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Conference Kicks Off Year-Long Study of Diversity at U.Va.

Visit the "Charting Diversity" web site on Feb. 18 for a live-stream of the symposium.

ITC Cable will broadcast Friday's sessions live on channels 13 and 49. (Ch. 13 feeds the dorms, channel 49 is on broadband).

February 4, 2000 -- The University of Virginia is launching a year-long initiative to deepen understanding of diversity and foster new ways of responding to the changing needs of its community.

The University will kick off the year of introspection and study with a symposium and workshop. The symposium, "Charting Diversity: Commitment, Honor, Challenge," which is free and open to the public, will be held Feb. 18 in Old Cabell Hall. A related workshop will be held Feb. 19.

In recent years, public universities around the country have been grappling with legal attacks on their affirmative action admissions policies -- policies put in place as part of an effort to rectify past racial discrimination, particularly against African-Americans.

The admissions policy is just one of several challenges that U.Va. faces as it strives to reflect an increasingly diverse country and an increasingly integrated global economy, according to conference organizers.

"During the last three decades the University of Virginia has witnessed a marked diversification in all its various sectors," said University President John T. Casteen III. "Diversity is an issue that has received ongoing scrutiny and we have been challenged to do better."

"The symposium and workshop on diversity come at a critical juncture in our history," Casteen said. "Across the country, institutions of higher learning face challenges to traditional means of achieving diversity. Launching this year of self-study, the symposium seeks to discover ways to meet those challenges and to set the stage for continued discussions across Grounds. We expect these discussions will lead to an academic landscape that reflects the rich diversity of our country."

Prominent leaders in higher education from around the country will speak on Friday,

Feb. 18. Speakers include:

    • William E. Kirwan, president of Ohio State University, and a leading proponent of diversity on college campuses, who dealt with an affirmative action lawsuit in his previous post as head of the University of Maryland
    • Lee C. Bollinger, president of the University of Michigan, who is spearheading program initiatives on diversity and is involved with a lawsuit challenging the university’s affirmative action policies
    • Angela E. Oh, a commissioner with the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and a former member of President Clinton’s Commission on Race, who brings a national perspective on race relations.

On Saturday, Feb. 19, eight roundtables, made up of U.Va. faculty, staff and students, will discuss different aspects of the educational experience and how each affects and is affected by diversity.

The discussion topics are: Community; Curriculum and Pedagogy; Faculty and Staff Recruitment, Hiring, Retention and Promotion; Governance and Leadership; Physical Space and Environmental Assessment; Policy and Procedure; Student Development; Student Recruitment, Enrollment, Retention and Graduation.

The roundtable groups will undertake in-depth studies of their topics over the coming year and in the spring of 2001 will prepare reports for Casteen containing their findings, analyses and recommendations.

A second conference is planned for the fall of 2001 to discuss the roundtable reports and evaluate the recommendations.

The goal of both conferences and the intervening year of study is to chart a path for U.Va.’s future that takes into account the University’s history, current law, and best practices at other leading institutions around the country.

"Although it’s simple to say that the University supports diversity and values it as a priority, it is much harder to articulate what that means in our day-to-day activities," said Karen Holt, director of U.Va.’s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and a conference co-chair. "We hope this program inspires and provokes us to look at our practices and interactions, and see where changes and improvements are warranted. We are proud of our accomplishments, but must continue to promote an educational community where everyone feels supported and valued."

Serving as conference co-chairs with Holt are Glenna Chang, assistant dean of students, and Linda Bunker, Parrish Professor of Education.

This reexamination is part of U.Va.’s efforts to redefine itself for the 21st century. It is one of several aspects of the broad self-examination launched as the Virginia 2020 initiative.

Virginia 2020

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia will enter its third century in 2020. Envisioning the University’s future and planning for the change and opportunities that lie ahead are the goals of Virginia 2020: Agenda for the Third Century.

Virginia 2020 is focused on five key areas: the fine and performing arts, international activities, public service and outreach, science and technology, and athletics. Strengths exist in all five areas, but each area offers potential for achieving higher standards of excellence. The success of Virginia 2020 will help ensure the University’s success as an institution dedicated to the fundamental principles of teaching, research, and service, and at the same time, devoted to the changing educational needs of people who will face unique challenges and questions in the 21st century and beyond.

For more information about the diversity conference, call Karen Holt, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, at (804) 924-3200, or at keh4c@virginia.edu. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.

Visit the "Charting Diversity" web site: http://www.virginia.edu/chartingdiversity

Related Court Cases

In the 1994 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Daniel J. Podberesky v. William E. Kirwan, President of the University of Maryland at College Park, the court ruled the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship Program unconstitutional because it was open only to African-American students.

In the 1996 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Cheryl Hopwood v. State of Texas, the court ruled that the University of Texas’ law school’s affirmative action policies were unconstitutional.

The Center for Individual Rights, the conservative, non-profit, public policy law firm that won the 1996 Fifth Circuit Court of Apppeals case, Cheryl Hopwood v. State of Texas, is currently pursuing lawsuits against the University of Michigan and the University of Washington.

In these lawsuits, the Center for Individual Rights is arguing that the race-based admissions policies of the two state universities violate the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Allan Bakke. In that case the court struck down a university admissions policy that relied solely on racial quotas to increase diversity, although the court allowed the university to continue to consider race as one of several factors used to create a diverse student body.

The Center for Individual Rights has notified other public universities, including the University of Virginia, that their admissions policies may be challenged in court.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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