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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will soon welcome a new vice chancellor whose energy and enthusiasm cut through the screen during his first video chat interview with Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman.

“I think that tells a lot about his strengths,” Plowman said. “If you do well in a [video conference] when everyone else is there, face-to-face, you’re pretty talented at coming across and communicating. He was very charismatic, very energetic.”

Chancellor Ronnie Green and Plowman announced Marco Barker as the university’s inaugural choice for the position of vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion on Nov. 19.

Plowman said she is eager to see what he can bring to UNL when his position officially begins on April 1, 2019.

“He knows a lot about higher ed, and he’s real energized,” she said. “He’s going to bring a fresh perspective and a new energy that I think is going to be really great for us.”

Barker is currently the associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Barker said in a university press release that he was intrigued by the evidence Nebraska shows of its ongoing diversity efforts, like the William H. Thompson Scholarship community and the annual Husker Dialogues Event.

“Being part of framing a newly established role and office at an institution where there is already great work happening means we have a real opportunity to develop creative and new ways of leveraging the expertise, teaching, research and efforts that already exist at Nebraska,” he said.

Diversity is integral in UNL’s mission as a land-grant university, Barker said.

“While achieving this alignment is a continuous process and not an easy feat given the history of exclusion in higher education,” he said. “it often begins with a clear articulation and commitment to moving in this direction.”

His well-received public presentation focused on characteristics of land-grant universities, Plowman said. She also said Barker energized the audience with his presentation, where he tied diversity and inclusivity to each of the university’s features.

Charlie Foster, director for the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services, said she is pleased with her interactions with Barker so far and his interest in the diversity work she is doing.

She’s also heard from students who were satisfied with their interactions with Barker.

“What I really appreciated is that he honed in on what was important for me,” she said. “He asked pointed questions, and I felt comfortable with him because he felt interested in what I was doing and I’m looking forward to working with him for that reason.”

Barker’s role will fulfill a need for awareness and discussion of diversity, Foster said.

“There is a hungering within our students for answers about how we are going to do things differently,” she said. “As well as a hunger to have hard conversations about the country, and I think [Barker] will be important in how we have those conversations.”

The process for choosing the position was a long, but necessary one, Plowman said. While companies are able to make quick hiring decisions, at a university level she said it requires time to bring together different entities and reach a consensus.

The seven-month process included collaboration with a search firm to seek out candidates, a search committee of students, faculty and staff from a variety of areas on campus to initially evaluate candidates and input from a variety of individuals on campus who met with the finalists.

The vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion position will focus first on creating a plan to best address diversity on campus, Plowman said. The position will also begin to connect UNL’s current efforts to work toward diversity and inclusion.

Data from UNL’s climate survey showed how minorities — especially African Americans — feel the university could improve to create an inclusive environment, Plowman said.

“I think the last few times the campus has gone through the struggles it has [shown a need for this position],” she said. “One was last spring, and there was another one with Black Lives Matter. I think those were times when members of our minority community felt more alone or than we would want them to feel … this is both symbolic and substantive that the university is serious.”

The introduction of Barker’s position will also create an office for diversity and inclusion on the first floor of the Canfield Administration Building, and Plowman said she hopes the changes will send a message to the university and the Lincoln community that diversity is important to UNL.

“It makes a clear statement to the campus and to the community that diversity is important, and it’s important at the chancellor, vice chancellor level,” she said. “If you’re a faculty, staff, student of color, there’s someone representing that issue once a month with the chancellor, and my hope is that people will feel like that voice is being represented in high-level decisions.”

This article was originally published in the January 2019 edition of The DN.