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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Walt Ulmer, November 20, 1998. Interview S-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Efforts to diversify the staff of the Center for Creative Leadership

Ulmer discusses efforts to diversify the professional staff of the Center for Creative Leadership during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Earlier in the interview, Ulmer stated that when he first became the president of the Center, all of the leadership positions were occupied by white men. Here, he focuses on efforts to bring more women and more African Americans into positions of leadership. Ulmer asserts his opposition to segregation and expresses his optimism that one day special measures to bring women and minorities into executive positions would not be necessary.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Walt Ulmer, November 20, 1998. Interview S-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I just have a couple more questions. You mentioned the diversity issue at the Center and I know that during your tenure the Center launched I guess in '89 the program focused on executive women. And then in '94, the program focused on African-Americans. Maybe just a little bit more reflection from you on the sense of the Center's engagement with those issues across your tenure. You mentioned the particular challenge you faced in trying to find people to recruit. If you could maybe just flesh that out a little more!
Well, I think people in the Center were sensitive to this before I got there but I think I was able to help that particular focus and to—it was just time for a faculty that looked a little bit more diverse. We had been and continue—when we started up the executive women's program, the question was and it still is this is an unnatural environment where you have all women because in the work place, you don't have all women. And furthermore, to some extent, this is kind of an exclusive program. The Center has always said we're sort of open to everyone, come on in. Well, now all of a sudden we have a program for Blacks, we have a program for women, whatever. And we thought about this quite a bit. And I would like to think that in another 10 or 20 or 30 years we don't have to have these but I'm convinced at this stage of the game, particularly for women executives, that they do need an environment where they feel comfortable to address those issues that they are concerned in their own mind that no one but women executives understand. And as long as that's that way, I think the Center needs to have some of those programs. I'm ultimately against the idea of segregating our society any more than it's already segregated. And I hope we can stop some day talking about African-Americans and European-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans and so forth. But again, it will be a while before we get there. In the intermediate stage, we have to provide opportunities to be sure that women and minorities have some comfortable place to go that will, hopefully, help them in a number of ways.
Right, right. Any specific recollections in a general sense about the hiring efforts you made and the challenges you faced there to find staff members to bring in who were women and minorities?
Well, we had to look around a lot. But obviously, the guy says we went from zero to 60 in just a few years. They were sort of there, but it wasn't easy. And you have this very interesting—someone says we want to recruit minorities without lowering standards. Of course, that's a dumb statement. The presumption then is that minorities are going to obviously lower your standards unless you're careful, which is a very strange and interesting approach to the subject. On the other hand, you don't want to either have token people or to hire people because they are minorities who don't match with the qualifications of the other members of the faculty. But most institutions—I don't know how yours is doing, but many universities now are continuing to have major problems recruiting the kind of people that they want. So the Center needs to continue to pay attention to it. There are some things once you get sort of a critical mass then things kind of happen. I mean when you have none, the first two or three are tough. When you have a dozen, then a combination of them and your reputation and whatever just kind of takes over and then it can pretty well go. Back in the Army when we had problems with Black military policeman, the Black soldiers did not want to become policeman. Part of their home tradition was the police were not particularly good guys. So one of the things that we did in my division in Germany was I said, "Okay, we're going to convert some infantrymen and some other people into M.P.'s." And we got finally permission from God or someone so that we could do that out in the field. We decided we would recruit two at a time. So when you took two buddies out of the squad, two Black soldiers and said look, we need military policemen. We're going to put you through some schools and so forth and you're going to be M.P.s., that worked an awful lot better than trying to get one. And once you built up at the beginning, I think, and at the Center, I think maybe that was one of the things that has perpetuated. I think they have a pretty good mix now of diversity.