: Well, she is absolutely extraordinary. And she has a close working relationship with the Gary campus. And we have examples of that on our other campuses as well. This type of collaboration, this type of relationship, is important. And I'm certainly wanting to maintain those close connections and collaborate more with the cities in which are campuses are.

LOVE: I don't think we mentioned this, but your position as Vice President crosses all eight campuses.

WIMBUSH: Yes.

SMITH: Yes.

LOVE: It's not just IU Bloomington.

WIMBUSH: Yes.

LOVE: But you're system-wide vice president, so you work with all eight campuses around the state of Indiana?

WIMBUSH: Yes, and it's the same with the graduate school as well.

SMITH: In terms of, we talked about the work of diversity certainly taking place at an intellectual level and facilitating conversation, and making sure that the university is still that haven for that type of conversation. But on a very practical level, when you think about DEMA, and branding, when I think of Kelley school, I know Kelley school apart from IU, or in conjunction with IU. How do you bring that same cache, or that same heightening in terms of awareness and branding to DEMA, and making sure that everybody on the campus knows that it is that intellectual haven for diversity, or you can come to us for assistance, or for exploration? How do you do that?

WIMBUSH: We have actually four culture centers. I tend to think of it as five. The GLBT Student Support Office is not named a center but I also think of it as an important center as well. That is one means. I feel that in terms of enhancing the climate, we have to bolster the resources for the centers for their programming, for the initiatives that they have, because often the first place that many of our underrepresented students look to is the centers, and they want to have sort of a safe haven, a place where they can go and they know that there's comfort there, they know that there are individuals who share their culture with them. But those centers can also help to inform and share the culture with the rest of us. And I see that as being very important. Now, to get to your question of how to sort of brand DEMA, many times individuals don't recognize that the centers are part of DEMA. And so one simple thing to do, coming from the Business School I often think in terms of marketing, though marketing is not my background, but is to make sure that when the centers advertise the events, the things that they are doing, that they mention that they are a unit of DEMA. But I think the best way to do it is through the services that we have, through our outreach, making sure that we're visible, making sure that people are recognizing what it is that we do, what we are doing, and that we have our doors open for people to come to chat with us about their concerns, their issues, that we have people who they can identify with as resources for them. And so I think the best way to brand ourselves is through what we do, is through our services, and not being bashful about letting people know that this is an event, this is a service provided by DEMA.

LOVE: I would agree. And I would say that there are many things at IU that I love. One of my absolute favorite parts of IU are the culture centers.

SMITH: Yes.

LOVE: And I would also say between the culture centers and cultural student organizations, there's some diverse event going on all the time.

SMITH: All the time, yes.

WIMBUSH: All the time.

LOVE: Sometimes, it's hard to say this, but sometimes almost too many because it's hard to get to all of them.

SMITH: Hush.

WIMBUSH: I won't say too many, but it does make it difficult to pick and choose which one to go to.

LOVE: Very well said.

BEV SMITH: You can well fill your calendar.

WIMBUSH: Yes. You stated it much more eloquently than I.

SMITH: That's what we're here for.

LOVE: Yes. So there are multiple opportunities for people to engage in diversity programming, multicultural competency, activities through the culture centers and through DEMA. And I agree with you also when people realize how many units fall under DEMA, that everything that happens on campus is related to DEMA in some way or another, or at least it appears that way.

WIMBUSH: Sure. That's pretty much true. We touch a lot of different activities, and of course we have a lot of programs. And so it's difficult to not in some way or another interact with DEMA.

SMITH: And I think that's a good presence. It's difficult not to interact with DEMA.

LOVE: Absolutely.

SMITH: Now there is something that can be said. Certainly, as you're learning your position, and broadening the pegs of it, in the next month and a half, what are some of the mini-goals that you have set aside that you'd like to accomplish?

WIMBUSH: Well, I see there being three things that I need to continue to work on, and I've been working on these three things already. First of all, I've got to get my hands around what it is that we have within DEMA. I've met with all of the Program Directors. I've visited some of the programs. I've had a chance to study, if you will, what it is that we do. I'm still doing that so that I can think about how we need to be best organized so that we can work certainly efficiently but so that we can serve even better. And so within the next few weeks, I'll have a clearer sense of how we need to be organized. I don't know whether it will be wings or just what, but how we need to be organized so that we can do our work better and serve the campuses even better. The second thing is of course there's no secret that we had some issues last spring. When you have a protest, then everyone hears about it. There were a lot of concerns by faculty about some students. What we need to make sure that we do at this point is to demonstrate that we are indeed listening, that we are aware of the concerns, that we are indeed trying to address the concerns. And so I want to make sure that individuals, groups on campus that form to express their concerns, that we do indeed listen to them. So I've talked to many people, met with many different groups, and have more to meet with. But I want them to make sure that they understand that we're continuing to hear them, to listen to their concerns, and of course to do something about what they expressed back in the spring. Indeed. And then the third thing is that we have to make sure that we maintain, build relationships, with our key constituents, our alumni, our legislators, various organizations in the communities we serve. It's important for us to make sure that we have those relationships because we'll be calling on those individuals and organizations for partnerships, for collaboration, to help us serve better. And so it's those three things that I've been working on and we'll continue to work on, that is to look at the organization and to determine whether or not we need to be structured any differently than we are now, second to make sure that people are listening, to make sure that we are listening to the concerns that were expressed, and then to reach out to our key constituents, external constituents, so that they know that we appreciate them, we certainly appreciate the commitment that they have, and that we want to continue to engage them to help us do our job better.

LOVE: Alright, this has been an absolutely fascinating, one of our best shows, I think ….

SMITH: Award-winning.

LOVE: And not just because I'm one of the hosts.

SMITH: Award-winning, Smith and Love whichever way you like it, yes.

LOVE: Yes, unfortunately we are out of time but I absolutely anticipate you coming back in the very near future to talk some more.

WIMBUSH: Anytime.

SMITH: Absolutely. Consider us a friend to DEMA, and vice versa, in terms of promotion and also in terms of enhancing that conversation. We certainly expect to see you and members of your staff here again.

WIMBUSH: I'd be glad to come back at any time. Thank you for having me.

LOVE: Thank you. Thank you for your time.