by Ian Bradshaw
before Spring Break, an assault -- which included a racial element
-- on a candidate for Student Council president was reported to
University Police. That incident set off a chain of events that
last Friday led to the first meeting of the Presidents Commission
on Diversity and Equity.
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 of Virginia. He asked
the group to assess the quality of the student experience in all
said that he and the Board of Visitors wants the groups primary
focus to be on students because that is where the racial hostilities
have been felt strongest 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 University noting that the broader
acceptance of African-American students and women came at about
the same time in the early 1970s -- Casteen said the commission
should give special attention to those two groups.
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.
John T. Casteen IIIs Charge to the Commission on Diversity
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 University's 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 Board's committee
whenever needed. The commission's eventual report should be
sent in draft form to the University's 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'
Sept. 5, 2003
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."