Texas A&M University’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts will now be overseen by senior professor Frank Ashley, who said multiple positions he has held in his three decades at the school have prepared him well for this new task.
Ashley, senior associate dean for academic affairs at The Bush School of Government & Public Service, has had 10 different titles over his years at A&M, including working in the admissions office and serving as vice chancellor for diversity and recruitment for the A&M System.
Being selected for the new role is an honor, Ashley said.
“It’s nice when people think that you can make a difference,” he explained, “so I hope I can make a difference.”
In January, the Texas A&M System Board of Regents approved a four-year, $24.75 million plan to address diversity. The action plan was a direct response to needs identified in a report by the 45-member Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that former President Michael K. Young initiated last year. The action plan outlines several goals, including increasing the number of scholarship recipients and fellowship participants for certain programs and efforts aimed to increase diversity in the school’s faculty and student populations.
A task force to tell the story of A&M’s history through displays and iconography was also formed as part of the plan. It was announced in January that any work the task force did would add to monuments on campus rather than consider removing the school’s statue of Confederate general and former university president Lawrence Sullivan Ross, as many protesters called for last year.
Last month, former interim A&M President John Junkins released a progress report that outlined the progress co-chairs of the various diversity effort committees made. The report included preliminary concepts for changes in campus designs and a pilot program for increasing Black student admission commitments.
Ashley said more details regarding his new position will be outlined in a meeting he is having with A&M President M. Katherine Banks next week, but in general he said his duty will be to shepherd the action plan that the regents approved. Ashley added that he will meet with committee co-chairs about their ongoing work and track how the efforts are progressing.
Banks told local media on Wednesday that Ashley will oversee the school’s diversity efforts and ensure that goals are met in a timely fashion.
“I will have my finger on the pulse of the initiative,” Ashley said.
Becoming the school’s go-to for diversity happened quickly, Ashley said. He received a call from Banks’ chief of staff Wednesday morning asking him to take up the role, and by the afternoon he was being interviewed by local media about the new position.
Ashley had kept up with the school’s equity and inclusion work but said he re-read reports and other materials about the cause to refresh himself on all the details after accepting the position.
“We’re looking at every aspect of the university and the whole community to make it welcoming,” Ashley said of the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
While Ashley said he has been part of efforts to improve diversity in the school in past years, he said he has never seen this amount of funding poured into the cause. He said he is excited to see System Chancellor John Sharp and the Board of Regents supporting the effort.
“Having been here so long, we’ve talked about a lot of things, but the System is showing how serious they are about it by putting money behind it — that’s a big difference,” Ashley said. “Because in the past, A&M would have to try to come up with the money to do it.”
Even so, Ashley said he doesn’t necessarily expect the work to completely change A&M, comparing the institution to an aircraft carrier that cannot turn on a dime.
“This initiative probably won’t totally transform Texas A&M,” he continued, “but it’s going to set the groundwork and it will start that transformation of Texas A&M being the state land grant institution that we are called to be, serving all the citizens in the state of Texas.”