Fostering a Climate of Inclusion at GRU

By | April 15, 2015

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.
-Malcolm Forbes

Creating Georgia Regents University gave us an exciting opportunity that few large organizations have: to define ourselves from the ground up. Carrying forward priorities from our legacy institutions, we declared that “inclusivity” would be one of six institutional values and identified “sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion” as one of six strategic priorities.

And we did so because we recognized that our world is greatly enriched by exposure to and understanding of the widest possible range of human experience. Even more so on college campuses, where our young adults come to stretch themselves, stimulate their intellect, discover their passion, and begin to contribute to our world.

Over the past five years, I am proud to say that GRU has emerged an industry leader of inclusive excellence, and the nation has taken notice. The 2013 and 2014 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) awards; the 2014 NCAA award for Diversity and Inclusion; and the 2015 AMSA/Gay & Lesbian Medical Association Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Achievement Award are only a few of the many awards that have come our way.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share our experience with other academic leaders at Harvard Medical School as part of their Office for Diversity Inclusion’s 2014-15 Leadership Forum. I’d like to share them with you as well.

First, we set ground rules for an effective framework:

  • The highest leaders in the organization must be fully committed to diversity value and goals.
  • Rather than focus on improving outcomes for specific groups, we focused on making valuing diversity part of the broader campus culture.
  • We made the business case for diversity — explaining why increasing diversity is the right business decision — in addition to making the ethics case.
  • We weaved diversity values and concepts into the fabric of our organization, rather than leaving them stranded in policy manuals and institutional protocols.
  • We articulated clear and transparent metrics and goals, then collected the data and shared it.
  • And we committed to providing appropriate funding, staffing, authority and structural organization to get the job done.

Our Office of Diversity and Inclusion, created in 2011, provided strong leadership, but we made it clear that the job of ensuring diversity and inclusion was everyone’s responsibility.

Then we — you — took action, and we got results.

  • Cultural competency training — So far, more than 11,000 physicians, staff, and students have participated in “Healthy Perspectives” cultural competency training to help us deliver better health care through better understanding of our culturally diverse patients. Before-and-after tests show organization-wide understanding across all groups has improved from 70 to 87 percent. And 86 percent of students agreed that the training contributed to their development as a future practitioner, while 82 percent agreed “the course was worthwhile.”
  • The GRU Healthy Respect initiative — In April 2013, top institutional leaders kicked off this effort by signing the Healthy Respect charter committing GRU to a culture of civility across our campuses. Last year, we launched the Healthy Respect website with tips, webinars, an events calendar, and other resources to help individuals get involved. I encourage everyone to make your own commitment by taking the Healthy Respect Pledge.
  • The annual GRU Diversity and Inclusion Summit saw its highest attendance last year when keynote speaker J.R. Martinez inspired a capacity crowd recounting how he not only survived, but transcended an IED explosion that burned over 34 percent of his body while he was serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Big things are in the works for this year’s event, so stay tuned!
  • Safe Zone and Equality Clinic — We launched our own Safe Zone program, part of a national initiative to foster creating safe and inclusive environments for individuals of all sexual and gender identities. And last fall, a free student-run, faculty-supervised clinic was launched to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients, the first of its kind in the Augusta area.
  • Religious diversity — To create an environment of religious tolerance, our Pastoral Care Department co-sponsored conferences for area faith leaders and offered a variety of educational events with the Student Interfaith Group and the Islamic Education Center.

And we have achieved results, with a 19 percent and 9 percent increase in health sciences student and faculty diversity, respectively, from 2010 to 2014. (We have had less time to assess improvements in the non-health sciences; see also a related blog post on building a diverse faculty.) And while our deliberate efforts to increase awareness resulted in a 66 percent increase in hotline calls over the same time period, complaints and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges in that time period dropped 44 percent.

Our work is not finished, but each of us can be proud of how far we’ve come. My heartfelt thanks to the uncounted students, faculty, staff, and administrators of GRU who live your commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness every day.


By | February 11, 2015

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
-Ecclesiastes 3:1

My first “Sculpting in Clay” blog was posted November 2010, a few short months after arriving in Augusta, and my last blog as president will be published sometime between now and June 30. I sincerely appreciate your giving me the opportunity over these past five years to share my thoughts with you in this forum, and thank the many who have turned this blog into a dialogue by sharing your thoughts, in turn, with me.

Many of my posts have been explorations of Leadership — a subject I find essential to understand as we face the challenges of an ever more complex world. And one I spent a lot of time reflecting on while coming to the decision to step down as president of this great institution.

When I was offered the position of president back in early 2010, I understood I would be leading the institution through a period of change and transformation. Initially, the changes only involved the health system and health sciences university: I was charged with creating an integrated health system aligned with the university and with expanding the state’s public academic health center mission and footprint to better serve Georgia’s growing need for medical professionals and the health care they would deliver throughout the region and state.

But the transformational challenges continued to grow … Within a year and a half of my arrival — with the first charge still a work in progress — I was selected to lead the consolidation of two universities in Augusta.

There are times in the life of every institution, community, region, and nation when we must act and fully embrace transformative change, hard as it is. With rapidly changing environments in both higher education and health care, we were, without a doubt, in one of those historic moments of change. I was privileged to lead such change … and tremendously fortunate to build a stellar leadership team, and to have faculty, staff and administrators who rolled up their sleeves and together tackled a monumental task on a near-impossible schedule.

And, together, we did it. What we have accomplished has been no less than extraordinary:

  • Successfully consolidating ASU and GHSU to create GRU, one of Georgia’s four public comprehensive universities.
  • Creating a closely aligned, integrated and successful health system, to be part of Georgia’s only public academic health center.
  • Improving student success, raising the 6-year undergraduate graduation rates and dramatically increasing the number of new freshman that successfully complete 15 credit hours or more per semester.
  • Building our research profile by earning funding of over $106 million in FY14, the highest research funding in the history of the institutions, during the worst funding environment in decades and moving our Cancer Center towards NCI designation.
  • Revitalizing philanthropy, nearly tripling yearly contributions, and achieving the largest donation to a capital project in the university’s history and, separately, the largest philanthropic gift ever given to a public institution in Georgia.
  • Implementing an aggressive approach to improving campus respect and tolerance around diversity and inclusion, efforts that have garnered significant national attention.
  • Obtaining funding and philanthropic support for the construction of over $200 million in new building space.
  • Partnering with industry to find ways to improve the quality and lower the costs of care offered by our health system, resulting in our 15-year $300 million health care alliance with Philips and our 14-year $400 million agreement with Cerner, which are national models for innovation.
  • And just this December we were awarded a Certificate of Need for a new Hospital in Columbia County, the largest county in Georgia without an acute care hospital.
  • And much more ….

I am tremendously proud of today’s Georgia Regents University, and immensely grateful to the hundreds, if not thousands of you who contributed so much to get us where we are today. And I have no doubt we are headed for even greater things tomorrow.

But in recent months as I reflected on my own role, I realized I needed to consider not only what is best for my family and for me, but what is best for the university and health system. And I concluded that, just as there is a time to take the helm and embrace dramatic transformation, there is a time to make room for new leadership — to give someone else the opportunity to take our successes to the next level. And that time has come.

The distinguished history and solid foundation of GRU’s legacy institutions were built by generations of previous leaders, upon whose shoulders I stood when it came my turn. And I have enormous confidence that our leadership team and the strength of the foundation we have all built together will provide the next president ample shoulders from which he or she will launch the next exciting phase in our institution’s history.