As the former associate vice chancellor for diversity and academic leadership development for the University System of Maryland, John T. Wolfe Jr., PhD, MS, isn’t one to back down from challenges.
So when he was asked to give the third presentation in the Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) Speaker Series at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) on Sept. 17, Wolfe jumped in with both feet, stirring the pot from the outset.
Before a roomful of UMB students, faculty, and staff, Wolfe began by quoting the English poet, John Milton. “Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, and many opinions,” Wolfe said. “For opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making,”
Smiling at those assembled in the SMC Campus Center Elm Ballrooms, Wolfe added, “I intend to stir curiosity, to provoke thought, test boundaries, reinforce some things that you already know and hopefully – if I do it right – disrupt.”
Wolfe came back to the concept of disruption several times during his hourlong presentation “Managing Disruption: Cooperating and Collaborating Even When We Disagree.”Founder and principal of Avant-Garde Higher Education Services and Solutions, Inc., Wolfe defined a disruption as words, actions, or occurrences that may distract or test people and their reactions. The outcome could either cause conflict and chaos or it could inspire progressive movement within an organization or group. In this context, he is hoping to accomplish the latter.
Through a series of anecdotes and words of wisdom, Wolfe talked about managing disruptions in both working environments and everyday life.
“Disruption is a part of life. You have to anticipate it,” continued Wolfe, whose decorated career spans five decades including stints as English teacher, employee relations manager, tenured faculty member, department head, and provost. “I have been a disrupter. I have had to mediate and mitigate, and I found that in order to make diversity and inclusion work, you have to find a common ground.”
Finding common ground is one of the aims of the DAC, which provides recommendations that promote UMB’s commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion in every aspect of the University.
“The DAC created the Diversity Speaker Series to provide a forum for faculty, staff, and students to deepen their knowledge and understanding of issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said DAC member Elsie Stines, DNP, CRNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner who is assistant vice president of special projects and initiatives in the President’s Office.
“We wanted to find a speaker who most aligned with where we were going with diversity and conflict management,” said DAC member Vanessa Fahie, PhD, RN, assistant professor in the School of Nursing. “Dr. Wolfe seemed like a logical choice.”
— Jena Frick