Q&A with Darnell Hunt: UCLA’s Champion for Inclusive Excellence

This summer, campus leader and longtime sociology professor Darnell Hunt was named executive vice chancellor and provost, or EVCP. As UCLA’s second-highest-ranking officer, Hunt serves as Deputy Chancellor Gene Block and oversees day-to-day operations and academic activities on campus.

We spoke with Hunt to learn more about his scholarship at the intersection of race and media, the leadership philosophies he’s brought to past administrative positions, and how he’s approaching his new role on campus.

Let’s start by talking about the position of Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. This is important work, but one that some on campus may not be very familiar with. How would you describe it?

Within the university, I see the AVCP as the person who tries to align the operational side and the academic side of the house.

UCLA is a large, complex organization, and there are all sorts of day-to-day operational issues that we must manage to be effective – balancing the budget, managing the construction of new facilities, figuring out how to pivot operations during a pandemic, etc. this. And then there’s the academic side, which looks at whether our students are trained appropriately for the times, whether faculty members have the resources they need to do their jobs, and how we can best serve our mission by as a public research university.

If any of these elements are managed in isolation, we are not performing optimally. So AVCP is there to ensure that there is an integrated approach.

Thanks for that. Let’s go back to your background and academic work in sociology, where your scholarship focuses on race and media. What attracted you to this discipline and this subject?

I grew up in the Washington, DC area and – after a stint at USC for college – lived in the city while earning my MBA at Georgetown University and then working at the branch local NBC television news. It was the late 1980s, and demographically DC was overwhelmingly African American. NBC’s local newsroom, however, was almost entirely white. I remember going to news planning meetings in the morning, where we would look at the stories of the day and assign news crews…and the editors would talk about areas of town that I knew were Afro communities -American cities full of hardworking professionals as if they were tough urban areas. This framing didn’t match my understanding, and I knew it would affect how NBC viewers thought of the city. It opened my eyes to how perspective and race can shape how you think about current affairs.

I started reading about this phenomenon in my spare time and noticed that the most interesting things written about it were written by sociologists. Very quickly, I applied for a doctorate in sociology. programs myself.

Where did your interest in race and the media take you from there?

I came to LA to do my PhD at UCLA because of its proximity to the media and entertainment industries – and that was fortuitous, as almost all of my work since then has touched the city in some way. another one. I wrote my thesis and my first book on how the media portrayed the Los Angeles uprisings of 1992 and how the public interpreted what they saw in the news. My second book was about the OJ Simpson case, how it was covered, and how the hearing readings of the case related to racial politics. Then in the late 1990s and early 2000s I thought about Hollywood, how racial, gender and ethnic politics shape who has access to Hollywood and how that affects the types of shows and of films that are produced. This led to the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which I have co-authored since 2014.

Although you maintained a strong research presence throughout your career, you also rose through the ranks at UCLA as an academic administrator. Could you tell us about your journey on this front and what interested you in the position of AVCP?

These two things are actually connected, because the AVCP position is really the culmination of all the experiences I had at UCLA. In 2001, I was recruited to USC to direct the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, which allowed me to continue to conduct my research on media and race, as well as to apply my business degree and administrative skills. From there, I moved into the chair of sociology, which helped me see the intrinsic rewards associated with facilitating the good work of my colleagues and better recognize the importance of recruiting, supporting and retaining people. excellent teachers. As Dean of Social Sciences, I took what I experienced as Center Director and Department Director to another level, as now I was dealing with 18 different academic units, nearly 10,000 students and 300 faculty members in a range of disciplines.

The role of AVCP will allow me to take what I have learned in these positions and apply it at the campus level. I will work with Vice-Chancellors, Vice-Rectors and Deans to help shape the direction of the institution as a whole. It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity.

One of your governing philosophies as Dean of the Social Sciences Division was “inclusive excellence”. What is Inclusive Excellence and, now that you are AVCP, do you see it applying at the campus level?

