Features

Amel Cuskovic – Radford University

DEI is part of the ABCs at Radford University

Students, staff and faculty returning to Radford University for its fall 2021 semester arrived at a campus operating as close to pre-COVID-19 conditions as possible.

Still, the university, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia, has changed. There are mask and vaccine mandates in place and many courses are being offered remotely, for instance.

Amel Cuskovic, Radford’s chief HR officer and vice president of HR, helped develop the policies and protocols. As the campus opens, he’s also ensuring it’s more welcoming and inclusive to everyone who considers attending or working there.

“HR is a brand ambassador for the organization,” Cuskovic says. “We’re marketing roles and prospecting for candidates. We have to create an argument to be an employer of choice.”

Growing beyond ‘normal’

Founded in 1910 by the Virginia General Assembly as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Radford, what’s now Radford University opened in 1913.

The school then offered students from Virginia’s two- and three-year high schools the opportunity to complete four years of high school and then earn a two-year normal school diploma. Students who’d already completed four years of high school could pursue college degrees in rural, household or manual arts.

The school’s name changed to State Teachers College in 1924 after high school courses had been eliminated and the focus shifted to preparing teachers for Virginia’s rural schools. In 1972, the school began admitting men and it became a university in 1979 while changing its name to Radford University.

The university now educates about 9,000 students with 76 bachelor’s degree programs in 47 disciplines, 28 master’s programs in 23 disciplines, six graduate doctoral programs, 13 post-baccalaureate certificates and one post-master’s certificate.

One Virginia, OneCampus

While serving on Radford’s diversity, equity and inclusion action committee in 2019, Cuskovic helped it develop an action plan that aligns with One Virginia. That’s the state government’s initiative to address hiring, training and retention in state government, as well as in public higher education.

Elements of the action plan include using more diverse imagery to advertise campus life, as well as Radford’s students and staff. The plan also recommends wider use of the OneCampus portal to include a link to the HR training and professional development website, and to create a diversity dashboard that includes data from student, faculty and staff surveys about the campus conditions.

As part of the action plan, Cuskovic has revised language in employment postings so they’re “more attractive to potential faculty/staff of color,” according to plan documents.

The action plan also requires Radford’s departments to submit and implement action plans on DEI programming and training, and faculty and staff recruitment. The departments were also required to submit DEI plans before authorizing hiring for any position.

“Our ability to create a work environment where all are welcome, accepted, respected and valued is critical to our individual and collective effectiveness,” Cuskovic says.

Incorporating the One Virginia framework and using its assessment tools to measure progress and effectiveness also requires data—and investments in technology to make the data available for analysis.

“HR has to identify challenges and opportunities beyond compliance and staffing to truly understand needs through the business lens,” Cuskovic says. “We need to articulate core values that generate strategic vision that will generate lasting collaboration and relationships.”

The value in HR

Cuskovic earned both his bachelor’s degree and a certificate in international business management from Virginia Commonwealth University while also playing soccer. He also has a master of science in human resource management from the University of Richmond. He began working in higher education when he joined Virginia Tech in February 2010 as its HR leader.

His passion for soccer hasn’t abated, even though family life raising four children—including triplets—keeps him busy at home. As Cuskovic chatted with Toggle in early September 2021, he was also gearing up for a new adult league soccer season.

Cuskovic joined Radford University in early 2019, eager to establish the value of HR in guiding the university’s future.

“This is more than business process change or improvement,” he says. “HR has to recognize the importance of operating with agility and flexibility to break down silos and foster inclusion with a spirit of disrupting old solutions.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter III 2022 Edition here.

Published on: January 27, 2022

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