Next month, University of Washington (UW) President Mark Emmert will leave the UW to lead the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
During Emmert’s tenure, the university raised more than $2.68 billion. Called “Campaign UW: Creating Futures,” it was the most successful private fundraiser in the school’s history.
Perhaps this is what most Washingtonians will remember about Emmert. But for us, we will remember his commitment to diversity. Diversity is a word often thrown around casually. Everyone says, “Oh, of course diversity is a priority for me.” But as publisher Assunta Ng illustrated in her blog, past UW presidents did not always follow their words with actions like Emmert has.
During Emmert’s tenure, 11 honorary degrees were conferred by the UW Board of Regents, five of which were given to people of color. These include Ban Ki-Moon, Quincy Jones, the Dalai Lama, Virginia Beavert, and of course, the Japanese American students of 1941 and 1942.
In 1942, 449 Japanese Americans were forced to leave the UW following an executive order that led to their internment. Though Congress passed a resolution in 1988, apologizing for and redressing the injustices of the order, it took another 20 years before the interned Japanese Americans would receive their degrees. In May 2008, the former students were given honorary Bachelor of Arts degrees from the university in a ceremony called The Long Journey Home.
“The most noticeable [trait of Emmert] is his commitment to diversity — to open, meaningfully, the university to all students, staff, faculty, and administrators based on their individual merit and talent,” said Tetsudan Kashima, UW professor and chair of the The Long Journey Home Committee. “A striking example of this was his enthusiastic reaction to a 2008 proposal to confer UW honorary baccalaureate degrees to 449 Nisei students who were summarily removed from the UW in 1942 on government orders. Asking ‘Why wasn’t this done earlier?’ President Emmert and the UW, in a moving ceremony … helped to rectify a past social injustice. The fact that it took decades before the university took this action is not the point. The real lesson is that once it was brought to President Emmert’s attention, he saw the issue and helped to solve the problem.”
Additionally, of 23 appointments to dean, chancellor, or vice president positions during Emmert’s tenure, there were 11 males appointed and 12 females appointed.
Provost Phyllis Wise will be interim president in Emmert’s place. Replacing her will be interim Provost Mary Lidstrom, the vice provost for research. It will be the first time the UW has had two females in these positions.
We have no doubt that Emmert will take this enthusiasm for different viewpoints to the NCAA, and we are excited to see how he will shape such an influential organization for the better.
“We simply must make sure that our athletics programs represent all of the United States and all of our complexity,” Emmert said at the NCAA Champion and Expert Coaches Forums. “We have to be committed in higher education and intercollegiate athletics to the philosophy of promoting diversity in our work. We have much work to do, and I’m going to help you take that on.” ♦