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Diversity for the 21st Century

A Strategy for the University of Maine System and a Call for Action

An Introduction

In 1996, college administrators, government officials, minority businesses, and community organizers came together to develop the ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian, Native American) Conference. The mission of ALANA is to work collaboratively at increasing access to educational and economic development opportunities for people of color in Maine. Fundamental to this mission is the enhancement of “community” and the creation of stronger connections across racial, ethnic, and cultural boundaries. In 1997, ALANA approached Chancellor MacTaggart and asked to work with the University of Maine System in identifying ways to increase the participation of Maine’s ethnic and racial minorities in public post-secondary education. The Chancellor formed the ALANA/University Diversity Task Force and, in September 1997, the Task Force submitted a report to the Chancellor recommending actions the University of Maine System should consider to improve its ability to serve the racially and ethnically diverse people and communities of Maine.

During Fall 1997, the task force report was shared with the UMS Board of Trustees and with members of the seven universities including presidents, chief academic officers, chief student affairs officers, and others. The report elicited a wide variety of responses and suggestions from these internal groups as well as other constituents within the University of Maine System. Based upon all of the input provided, we have developed the current draft document which builds on the Diversity Task Force report by implementing many of its recommendations while continuing and broadening the dialogue about diversity on our campuses.

Renewing Our Commitment

The current report, “Diversity for the Twenty-First Century,” is intended to help the University of Maine System expand and deepen its efforts to create diverse, inclusive campus communities where all individuals are welcomed and treated with genuine openness and respect, and in which any idea or perspective can find a fair hearing. This latest report is also a response, in a very focused way, to the immediate, critical need, identified by the ALANA/University Diversity Task Force Report, to more effectively include and serve the members of Maine’s diverse ethnic and racial communities. While there is certainly much more work to be done to fully embrace the members of Maine’s many diverse populations – religious, disabled, gay/lesbian, and others – there is a particularly urgent need for greater inclusion of people of color and ethnic groups in our universities.

Definition, Goals, and Historic Context

What is diversity, and how does diversity contribute to our campus communities? In 1994, the Project on Campus Community and Diversity of the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges produced a set of materials entitled Dialogues for Diversity: Community and Ethnicity on Campus. This publication was designed to help campus groups engage in focused discussions of the role of ethnic diversity in the daily life of colleges and universities and to help them find common ground with one another. The preface to the book offers the following definition of diversity:

Diversity is about how “us” and “them” are defined, how “we” separate ourselves from “others” and how such distinctions impact upon human life. The differences are manifold–indeed, they include all the possible groupings of individuals by characteristics they share or do not share. At its core the discussion of diversity in higher education calls upon us to revisit questions about the skills and sensitivities needed for constructive relations among people who are different, the principles that animate a just and democratic society, and the variety of knowledge that is important for scholars both to seek and to teach. The gift that diversity gives is the insistent invitation to ask hard questions about what we mean by education, how we teach, which people should be included as students and teachers, and what we are accomplishing in our colleges and universities. If we let it, diversity can renew our campuses.

This, then, is the challenge and the promise that diversity offers to our universities, both as academic communities and as educational institutions. If, as a university system, we are to help our students explore the notion of self and other, if we are to teach them to embrace and learn from human differences, and if we truly wish to prepare them for responsible citizenship in a society that is becoming increasingly diverse daily, then we must intensify our commitment to achieve greater diversity on our campuses.

Indeed, as the ALANA/University Diversity Task Force report suggests, the charge of the University of Maine System Commission on Pluralism in 1989 is as valid today as it was nine years ago when the Commission reported that:

The tradition of the University as a democratic institution calls today for a commitment to [diversity], reflecting not only diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, economic status and background, but also a sense of affirmation and appreciation of differences among people. Those who may come from rural poverty, or from an inner city, or from South America, or from Asian heritage; those who may be female, or be Black, or be of French descent, or be Native American; all of these peoples and more diversify our institutions and offer experiences, cultural perspectives, and contributions to the common welfare that enrich everyone. If a university today is not [diverse] then its educational program will be weak and our future as a state limited.

While we have certainly made some progress in the intervening years since the Commission on Pluralism report, it is time to renew our commitment and our efforts. This report offers two sets of charges or recommendations. The first set is designed to help the seven universities pursue the broader goal of achieving greater diversity, while the second set of recommendations more specifically addresses the need to increase access and service to diverse racial and ethnic groups.

Creating A More Diverse Campus Community

Each of our seven universities has undertaken activities to increase the diversity of their campus communities. However, campus diversity can be achieved and sustained only if each institution creates an ongoing change process that involves people from many sectors of the university and from Maine’s racial, ethnic, and other diverse communities. To help establish such a change process, each campus is charged with the responsibility to:

1) Formally engage the campus community in a meaningful, on-going dialogue about diversity in order to explore what we mean by diversity; why diversity is important to a learning community; and what significant contributions various ethnic, racial, and other diverse groups in our region(s) can make both to the dialogue and to our campus communities. These dialogues should be as inclusive as possible to reach out broadly to members of religious, disabled, gay/lesbian/bisexual, racial, ethnic, “mainstream,” and other groups and individuals;

2) Articulate a series of campus diversity goals, including curricular goals, and the resources and support needed to achieve them;

3) Develop a diversity action plan, including specific initiatives, to achieve campus diversity goals;

4) Develop an inventory of resources, contacts, and best practices regarding the issue/goal of “diversity and community” on college campuses and the goal of diversity in the curriculum;

5) Identify opportunities and make specific recommendations regarding collaborative projects involving other UMS campuses, other higher education institutions, and/or our public K-12 partners;

6) Help identify issues/obstacles that could impede progress in pursuing diversity goals and initiatives and develop strategies to resolve/overcome these;

7) Collaborate with the other six campuses in developing a national model for enhancing diversity in relatively homogeneous institutions within relatively homogeneous states;

8) Establish a standing committee on diversity, or modify such a committee where it already exists, to oversee the institutional change process and advocate for the value of greater inclusiveness. The committee, which will be chaired by and/or report to the President, will include university and community representatives.

