Joi Cunningham is new Vice President of Human Resources


Photo courtesy of The Oakland News

Joi Cunningham is the new vice president of Human Resources at OU. She assumed her new role on Nov. 1, 2021.

The former assistant vice president for Academic Human Resources (HR) Joi Cunningham has assumed a new position as vice president of Human Resources (VPHR) at Oakland University. The position was open since the former VPHR Ron Watson retired in June. 

Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs from the office of the provost Peggy Cooke led a diverse nine-person committee from various areas including student affairs, the budget office, the HR department and a few faculty members — one of whom was a department chair. The committee — in partnership with Harris Search Associates — conducted a national search to fill the open position. 

The committee interviewed a pool of candidates virtually before narrowing the group down to four finalists who were invited to come to campus for another interview and to meet with different departments. The committee also held a virtual open forum with the candidates as an opportunity for anyone from the OU community to ask the finalists questions. 

According to Cooke, the VPHR is the chief HR officer for the university. They are responsible for all aspects of HR for faculty and staff including hiring, recruiting, compensation and benefits, labor relations, union negotiations, diversity, training and performance management systems. 

“It’s an interesting role — you’re both providing all of the aspects of HR but you’re also advocating for faculty and staff with leadership,” Cooke said. “[As a committee, we were] looking for somebody that could provide some change management if needed, looking for somebody that had a record in diversity, equity and inclusion, which is very important to the university, and [we also wanted to] make sure that we had leadership in how we recruit, retain and promote people within the university.” 

Prior to working at OU, Cunningham was a labor and employment attorney. She later became the university’s attorney and Title IX Coordinator, as well as the director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, which she served as for 13 years before her role in Academic Affairs. 

“The fact that she knows Oakland is a great benefit,” Cooke said. 

An advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Cunningham has raised awareness of DEI issues and initiatives at the university. For example, she has helped to implement strategies of the Diversity Advocate program. 

Among her DEI efforts, Cunningham has also helped to provide strategic planning to the university’s deans and provosts, managed relations among faculty and administration and served on university negotiation teams.

“Joy brings kind of a unique experience having really worked specifically with the faculty — I think that’s a really good background in this merged group [of staff HR and faculty HR],” Cooke said. “[Our goal] is making sure that everybody is heard — that we support everyone at the university.” 

While she has since assumed the position on Monday, Nov. 1, Cunningham told The Oakland News in October: “I look forward to leading a new human resources unit that joins the academic and staff functions and works to find more efficient ways to accomplish our collective goals. I will continue to build relationships campus-wide and look at ways at ensuring excellent service to the university community and those we serve.”