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An agent for change reflects
Bill Smith retires after almost 30 years

July 16, 2007
By Mary Reed

Bill Smith, executive assistant to the president for institutional equity, retired June 30. Smith began his career in 1978 in what was then known as the Office of Affirmative Action. His role evolved from "cop" to that of a more proactive advocate for inclusiveness and equity on campus as the institution itself matured.

Bill Smith photo by Rick FaticaRegarding diversity and equity, how does the Ohio University landscape look compared to when you arrived in 1978?

The landscape is extremely different today than it was at that time. The biggest difference is in the presence of women on campus - as students, faculty and staff. The student body is predominantly female, and that drives the other numbers significantly. Over the years, there have been a significant number of female deans. We do have a female provost who is not the first female provost.

What gains that you've helped the university make do you take particular pride in?

I would like to think that we're a more caring institution with regard to the people who comprise our community. I would like to believe that we value diversity rather than just count noses so that women, racial minorities, persons with disabilities, persons with varied sexual preference or identities are accepted for who they are and what they can contribute. 

There was an incident involving menacing and ethnic intimidation at Alden Library in May. How can we respond to and prevent incidences such as this?

I would like to see the university utilize its tremendous assets for educating to address our societal fear of difficult dialogue. We spend a lot of time defending what we are rather than focusing on what we hope to be. We often come into a defensive mode rather than seeking common ground, and the common ground would give us greater comfort levels for working together. 

How are we doing when it comes to treatment of students with disabilities?

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was still a proposal, I projected faculty would never accept it and we were going to have great difficulty getting faculty to change their teaching methods in their classrooms. I am proud to say I was dead wrong. Faculty have stepped up to the plate and by and large hit home run after home run with regard to their willingness to provide classroom accommodations. I'm extremely proud of Ohio University's faculty in that respect. 

How are we doing when it comes to treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community?

Certainly the LGBT office is a major contribution to our institutional progress for providing appropriate responses and programs for our LGBT community. 

Carrying on

Katherine Ziff, who has worked in the Office of the University Ombuds since 2001, will serve as interim executive assistant to the provost for institutional equity through Dec. 31. 

"I am quite honored to be asked to serve the university community by continuing the mission of the Office for Institutional Equity," Ziff said. "I am excited to join the talented and committed staff that Bill Smith has assembled and plan to carry on the tradition of excellence that Bill has established."

Is tolerant an appropriate word in 2007?

Tolerance is just not strong enough. It doesn't require engagement. And I think engagement has got to be a requisite. In my evolution here, there was a time when we used the word tolerance. When we wanted to move to another level, it became an inappropriate term. 

What can each member of the Ohio University community do to help foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness, understanding and equity?

It's an easy question. The answers are tough. One would be encouraged to engage in meaningful communication, dialogue, exchange with people who represent a background, a circumstance different than one's own. On the individual basis, it has to be the individual understanding that they can be a better person, a better human being, as a result of inclusiveness.

What's next for Bill Smith?

Next for Bill Smith is that my wife and I will be working in the Barack Obama campaign. And we're in it to win it. 

Is America ready for a black or a woman president?

It would be great if they're both on the same ticket, which may happen. Stranger things have happened. The answer is yes. The answer is yes.

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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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