May 3, 2002
177-year-old institution that was virtually all-white and
all-male for 145 of those years, the University of Virginia
has a past to overcome. And despite considerable progress
over the past three decades, especially in the enrollment
of women and minority students, its present remains far from
perfect.* The faculty, administrators, students, and alumni
who took part in the Envision session looked at the current
environment for diversity at U.Va. and what the future could
hold, if the right steps are taken.
the barriers to progress is the lingering perception that
the University will always be a conservative, "old boy"
institution, in a homogeneous Southern city. There are also
more tangible barriers, such as insufficient career and social
opportunities for minority professionals in the Charlottesville
area, which makes U.Va. less attractive for minority faculty
with accompanying spouses, as well as single minority faculty
who seek a rich and diverse social environment.
the participants, perceptions of the University varied. Some
view it as the ideal of democracy, a place that promotes free
interchange between faculty and students, in contrast to a
hierarchical society. Others view it as hidebound and resistant
to innovation and see its persistent use of white columns
and red brick in its architecture as adhering to an old order.
participants praised the sense of community at the University
and the autonomy and institutional ownership accorded to students.
Others consider the University too comfortable with itself,
which keeps it from mustering up the energy and resources
necessary to address the lack of diversity in its schools
and departments. With its strong sense of tradition, the University
is seen as hostile to individuality and nonconformity. It
pressures people – students and faculty – to fit
in. In the same vein, students were characterized as largely
conservative and "disappointingly passive about political
figure of Jefferson is a double-edged sword for the University,
participants pointed out. The University’s continued
use of Jefferson in its iconography and national branding
can be off-putting to people of color. To many African Americans,
the image of Jefferson is that of a Southern slaveholder,
not an enlightened Founding Father. Thus, the University’s
Jeffersonian heritage can be perceived as one of staid traditionalism
rather than openness and innovation. It gives the impression
that the University is resistant to change, which makes it
uninviting to women and minorities.
a feeling that you can’t do anything here without checking
with Thomas Jefferson," one participant said. Another
pointed out that the University is "continually harkening
back to a moment in time" rather than letting its culture
live on in fresh ways. Its sense of history is powerful, but
it also can be an albatross.
for the Honor System, which is at once an exemplar of the
tradition of student self-governance and a lightning rod for
critics of the University’s culture, participants stressed
that the notion of honor at U.Va. must go beyond issues of
misconduct. It also must embrace the way we honor each other
as individuals. When every student pledges to adhere to the
Honor System, they should also avow a responsibility to, and
respect for, others in the community.
they may be politically conservative, students today want
their community to be diverse—geographically, ethnically,
and culturally, it was noted. They come to the University
with the desire to study with a cross-section of the American
population, as well as young women and men from abroad. Increasing
and sustaining diversity is seen as critically important to
who have been on the University scene for some time acknowledged
that its culture has changed in substantial ways over the
past twenty years. Some consider the University a much more
inclusive place, where all groups are expected to be represented
in employment, in the student body, and in other aspects of
who were newer to the University community reported that outside
perception has not caught up with these changes. The University
still is seen by many as a bastion of Southern conservatism
and as being unfriendly to women and minorities. When women
faculty told colleagues they were coming to the University
of Virginia, they were warned that they would never get tenure.
It takes a long time to outlive your reputation, one participant
said. The word on the academic street is that the University
remains less than welcoming to diversity.
say the reputation is still deserved because change has not
happened fast enough. In their view, we have changed our rhetoric,
but we have not devoted the necessary resources to achieving
diversity. "We need to put our money where our mouth
is," one participant averred. Numerous times it was pointed
out that the University has made inadequate efforts to recruit
and retain women and minority faculty. Indeed, there are now
fewer than fifty tenure-track black faculty at U.Va. In one
thirty-five-member department, there are only five women,
and only one in a tenured position. This situation perpetuates
itself because women and minorities look at such numbers and
assume that this is not a place where their careers will thrive.
graduate students come to similar conclusions when they consider
coming to the University. They look at U.Va. and Charlottesville,
and they perceive that they will have to endure several years
of social isolation while they work toward their advanced
degrees. Due to the lack of diversity in the University and
in the Charlottesville area, "it’s hard to establish
a life and a family in this community," said one participant.
the number of minority faculty and graduate students is so
low, it is vital to involve black faculty in the recruiting
process. One participant noted from personal experience that
this tipped the balance when she was considering a faculty
position at the University.
who have come to the University from larger urban areas are
especially discouraged by the homogeneity of the U.Va. environment.
And in the surrounding community, they find that restaurants
and other businesses are not as welcoming to minorities as
they are in cities such as New York and Atlanta.
But we can’t throw up our hands, one participant stated.
Special efforts have to be implemented to increase diversity
and to make the University community more aware of the value
of bringing together students and faculty from a wide range
of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Diversity contributes
to the University’s ability to generate and disseminate
knowledge; resistance to changing the complexion of the community
actually gets in the way of staying on the cutting edge in
teaching and scholarship here.
of diverse backgrounds bring diverse values and perspectives
to the University and different ways of seeing the world,
participants emphasized. In the health sciences, for example,
there are issues of tremendous importance to minorities, but
to a large extent they are not dealt with at the University.
A diverse faculty is needed to push scholarship in new directions.
Stanford was held up as a model of a multicultural milieu
in which diversity adds to the institution’s intellectual
the same reason, diversity at the University must also extend
to international students, graduate students, postdocs, and
faculty. To attract the best scientists and scholars, in this
country and abroad, the University must create an environment
that is comfortable for international researchers. Establishing
such an environment was one of the principal goals of the
Virginia 2020 planning process. As one participant from overseas
observed, having international students and faculty on Grounds
pushes all of us to look at the world with a fresh pair of
eyes and to ask new questions – the essential purposes
of academic research.
and cultural diversity also contributes to the University’s
ability to build stronger connections with the community in
its public service and outreach – another Virginia 2020
goal. For example, it brings comfort to African-American patients
to see black physicians on the medical staff.
was also noted that the lack of diversity in the faculty puts
enormous pressure on the minority professors who are here.
