MONTVALE, NJ (January 2021) – In 2017, Oregon’s Linfield University hired its first-ever Black president in the school’s 162-year history. A second-generation Cuban scholar serves as associate vice president for the University of Tennessee System, which boasts several campuses across the state and a $1 billion budget. And, at the University of Virginia, the McIntire School of Commerce is in the good hands of a Black female dean – the first in more than 25 years. While their high-profile administrative positions vary widely, one thing they have in common is The PhD Project, which they all credit to their ascension in academia.
Across the country, the face of the college or university administrator is steadily changing, thanks to The PhD Project, founded nearly 30 years ago by KPMG US Foundation, Citi, AACSB and GMAC. Its mission is to increase the diversity of administrators and business school faculty, who, in turn, help mentor, motivate and educate the next generation of leaders and serve as role models for students of color who see someone who “looks like them” in the classroom.
Dr. Jorge Perez is the only Latinx educator in a senior position at the University of Tennessee System, which boasts campuses in Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis, among others. He is associate vice president of institutional effectiveness as well as a fervent supporter of The PhD Project. His advocacy earned him an induction into its Hall of Fame during the group’s 25th anniversary gala. Throughout the years, he’s appeared on panels, mentored PhD students and more to support the mission of the program.
“I go to The PhD Project conference year after year,” says Dr. Perez, a second-generation PhD who completed his degree in information systems in 1997 at Florida State University. “At this point in my career, I don’t need anything from it – except the chance that I can help somebody.”
Before joining the academic world, he worked as an IT specialist and found it uninspiring. After earning his PhD, he taught IT at North Carolina A&T and Kennesaw State universities, then headed to the University of Tennessee. His current position as associate vice president became effective January 2020. He sees his latest achievements as a victory for the Latinx community.
“I’ll bet you that there weren’t a lot of Hispanics teaching information systems when I was at Kennesaw State,” says Perez. “I bet there are not a lot of Hispanic professors in general in information systems. I know I inspire a lot of students, some Hispanic, some not. But now, I think I am better positioned to influence BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) faculty and let them see that they can also excel and ascend to a leadership position.”
Perez wants to contribute to Project AHEAD, a program within The PhD Project that encourages tenured BIPOC faculty to explore positions in administration. “We’ve already established that we need more people of color in faculty positions,” he continues. “Once they move through those positions, they need to move to more leadership positions. We need more people of color in leadership positions. Someone in that position will more likely hire more faculty of color and increase the representation of people of color in the faculty more so than someone who does not have that background and experience.”
For more information about The PhD Project, visit www.phdproject.org.