Inclusive excellence may sound a bit like a buzzword, but what it means to me is that inclusion and excellence are two sides of the same coin. There is no compromise between them – in fact, given our public mission and location in Los Angeles, UCLA’s excellence depends that it is inclusive and diverse. This concept can become a North Star in terms of what we should be doing at any given time and how we fare against our ideals. As AVCP, I hope to help articulate this campus vision and work with our colleagues to develop the principles and procedures that will bring it to life.

Are there any other central leadership philosophies that you bring with you to your new role?

An appreciation of the value of shared governance, to begin with. I joined UCLA from a private university where shared governance was an expression but not necessarily a practice, and I’m proud that the UC system takes the concept so seriously. Here, I served on a number of Academic Senate committees that helped me understand why faculty must participate in the governance of the university to ensure that its academic mission is protected at all times. This goes back to the point I was talking about earlier about the role of AVCP. Operations can take over if you spend all your time thinking about budgets, crises, resource allocation, and keeping the lights on. We need to have the checks and balances on the academic side, represented by the faculty. One of the things I hope to do as AVCP is to develop a deep collaborative relationship with the Academic Senate to move the university forward.

Another thing I will mention is my support for engaged research, in which the university directs academic efforts and academic resources toward pressing issues affecting our communities. While I was Dean of Social Sciences, we worked with the Academic Staff Council to explore establishing criteria for awarding credit to committed fellowships through the academic review process. In a public institution where we value public engagement, we must encourage this type of service for the common good.

Looking at the whole campus, I’m not naïve enough to think there’s a single pattern here, but from medicine to law to public policy to the arts and beyond there are possibilities. improve the impact of our work.

A common thread throughout your career has been to bring quantitative data and approaches to non-science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. This is evident in your own data-driven Hollywood Diversity Report, as well as the work you’ve done as Dean to develop the Big Data Initiative in Social Sciences. Why is this an important area of ​​interest for you?

My approach to research has always been multi-method. I tend to be someone who borrows from different traditions, bringing together the qualitative and the quantitative to assess complex issues. Because of this, I feel sensitized to the value of data in various forms. Even in fields that do not traditionally emphasize quantitative data, such as the humanities or certain humanistic disciplines in the social sciences, there are increasing opportunities to apply these methods. Given the depth and breadth of our academic enterprise, UCLA is uniquely positioned to make data literacy a larger part of our teaching and research. The DataX initiative is an important step forward; this summer, we named Safiya Noble, professor and winner of the MacArthur “Genius” award, to be its first director.

Much of your work as an academic and administrator has been tied to the Los Angeles area – building LA Social Sciences examine the challenges facing our region, for example, or chair a UCLA Task Force on Civic and Community Engagement. How is the location of our university an asset and how can we build an even stronger relationship between our institution and the city?

One of the things that excites me most about UCLA is LA. Being located here makes us attractive and unique, and that’s a huge competitive advantage. Over 200 languages ​​are spoken here. We do not have a racial or ethnic majority. We are radically diverse and multicultural. And we are literally a portal to the rest of the world.

It’s not provincial or myopic to focus our attention more on LA In my mind, focus on LA is focusing on the world. And that’s why LA Social Science’s motto is “Engaging LA, Changing the World”. A lot of things that we are grappling with in Los Angeles, the rest of the world is or will soon be grappling with.

I think to better tie the relationship between the university and the city, we need to have a cohesive strategy to support committed research and get out of Westwood to implement it. We also need to tell our story, explain why LA is central to UCLA’s identity, and show Angelenos how much UCLA contributes to the city.

Last question: This academic year is the first to begin with regular activities on campus in person and without substantial changes to the UCLA experience. What UCLA traditions, events, or happenings are you passionate about?

It might sound a little silly, but I’m excited to experience more spontaneous, unmediated moments: the water cooler conversions, the brief conversations in the hallway that change the way people interact with each other. I am a sociologist; I know there’s a profound difference between connecting via Zoom and connecting in person – and I think we’re all set to appreciate the latter more.

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