News Story

U-M Diversity Chief Gets $407k Annually, Oversees 12 Employees

Office budget is $2 million, but that's not all

The head of the University of Michigan’s wide-ranging diversity programs and enforcement activities is collecting an annual salary of $407,653, following a $11,100 raise in 2018. The university employs more than 48,000 people, of which 51 collect a base salary of $400,000 or above.

Robert Sellers, chief diversity officer and vice provost for equity and inclusion, has seen his income skyrocket since being appointed to the position in October 2016. According to U-M records, Sellers was paid $190,000 as a professor of psychology in 2012-13.

U-M President Mark Schlissel was paid $852,346 in 2018.

Sellers’ wife is also part of the diversity bureaucracy at the university. Tabbye Chavous Sellers is program director for the National Center for Institutional Diversity on the Ann Arbor campus. She made $181,404 in 2018. Robert Sellers and Tabbye Chavous Sellers came to U-M separately in different years long before they were married, according to the university. They report to different departments.

U-M describes Sellers’ academic background as this: “Dr. Sellers’ primary research activities have focused on the role of race in the psychological lives of African Americans. He and his students have developed a conceptual and empirical model of African American racial identity. The model has been used by a number of researchers in the field to understand the heterogeneity in the significance and meaning that African Americans place on race in defining themselves.”

University of Michigan-Flint economics professor Mark Perry has tracked U-M’s efforts at diversity. Perry said Sellers’ office now has a staff of 12 employees with a payroll cost of $2 million.

However, the university's activities related to diversity cross many departments. An October 2018 document called the “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan Progress Report” gives some sense of this. It includes items like, “LSA Collegiate Fellows Program: The program added nine new scholars in year two, bringing the total cohort to 16.” It also mentions, “Trotter Multicultural Center: In year two, construction on the new student facility entered its final phase, and a cross-unit team of stakeholders provided recommendations on best practice programs in cultural competency, heritage and traditions for consideration by the center’s newly appointed director.”

The report includes a description of challenges faced by the initiatives, including this: “It was also a year rife with challenge. As political strife escalated, the national conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion became increasingly heated. A series of hateful incidents on campus made for an emotionally challenging year. These events pointed up the dual reality that exists within our community and our country as a rising tide of progress is, at times, met with waves of opposition.”

U-M states that its diversity efforts strive to “cultivate a campus community where everyone feels welcomed and can succeed, develop capacities of students, staff and faculty to live and work in a diverse and global society, positively impact communities through service and research.”

The University of Michigan received $370.4 million in state taxpayer dollars through the Michigan higher education budget for the current fiscal year. The university’s total operating revenues for its fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2018, were $3.028 billion, not including patient care revenue collected by its hospital system. Of this, $1.310 billion was collected from net student tuition and fees.