Casteen: Focus on student experience
rare opportunity to make real change
By Carol Wood
before Spring Break, an assault on a candidate for Student
Council president was reported to University Police. That
incident set off a chain of events that on Sept. 5 led to the
first meeting of the Presidents Commission on Diversity
John T. Casteen III delivered his charge to commission members,
a diverse group of students, staff, faculty and community members,
advising them neither to fear controversy nor to compromise
a single inch when it comes to equity and fairness for every
member of the student body at the University. He asked the group
to assess the quality of the student experience in all its aspects.
said that he and the Board of Visitors want the groups primary
focus to be on students because that is where the racial hostilities
have been felt strong- est over the past year, and where the hardest
work needs to be done. We hope you will be able to find
common ground and areas of difference . . . to study the populations
from which we draw our students, and to review the rules of equity
and fairness to see if they work for everyone.
reviewing the history of the Universitynoting that the broader
acceptance of African-American students and women
at about the same time in the early 1970s Casteen said
the commission should give special attention to those two groups.
John T. Casteen IIIs Charge to the Commission on Diversity
The Commission on Diversity and Equity is charged with
assessing the quality of the student experience within the
University in all of its aspects, with special attention to
experiences unique or generally germane to women and minority
students. The commission will need to gauge and analyze the
condition of equity within the larger community; to appraise
the academic and social cultures as experienced by the Universitys
various populations, with careful attention to matters of
special concern to women and minority students; and to suggest
means of identifying and addressing academic and social problems. The
commission should provide models for continuous improvement
in all institutions and entities that support student
life, with special concern for minority populations and women. To
this end, I am charging the commission with studying practices
here and elsewhere, and proposing best practices (policies
and strategies) to improve academic and employment opportunities
for under-represented populations here this element
of the charge involves admission and retention of students
as well as employment and retention of faculty members. Staff
will assist the Commission in coordinating its work with that
of the Board of Visitors committee on Diversity, in
order to provide information and policy advice for the Boards
committee whenever needed. The commissions eventual
report should be sent in draft form to the Universitys
General Counsel, who will review the document for legal sufficiency,
and as appropriate may be able to advise the commission on
alternative strategies to address concerns that may lie outside
the Board of Visitors legal authority.
Sept. 5, 2003
acknowledged that the commission was being handed a complex task
as he asked it to look not only at social environment and culture
at the University, but the academic environment and culture as
well. Casteen said there is more than one definition of student
experience, and that the commission should be interested in knowing
how different groups define it.
of the Presidents Commission was announced in April, at
the same time the University Board announced its Special Committee
on Diversity. While the work of the Boards committee also
includes efforts to promote diversity among faculty, administrators
and community residents, the intention is for the groups to work
closely to meet a May reporting deadline.
Board will be looking for a report card from you, Casteen
said Friday, as he laid out his own expectations for the group.
He asked commission members to look within the University for
diversity programs that are working well and to build on them.
At the same time, he asked that they scour the nation for examples
the University might emulate, targeting models for continuous
improvement in all entities that support student life.
addition, Casteen asked the commission to review employment and
retention of under-represented populations within the Universitys
faculty ranks. To that end, he asked the commission to study practices
at the University and elsewhere, and to propose ways to improve
M. Davis, an associate dean and director of Residence Life, and
Michael J. Smith, an associate professor of politics, will lead
the commission. Both have a strong commitment to building a diverse
and welcoming community at the University.
have not had a more important commission created at the University
in some time, Casteen said, challenging the 34-member commission
to create a model of excellence in higher education. You
have a rare opportunity to make real change, and you have superb
and committed leadership in Angela and Michael. I have enormous
confidence in both of them and in you.
M. Thompson, chairman of the Boards special diversity committee,
attended Fridays meeting via teleconference and said he
believes the group will be able to broaden the Universitys
culture so that inclusion becomes as much a part of its
fabric as honor and ethics.