To assist them in their work, campuses should call upon communities of diversity within our state and may also call upon internal and external consultants experienced in fostering diversity in Maine and in higher education in general.

Individual institutional diversity plans should be submitted to the Chancellor’s office by November 1, 1998, for review and presentation to the Board of Trustees. The Chancellor will also establish a system-wide steering committee to monitor and recognize campus achievements, encourage collaboration among the universities and with K-12 partners, and support multi-campus and system-wide initiatives. The steering committee will review individual institutional plans prior to presentation to the Board of Trustees and will review progress on an annual basis and make recommendations to the Chancellor and the Board regarding both institution-specific and system-wide initiatives. The steering committee will include representatives from each university diversity committee, the Board of Trustees, the System Office, and Maine’s racial, ethnic, and other diverse communities.

The System Office will provide funding assistance to support these diversity efforts as appropriate. Our success in addressing our diversity goals and changing campus climate will depend on our willingness to commit the human and financial resources necessary to these efforts, to provide incentives and rewards, and, indeed, to design a system of rewards that recognizes and supports those who undertake these efforts.
Addressing the Need for Greater Racial and Ethnic Diversity

The following goals/recommendations are presented to specifically address the immediate need, emphasized in the ALANA/University Diversity Task Force Report, for our institutions to better engage and serve Maine’s diverse racial and ethnic communities. This list is only a starting point and campuses are encouraged to consult the Diversity Task Force report as well as other sources in order to develop additional strategies to achieve both greater racial and ethnic diversity and the other diversity goals identified by the campus committees.

While we often tend to articulate goals that are easily measured so that we can chart our progress, we should challenge ourselves not to limit diversity initiatives to those that are easily quantified. Developing a campus culture in which each individual feels both welcome and valued for his or her unique perspectives and contributions is a complex, long-term undertaking. Even when students who are “different” aren’t overtly harassed or excluded, they may still receive subtle signals that they don’t belong.

In order to ensure the full participation of people of color and members of Maine’s diverse ethnic groups in Maine public higher education, each university is charged with the responsibility to:

1) Increase access to higher education for members of racially and ethnically diverse groups by increasing the rates of application, enrollment, and retention of Maine students of color to a level and within a time frame to be determined at each institution and presented to the Steering Committee.

2) Increase the number of racially and ethnically diverse faculty and staff members on campus by:

a) adopting strategies to increase the number of such candidates who apply for positions; and

b) monitoring searches to assess to what extent qualified candidates of color and of ethnically diverse background remain in applicant pools throughout the recruiting and screening process and whether expanded search efforts should be undertaken to recruit additional qualified candidates of color or ethnic diversity.

3) Conduct a campus audit, using internal and/or external consultants as needed, to determine whether the campus climate is one that is genuinely hospitable to and supportive of students, faculty, and staff of color and of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Some possible long-term audit strategies that can also serve to measure progress toward diversity goals are:

a) monitoring whether the retention rate for students of color is the same as or higher than that for “majority” students; and

b) monitoring whether retention rates for faculty and staff of color are the same as or higher than those for “majority” faculty and staff.

Campus goals and plans for increasing diversity as outlined above should be submitted with the campus diversity plans to the Chancellor’s office by November 1, 1998. On-going campus audits will be shared with the system-wide steering committee.

In addition to increasing the diversity of our campus communities, as a university system we must increase the ethnic and racial diversity of the Board of Trustees and the Boards of Visitors by:

1) Initiating discussions with the Governor’s Office about appointing university graduates of color and citizens from Maine’s diverse racial and ethnic groups to the Board of Trustees; and

2) Asking campus presidents to insure that Maine’s racial and ethnic diversity is represented on the Board of Visitors for each institution.

Diversity in the Curriculum

Increased diversity on our campuses must be reflected not only in the demographic profile of students, faculty, and staff but in the curriculum as well. Students know that we teach what we think is important. If their own background and heritage is nowhere to be found in the curriculum they study, they may rightfully assume that it is not valued and that, in a very real sense, there is no place for them in the academy. The process of multi-cultural curricular reform engages faculty as both teachers and scholars in re-thinking their disciplines. It can revitalize not only the curriculum but individual faculty scholarship. At the same time, such curricular re-visioning provides the foundation for a campus culture that is both more diverse and more open to diversity.

As part of our commitment to increasing diversity within the University of Maine System, we must support and encourage faculty to look at both general education and major programs from a multi-cultural perspective and to develop model programs in multi-cultural studies that can be replicated on other campuses and/or delivered system-wide through multi-campus collaborations. Faculty development funds should be provided to enable faculty to participate in local and/or national conferences to facilitate the development of such programs. Although curricular development is the responsibility of the faculty, members of racially and ethnically diverse communities should be partners with the campuses in the curricular development process.

Conclusion

This report calls for each campus to be responsible for exploring and increasing its own diversity and for embracing the diverse communities of Maine. At the heart of the report is the firm conviction that diversity is essential to the mission and quality of the university.

March 1998