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Conference kicks off year-long self-study of U.Va. community

Commitment, Honor, Challenge
Feb. 18-19, 2000
Symposium & Workshop

Staff Report

The University is launching a year-long initiative to deepen understanding of diversity and foster new ways of responding to the changing needs of its community.

The year of introspection and study will kick off with a symposium and workshop this month. The symposium, "Charting Diversity: Commitment, Honor, Challenge," which is free and open to the public, will be held Feb. 18 in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. A related workshop will be held on Grounds Feb. 19.

In recent years, public universities around the country have been grappling with legal attacks on their affirmative action admissions policies, policies put in place as part of an effort to rectify past racial discrimination, particularly against African Americans.

The admissions policy is just one of several challenges that U.Va. faces as it strives to reflect an increasingly diverse country and an increasingly integrated global economy, according to conference organizers.

The University has become a more diverse community over the last three decades. Women now slightly outnumber men, nearly a quarter of the students are members of minority groups, and students come from 75 foreign countries.

"During the last three decades the University of Virginia has witnessed a marked diversification in all its various sectors," said University President John T. Casteen III. "Diversity is an issue that has received ongoing scrutiny and we have been challenged to do better.

"The symposium and workshop on diversity come at a critical juncture in our history," Casteen said. "Across the country, institutions of higher learning face challenges to traditional means of achieving diversity. Launching this year of self-study, the symposium seeks to discover ways to meet those challenges and to set the stage for continued discussions across Grounds. We expect these discussions will lead to an academic landscape that reflects the rich diversity of our country."

Prominent leaders in higher education from around the country will speak at the Feb. 18 conference.

On Feb. 19, eight roundtables, made up of U.Va. faculty, staff and students, will discuss different aspects of the educational experience and how each affects and is affected by diversity. The roundtable groups will undertake in-depth studies of their topics over the coming year and in the spring of 2001 will prepare reports for Casteen containing their findings, analyses and recommendations.

A second conference is planned for the fall of 2001 to discuss the roundtable reports and evaluate the recommendations.

The goal of both conferences and the intervening year of study is to chart a path for U.Va.'s future that takes into account the University's history, current law and best practices at other leading institutions around the country.

"Although it's simple to say that the University supports diversity and values it as a priority, it is much harder to articulate what that means in our day-to-day activities," said Karen Holt, director of U.Va.'s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and a conference co-chair. "We hope this program inspires and provokes us to look at our practices and interactions, and see where changes and improvements are warranted. We are proud of our accomplishments, but must continue to promote an educational community where everyone feels supported and valued."

Serving as conference co-chairs with Holt are Glenna Chang, assistant dean of students, and Linda Bunker, Parrish Professor of Education.

This reexamination is part of U.Va.'s efforts to redefine itself for the 21st century. It is one of several aspects of the broad self-examination launched as the Virginia 2020 initiative.

Related court cases

In the 1994 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Daniel J. Podberesky v. William E. Kirwan, President of the University of Maryland at College Park, the court ruled the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship Program unconstitutional because it was open only to African-American students.

In the 1996 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Cheryl Hopwood v. State of Texas, the court ruled that the University of Texas' law school's affirmative action policies were unconstitutional.

The Center for Individual Rights, the conservative, non-profit, public policy law firm that won the Hopwood case is currently pursuing lawsuits against the University of Michigan and the University of Washington.

In these lawsuits, the center is arguing that the race-based admissions policies of the two state universities violate the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Allan Bakke. In that case the court struck down a university admissions policy that relied solely on racial quotas to increase diversity, although the court allowed the university to continue to consider race as one of several factors used to create a diverse student body.

The Center for Individual Rights has notified other public universities, including the University of Virginia, that their admissions policies may be challenged in court.

The symposium will look at how diversity furthers a university's educational mission. Civil rights historian Julian Bond has been on the U.Va. faculty since 1992.

"Charting Diversity
Commitment, Honor, Challenge"

Feb. 18 Symposium guest speakers

William E. Kirwan, president of Ohio State University, and a leading proponent of diversity on college campuses, who dealt with an affirmative action lawsuit in his previous post as head of the University of Maryland

Lee C. Bollinger, president of the University of Michigan, who is spearheading program initiatives on diversity and is involved with a lawsuit challenging the university's affirmative action policies

Angela E. Oh, a commissioner with the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and a former member of President Clintonıs Commission on Race, who brings a national perspective on race relations

The four sessions of the day-long conference will be held in Old Cabell Auditorium.

Feb. 19 Workshop

Eight roundtables, made up of U.Va. faculty, staff and students, will discuss different aspects of the educational experience and how each affects and is affected by diversity.

The discussion topics are: Community; Curriculum and Pedagogy; Faculty and Staff Recruitment, Hiring, Retention and Promotion; Governance and Leadership; Physical Space and Environmental Assessment; Policy and Procedure; Student Development; Student Recruitment, Enrollment, Retention and Graduation.

After studying their topics over the coming year, the groups will give final reports to U.Va. President John T. Casteen III containing their findings, analyses and recommendations by the spring of 2001.

Visit the web site at http://www.virginia.edu/chartingdiversity/ or call Equal Opportunity Programs at 924-3200.





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