Extensive Search Produces Next Leader of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for MSU

Jabbar R. Bennett

Following a national search, Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., MD has named Jabbar R. Bennett as the university’s vice president and chief diversity officer.

Bennett most recently served as Northwestern University’s inaugural associate provost for diversity and inclusion and its chief diversity officer. As vice president and chief diversity officer, Bennett will report directly to President Stanley and work collaboratively with other university senior executives, deans, faculty, staff, and students to develop and implement a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.

“We are living through an intense period of reckoning around issues of racial justice at the moment in our culture; that’s one of the reasons why this is important,” says Chris Long, dean of MSU’s College of Arts and Letters and co-chair of the search committee.

Dean Chris Long

“As we think about the commitment that Michigan State University has to excellent research and teaching, we know that commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the heart of that mission of excellence. We know that science is better when it is undertaken in diverse communities. We know that the questions we ask in the humanities and the social sciences and the arts that we undertake are better when we have diverse voices in the process. This position is at the heart of Michigan State University’s effort to be a premier research and teaching university in the country.”

“You cannot have excellence at any level, whether it be academic, administrative, or in our outreach mission to the community without an eye to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” adds Melissa Woo, executive vice president for administration and chief information officer and co-chair of the search committee. “This is so important at this time. It’s past time and this is the time to really focus on having someone come in, give us a vision that brings all of us together as a community, and really helps us to understand what it means to get to the next level in truly having a diverse community. One that provides equity and is inclusive.”

Melissa Woo

Long and Woo describe the open and transparent hiring process that sought community input. 

“What we really needed was a person who could convene the communities, could bring communities together, and focus all this great energy towards advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion at MSU,” Woo says.

“One of the main things that we were thinking about was could we find somebody who had executive experience at a comparably complex university,” Long adds. “Obviously working on these issues at Michigan State University as an AAU University, a member of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, and a major land-grant university is an enormous undertaking. So we needed to find somebody who had direct experience with leading in that kind of a context. That was an important component of our search.

“Jabbar demonstrated an ability to listen and an ability to convene people as Melissa emphasized. He’s someone who will both have a strategic vision to advance, but also who has demonstrated the ability to listen to various constituencies in shaping that strategic vision. We thought it was very important to have someone who could listen and nurture the kind of trust that we know is going to be needed to make transformative change here at MSU.”

“Something that really stood out when we looked at all of the feedback is that people thought that he would do a good job here by consensus and called out all of these qualities that Chris just talked about,” says Woo. “Someone who is collaborative, who is a convener, who can bring people together. Those are incredibly important skills for the candidate to have. I’m really excited to work with Jabbar when he gets onto campus.”

Originally published on WKAR