Oct. 15-28, 2004
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IN THIS ISSUE
'Tremendous,' 'Smart,' 'Pragmatic'
Access UVa: The door's open
University presidents make the case for charter
Digest
Insurance costs going up, but health coverage to expand
Ann Lee Brown gives $10.5 million to U.Va.
Board in tune with U.Va.-Wise, thanks to Smiddy
Faculty Actions from the October BOV meeting
Thanks to Charlottesville families
Film festival examines reel 'Speed'
NYT columnist, others, to discuss election

Whiteness exhibit to open its only East Coast showing

Gies to speak at fall program
Taking stock of Virginia mountain streams

 

‘Tremendous,’ ‘Smart,’ ‘Pragmatic’
Board, president back diversity and equity initiatives
Angela Davis, Michael Smith
Photo by Tom Cogill
Michael J. Smith (right) and Angela M. Davis, co-chairpersons of the Commission on Diversity and Equity, discuss their final report during a media briefing Oct. 2.

By Kathleen Valenzi

The accolades were soaring across the oval table at the Rotunda Board Room Oct. 2 during the early morning meeting of the Board of Visitor’s Special Committee on Diversity.

In describing the final report of the Commission on Diversity and Equity to the board, President John T. Casteen III called the 51-page,
orange-bound document “smart and pragmatic.”

Board member John O. “Dubby” Wynne, of Norfolk, deemed it to be “great”; committee chairman Warren M. Thompson, of Herndon, “tremendous”; and rector Gordon F. Rainey Jr., “an extremely important piece of work.”

What distinguished the commission’s report from past reports of University groups investigating comparable topics was that it recognized “the University cannot simply declare that changes will be made,” Casteen said. “Rather, the commission report requires the action of
essentially everyone in the community — administration, faculty, staff and students — to ensure that this is a welcoming environment in which all persons thrive.”

Casteen appointed the Commission on Diversity and Equity 12 months ago to assess, among other things, the quality of the student experience within the University, with special attention to experiences unique or generally germane to women and minority students. Thirty faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni and community members served on the commission, which was co-chaired by Angela M. Davis, associate dean of students, and Michael J. Smith, director of the Political and Social Thought program.

In June, Davis and Smith presented the commission’s preliminary findings to the Board of Visitors, and in September, they submitted their final report to the president. In it, they described the commission’s 20 recommendations as “an integrated package — a road map … to change the culture and to create a community that embraces the principles of mutual respect, civility and understanding.”

The commission’s recommendations, they wrote, intended not only to address immediate issues, but also to continue progress and enable U.Va. to become an academic leader in preparing students “for the global challenges of the 21st century.”

Many of the recommendations built upon and leveraged existing best practices in diversity and equity already taking place at the University. “While there is good work in these areas going on all over the University, much of it does not reach its potential because of a lack of coordination, communication and transparency, and some of the problems go unnoticed because of a lack of clear criteria of assessment and clear lines of accountability,” they wrote.

In discussing the final report with the board on Saturday, Casteen highlighted some of the most innovative recommendations, including the appointment of a Universitywide chief officer for diversity and equity, the creation of a “Community Engagement” academic program, the expansion of the first-year residential experience to include Sustained Dialogue discussion groups on race relations, and the development and implementation of a clear “incident-reporting” system that allows community members to report cases of inappropriate and/or disrespectful behavior and provides a way to address such cases.
He noted that some of the recommendations were already moving forward. The search for the chief diversity officer, for example, has begun, as has the creation of an incident-reporting protocol.

Casteen also outlined a preliminary budget to fund the recommendations. Funds will be drawn from a variety of sources, including central reserves, state appropriations and possibly fund raising. A total of $4.19 million is needed to implement 10 of the most critical recommendations; of that, $3.375 million has already been
requested from the state general fund and the rest — some $40 per full-time-enrolled student — will be drawn immediately from tuition and fees. Three of the recommendations require no funding. Eight are expected to cost another $614,000, and will be phased in after review by the vice president charged with determining the appropriate action steps, and three recommendations, which were referred to administrators for additional study, have not yet been assessed a cost.

Before adjourning the meeting of the Special Committee on Diversity, Rainey reiterated the board’s enthusiasm for the commission’s final report. “Surely there cannot be any doubt that this institution is committed to effecting cultural change,” he told those in attendance, including several concerned students. “Let me assure you that you have the full commitment of this board — both in terms of financial resources and moral leadership. We are united in our commitment to see change.”


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