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Northwestern’s Jim Phillips honored as a champion of inclusion

NCAA recognition salutes those who work to create career opportunities for people of color in athletics

In addition to his role as athletics director at Northwestern, Jim Phillips was inaugural chair of the Division I Council and now serves on the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. Northwestern University photo

When Northwestern’s athletics director has a job to fill in his department, he doesn’t just let the applicants come to him.

Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation Jim Phillips said it takes work to ensure he has a field of diverse and qualified job candidates to choose from.

“It has to be a priority,” Phillips said. “Not only do you want to hire the best person and most qualified, but you want to have a really diverse candidate pool, and you have to be ultra-committed to that.

“That may mean making some additional phone calls,” he continued. “That may mean working a little bit harder to find those candidates. If you think you’re going to find the right person by just letting people apply for the opening, then you’re mistaken. You have to actively recruit and educate yourself on the market and who’s out there.”

Phillips is being recognized by the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee as a Champion of Diversity and Inclusion. The honor recognizes those who work to support ethnic minorities and other populations who are underrepresented among college athletics administrators.

The individuals honored as Champions of Diversity and Inclusion display a commitment to advocating and advancing others.

Phillips, the athletics director at Northwestern for more than 10 years, was nominated as a Champion of Diversity and Inclusion by his staff. A member of Phillips’ executive staff, Kevin White, deputy director of athletics and chief financial officer, applauded Phillips’ “consistent, purposeful efforts to create a diverse, inclusive community” within Northwestern athletics.

At Northwestern, Phillips created a senior staff position responsible for diversity and inclusion efforts within athletics, which is held by Maria Sanchez, associate athletics director for academic services and student development/diversity and inclusion. Under Phillips’ leadership, student-athletes and athletics staff have developed ENGAGE, which focuses on using deliberate conversation and meaningful programs to create an inclusive community within athletics. And Northwestern athletics department senior staff members have encouraged the rest of the university to contract with firms and vendors that share the university’s commitment to ethnic and gender diversity.

“Phillips’ commitment to diversity begins in an area over which he has the most control, human resources,” White noted. “With Phillips at the helm, Northwestern focuses on having diverse candidate pools for each and every open position, and perhaps places a greater emphasis on diverse candidate pools for senior and executive staff positions.”

About half the department’s senior staff is made up of women or ethnic minorities, as well as 60 percent of the executive staff, White said.

Phillips grew up one of 10 children in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago on the city’s northwest side. A graduate of Illinois, where he was a student manager and assistant in the athletics department, Phillips’ career stops have included Arizona State, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois.

In addition, Phillips has served in several roles in the NCAA membership. He was the inaugural chair of the Division I Council, served on the NCAA Board of Governors and now is a member of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. He earned a master’s degree at Arizona State and a doctorate at Tennessee. He and his wife, Laura, have five children.

Phillips said his parents’ respect for their diverse community helped him see value in surrounding himself with different voices.

“That has been very important to me as I try to mentor and lead college student-athletes,” Phillips said. “I want to have a staff that is reflective of the diverse population that we see. Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation — there’s a wide variety of different areas that I think give us an opportunity to have full integration and a commitment to diversity.”