Feb. 25-March 2, 2000
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Diversity in higher education: Why it matters
Speakers: faculty input essential to diversity efforts
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Speakers: faculty input essential to diversity efforts

By Dan Heuchert

A university's president may sincerely seek to promote diversity on campus, but his or her best intentions may fall short unless the fac- ulty and staff value the same goals, said two speakers who described their institutions' efforts in the afternoon session of "Charting Diversity."

Eugene Y. Lowe, assistant to the president at Northwestern University, and Gladys Brown, associate director of the American Council on Education's Office of Women in Higher Education and former director of the Office of Human Relations Programs at the University of Maryland, laid out sometimes divergent approaches to tackling diversity. Lowe agreed to fill in for the originally scheduled speaker, University of Michigan President Lee C. Bollinger, who was unable to attend due to a family emergency. He described his experiences at Princeton University, where he was dean of students for 10 years, and at Northwestern.

He said there are several areas in which institutions should be cautious when promoting diversity.

"You need to be conscious about ways that different parts of the institution embrace or stand back from the process," he said, citing a conversation he had with a Hispanic student at Princeton, who complained that the school simultaneously embraced and rejected her. While the administration said all the right things, he said, she did not feel the same sense from the faculty and students.

Lowe noted that even as campuses have become more diverse since the mid-1970s, once diversity-related issues arose, "Our first response was not to sit with our faculty colleagues about it, but to sit with the university's lawyer." The result was top-down dictates, but no "diversity consciousness" permeating the faculty, he said.

"We need to be acutely conscious of who the characters are around the table, and whether those characters are truly representative of the university," he said.

He also urged the audience to look beyond graduation rates when assessing the success of diversity programs. As dean of students, he said, he noticed that minority students may have graduated at impressive rates, but often did not achieve at the same level as their white counterparts. Many switched to less rigorous majors, he said.

He called for new approaches to teaching. He described a program, piloted elsewhere and adopted at Northwestern, which enhanced a foundational course in biology that blacks and Hispanics were failing at a disproportionate rate. The professor re-did the syllabus and created racially mixed "honors study groups"; through two years, the GPAs of those who were statistically predicted to struggle increased by a full point, on average.

Brown's talk focused on a successful decade-old effort at Maryland to promote diversity from the top down.

At the center of the effort was requiring each administrative unit to submit annual diversity plans, for which unit heads were held accountable. The plans spell out each unit's goals, how they will address them, and how they are to be monitored. The blueprints then are passed up the chain of command to the cabinet level, where they must be approved or sent back to the unit for more work.

At the end of the year, a written evaluation followed the same chain, serving as a basis for evaluation of the unit and unit head, she said. The process is managed by an "equity council," which reports to the president.

There are "dean's report cards," in which each dean is graded. Based upon those grades, a dean may become eligible for additional faculty lines and compensation, she said.

Although participation is mandated, the university also seeks faculty buy-in through several avenues. University leaders are urged to talk about diversity, and are provided with talking points about diversity issues. A faculty relations committee was formed; some faculty members, selected by a competitive process, are "bought out" of their courseload and asked to work on addressing particular diversity issues.

The university also promotes its efforts through technology, via a "Diversity Web" Internet site (http://www.inform.umd.edu/Diversityweb/), and increased media relations efforts on and off campus.

Students were also engaged formally and informally. Brown and her staff appointed themselves as unofficial advisers to the Student Government Association and fed the officers news of other efforts around the country. Eventually, students formed a group called "United Cultures" that mounted an anti-prejudice campaign, funded cross-cultural activities and offered leadership training.


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