Rickey Hall acknowledges school’s need for improved ‘external relations’
By Charles Hallman
Rickey Hall’s favorite advice to his coworkers is, “Diversity is everybody’s everyday work. I say that often to people,” says Hall, who will leave his current position later this month as the University of Minnesota’s assistant vice president for diversity and equity, which he’s held since 2007, to assume his new duties as vice chancellor for diversity at the University of Tennessee.
Hall came to the Twin Cities campus in 1998, when he started and directed the university’s School of Public Health multicultural office. Then he moved to the diversity and equity office. He held similar positions at U of M — Morris and Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
“The work I do, and the work since 1995 has been devoted to this,” says Hall of diversity issues in colleges, “[is that] I’ve been working on access issues, graduation and retention for underrepresented or marginalized populations. It is a strong interest of mine.”
The U of M’s overall mission to be a world-class university should also include students of color, especially on its main campus, “which is a city in itself.” Hall explains that it must be a welcoming place for all students. “While you’re there, you can feel real removed. How can we do a better job [in that area]?” he asks.
“I came into the role at the time when the office was elevated to a full vice president [position],” notes Hall. “I’ve served in the role of liaison [to the other Minnesota campuses].” He’s proud of his work in helping the school develop partnerships with the state’s tribal nations. “I’ve been a key player in some of our scholarship programs and making more people aware of them.
“I’ve been able to start to impact some of the climate in hopes of more faculty and staff of color having better opportunities and having a [higher] quality experience at the university,” continues Hall. “I have worked closely with admissions. I want to make sure that there’s always avenues and access for students of color. We strategize on different things that we can do to get more applicants of color.
“We [need to] do a better job in external relations,” suggests Hall.
“That’s an area that I would have liked to have done more work with. I have a lot of ideas I want to pass on to the new vice president,” Katrice Albert, who will succeed him in June.
Hall was contacted last summer by his new employers, who had hired a search firm. “Initially I wasn’t that interested because I had no connections to Tennessee, but they sold me on the position, and I got excited enough” to look further into the opportunity.
He liked what he saw. “My interviews went really well… They made the offer, and I accepted in November, and I start in June.”
“I grew up professionally here,” he says as he reflects upon his decade-plus stint in Minnesota. “There is a strong commitment here, and we can always do more.”
Hall says that University President Eric Kaler has demonstrated his commitment to diversity. “From the very beginning, he talks a lot about [diversity] and has made it a priority. I believe that in order to be really successful in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s critical to have support from the top. That support needs to be vocal and in action.”
Nonetheless, Hall believes the university could do better: “The retention and graduation rates aren’t where we want them to be, but they are trending in the right direction. We’ve had increases for all groups but the issue is, because you’re having all groups with increases, those [graduation] gaps still exist.”
Hall says he wouldn’t mind seeing a system eventually established where “a portion of merit [pay] increases or even a portion of a dean’s budget, or separate incentives” are tied to successfully achieving annual diversity goals, “whether it be [based on] increasing the number of faculty and staff of color or increasing the percentages of students of color. I think that is something we need to figure out.
“It’s been challenging but rewarding,” says Hall. “Right now I am looking forward to doing something new and different, but I am not running from anything or been forced out. I’m excited, but you also have a lot of anxiety…whenever you go to a new role.
“For me, this is going to a new region of the country — I never lived in the South, born and raised in the Midwest — but I always wanted to move to another part of the country, especially doing this kind of diversity work. I think it will help me grow professionally.”
Hall says he’s looking forward “to really be innovative and creative to get things done and move things forward” at Tennessee.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.