How to embed accountability into your institution’s DEIJ plan

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How to embed accountability into your institution's DEIJ plan

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Higher education is being asked to go further than ever to foster equity and dismantle systemic racism, but too few institutions have the accountability systems in place to facilitate follow through on their diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) plans.

In fact, an EAB analysis of student activism across the last five years found that some of today’s most common demands around racial justice, such as increasing BIPOC faculty and staff, have been raised consistently for decades, suggesting higher education has failed to move from rhetoric to meaningful action. So where is the disconnect? A separate EAB review of over 50 institutional DEI plans demonstrated that accountability measures, such as project owners and timelines, are critical components of successful plans. Yet, many institutional plans often lack clear delineation of responsibility and deadlines.

Today’s students, who deeply value transparency and accountability, are no longer satisfied with vague promises. They’re asking colleges and universities to deliver meaningful progress on DEIJ issues. See the strategies and examples below to embed accountability measures into your DEIJ plan.

A word about justice

Why DEIJ?

Working towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, while important goals and disciplines on their own, must be animated by the ongoing pursuit of justice for those harmed by systems of oppression that operate throughout society. Institutions must recognize their role in perpetuating systemic oppression to ensure that any strategies developed seek to address this systemic harm and create a more just society.

Assign dual project owners at cabinet and unit levels to encourage collaboration

No single person can (or should) hold sole responsibility for DEIJ strategy. Dismantling systemic racism demands coordination among multiple departments, so responsibility is necessarily diffuse. Without the right accountability systems in place, however, this can lead to a piecemeal approach to DEIJ efforts.

As a result, EAB recommends that institutions should assign action items and objectives to “project owners” at both the cabinet- and unit-level. Naming a senior leader for each item helps ensure buy-in and signals that DEIJ work is a cabinet-level priority. At the same time, assigning objectives to unit-level owners also establishes frontline commitment and helps to translate broad strategy to the department and individual levels.

These “project owners” should include representatives across the entire institution and not just one specific office or role. For example, the onus for DEIJ progress should not be placed solely on Chief Diversity Officers. Systemic change requires action from many stakeholders, including enrollment management, residence life, athletics, to health services, academic affairs, and beyond. Finally, project owners must collaborate to ensure everyone is coordinated in both their understanding of the problem and their implementation of solutions.

Arcadia University

Arcadia assigns not just an office, but specific faculty, staff, and administrators to be accountable for each action item.

American University

In phase two of its Plan for Inclusive Excellence, American University holds cabinet-level leadership accountable while also delegating responsibility to different unit-level owners.

University of Denver

University of Denver’s plan includes a list of sub-goal level collaborators to facilitate intra-institutional collaboration.

Facilitate follow-through on strategic objectives with concrete timelines and deadlines

College and university statements following George Floyd’s death

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    Included short-term actions

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    Included long-term actions

Demands for change are growing in urgency. Today’s students expect fast responses, but too often, institutions get caught in a state of inertia.

As another measure of accountability, the leaders responsible for developing DEIJ plans must establish concrete deadlines and timelines for objectives. EAB’s review of DEIJ plans revealed that most institutions tend to focus on incremental quick wins, rather than bold, sustained action that addresses systemic issues over the long term. The best plans have a balanced mix of short-, mid-, and long-term timelines, so as to not overprioritize one set above another (e.g., focusing too much energy on short-term symptom relief without investing in structural change). That said, it is not enough to label an objective as “short”- or “long”-term. Leaders must define what that means by applying actual lengths of time to them.

As another measure of accountability, the leaders responsible for developing DEIJ plans must establish concrete deadlines and timelines for objectives. EAB’s review of DEIJ plans revealed that most institutions tend to focus on incremental quick wins, rather than bold, sustained action that addresses systemic issues over the long term. The best plans have a balanced mix of short-, mid-, and long-term timelines, so as to not overprioritize one set above another (e.g., focusing too much energy on short-term symptom relief without investing in structural change). That said, it is not enough to label an objective as “short”- or “long”-term. Leaders must define what that means by applying actual lengths of time to them.

American University

AU breaks down its goals into immediate steps and long-term objectives that will be tackled each academic year

Southern Utah University

SUU outlines a specific time period for each action based on a standard scale they have defined as immediate, short, medium, and long.

University of North Alabama

UNA commits to completion target dates for each of its action steps.

Taken together, these strategies create a shared understanding of who on campus is responsible for each action item and the estimated time for completion. Ultimately, these accountability elements will help to ensure that DEIJ plans are conducive to making progress and building trust with campus community members that have long waited for advancement on DEIJ issues.

Assess your plan

Complete this short survey to get a sense for how well your DEIJ plan incorporates accountability measures.

Participate in EAB’s DEIJ Institutional Plan Review for a full assessment

EAB’s DEIJ Institutional Plan Review is a service that evaluates your existing university DEIJ plan or an in-progress draft. After the conducting the review, EAB researchers provide a customized report that evaluates your institution’s plan, highlighting strengths and making recommendations on opportunities for improvement. To learn more about this service, please contact your institution’s strategic leader.

Want more DEIJ best practices for your institution?

Visit EAB's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Resource Center for a library of best practice research, tools, and insights dedicated to helping college and university leaders cultivate diversity, foster inclusion, promote equity, and fight for justice for their students, faculty, staff, and communities.

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