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Friday, September 22, 2023


New cabinet position commences

Elwyn Lee began his duties in the new cabinet-level position of Vice President for Community Relations and Institutional Access last week.

The position, created by President Renu Khator, will focus on improving community relationships and access to colleges for talented underrepresented, low-income and first-generation students.

In addition, Lee will oversee the Women’s Resource Center, the LGBT Resource Center and the Center for Students with Disabilities.

One of the goals of the new addition to Khator’s cabinet is to make sure UH is able to keep up with other universities in the state.

University of Texas-Austin and Texas A&M University have both added similar administrative offices in the past few years.

“One of the things that major universities have, that’s fairly common that we have not had, is an office that focuses on expanding equal opportunity in a variety of fronts,” Lee said.

“As we strive to be Tier One in a number of areas, you certainly want to have those things that are useful and valuable that serves a purpose.”

With UH facing budget cuts, the cost of adding a new cabinet position will be an issue.

“UH has been fortunate to enjoy an impressive level of diversity over the years, but we do not take that for granted,” Karen Clarke, Associate Vice President for University Relations, said.

“Assigning a specific dollar value to such broad and ongoing benefits is impractical, at best.”

Clarke said the position is designed to benefit the university by “maintaining and enhancing the advantages our students receive from interacting with diverse cultures and exposure to different real-world perspectives.”

Lee was chosen to lead the new department because of his background in teaching employment law, ethics law, disability law and sexual harassment. He has also written on employment discrimination and voting rights.

Lee served as the vice president for Student Affairs, where he helped get the Center for Students with Disabilities building constructed and added a daycare center in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

Lee’s goals for the department will be to engage campus groups and analyze diversity by assessing the student body, faculty and the different schools on campus.

“Our goals will be to establish the office, analyze the situation (diversity), see where we are and try to come to the determination of are we doing well or not,” Lee said. “And see if there are there things we can do that we think do in a particular area.”

Lee graduated from the Yale School of Law in 1975 and began his career at UH in 1978 as a law professor before becoming the interim director of the African American Studies program in 1989.

Since 1998, Lee served in his official capacity with Student Affairs, as well as serving as vice chancellor of Student Affairs for the UH System.

Serving as the interim VPSA will be Michael Lawrence until a permanent replacement for Lee can be found. A committee will be appointed to conduct a search that is estimated to take six months to complete.

Lawrence last served as the vice president of Student Development at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., and served in a variety of administrative positions at Southern Methodist University.

Lawrence will look to improve student residential halls and quality of life around campus.

“We want to build strong communities,” Lawrence said. “My number one priority is the students.”

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