They are continually sought out as mentors and role models
by students, making it difficult to devote adequate time and
attention to their scholarship. Increasing the number of minority
faculty will help ease this burden.
problem cited with past attempts to achieve diversity is that
initiatives have been top-down, which means that the administration
controls the agenda. In the University’s decentralized
environment, in which schools and departments function semi-autonomously,
such approaches have had limited success. Studies are conducted,
thick documents are generated, but not much changes. There
needs to be a grassroots movement to make the University more
welcoming to women and minorities, with the push coming from
among the students and faculty. For faculty, it was suggested
that the logical place to start such a movement would be the
Faculty Senate, which over the past five years has emerged
as a significant force in shaping academic life at the University.
some top-down initiatives are now in place and promise to
have an effect. The new vice president for research and graduate
studies is committed to increasing diversity among graduate
students, which in turn will create diversity among the nationwide
pool of faculty. Also, the University’s deans are now
being evaluated, in part, on their ability to increase diversity.
was also noted that achieving diversity is resource-driven,
and funds earmarked for this purpose have not increased significantly
in recent years. To attract minority students, schools must
have scholarships. To attract minority faculty, they must
be able to compete vigorously with peer institutions, offering
attractive compensation packages and employment opportunities
for accompanying spouses – especially in a city with
so little diversity in its professional community. If students
and faculty can recognize the benefits of diversity (one of
the questions raised was why efforts to achieve diversity
continually require justification), the University has the
capability to reshape itself. The University’s transformation
into a more powerful research institution was cited as an
example of how U.Va. has remade itself in the recent past.
were asked to describe the outcomes they would like to see
by suggesting hypothetical headlines for future news coverage
of the University. Among those offered:
million Fund Created to Attract Minority Faculty
Receives $6 million Gift for Multicultural Center
(Current minority faculty could help the University identify
and cultivate relationships with donors who would support
such diversity initiatives.)
of Women and Minorities on the Faculty Matches the Student
Launches New Effort to Retain Students of Color
Diversity Committee Is Empowered to Enforce Increased
Diversity in the Schools.
(Schools would be required to submit diversity plans,
and their results would be monitored. There has to be
accountability to achieve diversity goals, the Envision
participants emphasized. Leaving it to altruism doesn’t
Farm Worker Appointed to the Board of Visitors
Successfully Defends Itself in Reverse Discrimination
Feel Safe on Grounds at U.Va.
Women and Minorities Achieve Leadership Positions
X, a Black Female, Is Appointed President of the University
Achieves Breakthrough in Reducing Disparities in Health
Triples Number of Minority Graduate Students
(Increasing the number of minority graduate students will
in turn help to increase the number of minorities entering
academic careers, and thus the pool of minority faculty.)
General Assembly Increases Funding for Diversity Initiatives
Create Statewide Network for Hiring Faculty Spouses
Architecture Reinvigorates the Idea of Contemporary Democracy
Programs and Departments Integrate Diversity Into Their
Lauded for Paying all Employees a Living Wage
Other recommendations include the creation of more residential
colleges and theme houses to promote diversity in student
culture and to serve as a counterweight to traditional fraternities
and sororities. Participants also discussed whether other
policies should be implemented to foster diversity in student
housing. Through self-selection, minority students tend to
be concentrated in certain residence halls, and students geared
toward sororities and fraternities gravitate toward the "old
dorms" in their first year. Random housing assignments
would remedy this situation. However, some students questioned
the wisdom of such a change. Minority students appreciate
living among peers who share the same academic goals and around
whom they can feel relaxed.
for faculty recruitment, participants voiced concern over
using loan lines for such purposes. These positions should
be funded with permanent investments, allowing the University
to recruit faculty who can effect change. Also, one of the
things that makes faculty recruitment more difficult is that
many schools are "right on the edge" in covering
their class sections in core areas. That forces schools to
recruit faculty in mainstream disciplines; minority candidates
may not always fit this mold.
further the recruitment of minority students, the University
should do more to encourage students of color to begin thinking
about college as soon as they enter high school. As early
as possible, they need to start taking academic courses that
will help prepare them for institutions like U.Va. that have
rigorous admission standards. Such an initiative could fall
under the heading of the University’s Virginia 2020
public service and outreach efforts.
suggested that one way to approach the issue of diversity
is to redefine the ideal of the Lawn – a community of
learners among whom there is free and continual interaction
– and to broaden the concept of the Academical Village
to reshape the University’s physical and intellectual
development. The University would not reflect society but
would provide a model of caring and consideration that society
*According to the
Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the University ranks
ninth among the nation’s top-ranked institutions in
attracting, enrolling, and graduating African-American students
as well as their progress in bringing black professors to
their campuses. The University’s ranking by the journal
is described as follows: For five years in a row, the University
of Virginia has enrolled the highest percentage of incoming
black freshmen of any of the nation's highest-ranked universities.
But in recent years black freshman students and overall black
enrollments have dropped significantly. As a state-chartered
university, Virginia, in common with the University of Michigan
and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is particularly
vulnerable to legal challenges of its affirmative action policies.
For this reason the university may have backed off from the
aggressive race-sensitive admissions policies it once pursued.
While the university maintains a high rate of black student
enrollments, it was rated near the bottom in two categories:
five-year progress in increasing overall black enrollments
and five-year progress in black freshman enrollments. The
overall percentage of black faculty at UVA also dropped over
the past five years.