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Westminster administrator hired by a Nebraska university

FILE: Former Associate Vice President for diversity equity and inclusion at Westminster College, Marco Barker speaks to the group as members of the Sugar House and Westminster community join in solidarity on issues and matters related to justice, unity and diversity at a rally and march on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. Barker now serves as Vice-Chancellor for diversity and inclusion at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has named a Westminster College administrator as its first vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion. It’s a hiring that some see as a waste of taxpayer money and others see as a vital step toward addressing diversity issues at Nebraska’s largest university system campus.

Marco Barker will begin his work in Lincoln on April 1 and be paid $250,000 a year, the university said Monday.

In addition to creating a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Barker will lead diversity efforts in faculty recruitment and retention, education and research.

“Dr. Barker is going to do great things at the university,” University Chancellor Ronnie Green said. “I’m excited for him to join our team and be a member of the chancellor’s Cabinet.”

Barker is chief diversity officer at Westminister College in Salt Lake City. Before joining Westminster, Barker worked in similar positions for the University of North Carolina and Louisiana State University. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas, a master’s from Webster University and a doctorate from Louisiana State University.

“Throughout the state the demographics are changing,” said Lincoln’s executive vice chancellor, Donde Plowman, before Barker’s hire. “We hope to recruit those students to the university. Thus having strategic leadership around diversity and inclusion is all the more important.”

But the creation of the diversity office for Lincoln and plans to hire chief diversity officers for the two university system’s two Omaha campuses have drawn fire from some legislators. Sens. Steve Erdman and Mike Groene, for example, see them as unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.

“In rural Nebraska, we’re not racists or bigots,” Groene, of North Platte, said earlier this month. “We don’t care what your ethnicity is.”

Erdman, of Bayard, has said diversity offices push liberal agendas and work against conservatives.

Barker said Monday that he appreciated the importance the university placed on diversity when he reviewed its plans to celebrate its 150th anniversary, as well as in a previous analysis of its diversity efforts.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to create and lead this inaugural office and work with the campus and extended communities to position diversity, inclusion and equity for the next 150 years,” he said. “I invite others to join me in this journey.”