Feb. 13-26, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 3
Back Issues
A Bold Plan
Turner: ‘The journey continues’
Raising the Bar
Headlines @ U.Va.
Research yields insight into working families
Team designs computer model to predict pathways of blood vessels
Yvonne Hubbard levels the playing field
Board discusses diversity, tuition and more
Faculty Actions
‘Traditions of Exemplary Women’
U.Va. Health System reaches out to uninsured
Linda Layne discusses pregnancy, feminism and health
Poet-critic Alan Williamson here as Rea Visiting Writer
‘Dada DJ’ and friends spin the vinyl Feb. 17
Manned Mars missions on the horizon
Turner: ‘The journey continues’
M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, delivered his inaugural State of African-American Affairs address in the Rotunda Feb. 2.
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
To kick off Black History Month, M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, delivered his inaugural State of African-American Affairs address in the Rotunda Feb. 2.

By Dan Heuchert

For the vast majority of the University of Virginia’s 185-year history, the idea that a black man would give a speech about African-American affairs at the University anywhere on Grounds — let alone in the Dome Room of the Rotunda — would have been absurd.

For M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, it was time.

“I thought it was about time to give the University community a better understanding of the state of African-American affairs as I see it,” he said on the evening of Feb. 2, shortly after delivering remarks to a diverse audience of approximately 150.

Turner has delivered similar speeches for about a decade as part of Family Weekend events. His staff convinced him to address the larger community as a way to kick off observations of Black History Month at the University, he said.

Turner’s address celebrated the many successes of his office, including black students’ 87 percent graduation rate — far and away the top figure among public schools in the United States. For that, he credited the caliber of students the University attracts and the work of assistant dean Sylvia Terry, who directs the highly successful Peer Advisor Program.

Turner touted the schedule of cultural events that his office puts together, lauded the parental involvement his office fosters, and recounted the University’s involvement in programs for the greater community. He invited the audience to inspect renovations to the Luther P. Jackson House that should be complete this spring.

And then he got down to business. His speech was subtitled “The Journey Continues,” and he made it clear that he felt there was a lot of road yet to be covered.

“In spite of our well-documented successes, for the past three or four years I, as well as many others both inside and outside the University, have become increasingly concerned about the declining enrollment of black students,” he said. Black undergraduate enrollment peaked at 1,366 in 1991; this year, it has dropped to 1,130, the lowest ebb since 1988, he said.

Turner blamed the decline on reduced recruitment efforts in the face of threats of possible litigation from “the conservative right and other adversaries of affirmative action.” The cautious approach, he said, has led some to question the University’s commitment to black students — an idea with which he disagrees.

With last summer’s Supreme Court ruling upholding race-based admission policies for the purposes of fostering diversity, “It is important for the University of Virginia to resume aggressive recruitment and get back to the business of enrolling more black students,” he advised, suggesting that a good first step would be to increase financial aid efforts.

In a similar vein, he called for renewed efforts at recruiting black faculty and administrators. There are only 25 full-time black faculty members in Arts & Sciences — 4 percent of the school’s faculty — and 117 University-wide, including 51 administrators, he noted.

“We short-change all students, educationally and culturally, when they are deprived of the experience of learning from black and other faculty of color in the classroom, and in our offices,” he said. “Every building and every floor should have black professionals. This is certainly not the case today.”

Turner praised Gene Block, vice president and provost, and Arts & Sciences dean Edward L. Ayers for their efforts at improving minority faculty recruitment, but made it clear that he sees their work as a start.
“As the No. 1 public institution in higher education, we must do no less than lead,” he declared.

Turner also expressed his concerns about the committees appointed by University President John T. Casteen III and the U.Va. Board of Visitors that are investigating issues related to diversity. Past reports from similar groups have been ignored, said Turner, an ex officio member of the president’s Commission on Diversity and Equity. He added he is wary that an institutional focus on diversity would dilute the attention paid to African-American students.

“Diversity initiatives do not address the complexity of inherited disadvantages,” he charged. “Once diversity sets out to accomplish goals that extend beyond the historic attempts to rectify discrimination based on race, it can and often does lose effectiveness as a remedy to race-based bias.

“The troubling aspect of diversity programs and non-race-based initiatives is that they are often put out as a substitute for affirmative action and other race-based policies, as if the goals remain the same, but the means for attaining them are different.”

Turner also lamented recent events, including last year’s allegedly racially motivated assault on Daisy Lundy, a Student Council presidential candidate of black and Asian heritage, and ongoing racial profiling of black students, faculty and staff as part of the police investigation into a series of local rapes.

“While such occurrences may be perceived of as harmless and inevitable, their effects are often devastating,” he said. “As a result of such incidents, the progress made over the years is tattered, and the University community is left with gaping wounds that only time can heal.”

“The journey continues,” he concluded.


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