“Can you appoint Asian Americans in your top administration since Asian students are the largest minority on campus?” I asked President Mark Emmert privately at an appreciation dinner for Gov. Gary Locke in 2004, which the Northwest Asian Weekly hosted.
That’s how I introduced myself. My words did not startle him, even though we had just met. Instead, he smiled and said, “That’s a possibility.”
A year later, he appointed Dr. Phyllis Wise, a Chinese American, to be the UW Provost. Later, Wise hired Dr. Kenyon Chan to serve as chancellor of UW Bothell campus. A strong advocate of diversity, Emmert acts out what he believes.
Years ago, I asked the same question to Emmert’s predecessor, Richard McCormick, and he exploded.
The only difference was the setting. It was at a Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s community roundtable meeting. McCormick had a chance to appoint an Asian American when his provost left, but he appointed a white male, Lee Huntsman, instead.
Apparently, my question infuriated McCormick. He thought I was challenging him on the spot. His face turned red and his eyes looked like an angry bulldog’s. He reminded the audience of 60 that he had appointed Yash Gupta to be the business school dean the year before. “And you better say that’s a darn good appointment,” he snapped.
But a dean-level appointment no longer satisfied the Asian community. Should I have shown gratitude before I asked McCormick that question? Did I unwittingly humiliate him? Or, was I only supposed to make him look wonderful in public?
Was McCormick trying to show that he had the power to decide and that I should not have the power to voice an opinion? I didn’t get it.
In contrast, McCormick who also supported diversity, talked more than acted, according to many alumni who advised him on diversity.
So I learned. Whenever I really want something for the community, I talk quietly with leaders first, especially those who are more prone to take things personally. I am so glad that McCormick is the past. But now, I am sad that Emmert is leaving and the UW’s future is in jeopardy.
Emmert resigned last week from the University of Washington to become the president of National Collegiate Athletic Association. ♦