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Updated 12:00 noon February 16, 2004



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U-M leaders challenge campus to address diversity issues

President Mary Sue Coleman laid out a challenge to the campus to reach a new level of commitment to diversity and to attain an increased recognition of the intellectual richness that diversity will nourish, at the daylong University Summit on Campus Climate and Community Feb. 11 in the Michigan League.

While much of the day was devoted to small-group sessions that gave the summit's nearly 300 participants the opportunity to voice their viewpoints, Coleman led off the event with a call to action. She noted that she wants diversity to be a principle of institutional accountability, and she called on everyone to take responsibility for ensuring the commitment exists throughout the campus.

Coleman defined her expectations for the University and its leadership in the coming years:

"We will do more to develop our institutional best practices to create a diverse academic community and a truly welcoming environment," she said.

"We must focus on aggressive recruitment and retention efforts for diverse and exceptional faculty, students and staff, and we need to understand better how issues of climate are affecting those who decide to join us, or to leave.

"We need to infuse our curriculum with a multicultural and interdisciplinary content so the richness of our intellectual environment is deepened.

"We need a broad strategy for an institutional commitment to diversity that is effective and long-lasting—we must ask ourselves how this pledge is manifested in our teaching, our research and our service."

The diversity summit was led by Coleman and Provost Paul N. Courant, and organized by Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs and senior counselor to the president for the arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs. It brought together executive officers, deans, and leaders of numerous academic, staff and student committees and councils, providing a means for campus leadership to take what Coleman termed "a leap forward" in its commitment to diversity.

"We all reach moments when we have to ask ourselves, are we doing well enough?" Coleman said. "Can we do better? I know we can do better and we must do better on the issue of campus climate."

"We have been the center of national attention on this issue as we defended our two admissions lawsuits, but now we must turn our focus and our energy inward," Coleman said. "We must establish a climate that welcomes and celebrates diversity in our classrooms, our services, our laboratories and every setting, day and night. We need a broad strategy that is effective and long lasting."

The session also featured remarks from senior leadership, including Monts, Courant, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Dr. Robert Kelch, and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow.

"While we must not lose sight of our progress, we have lots of work to do today," Monts said as he challenged participants to share concerns and to present ideas for improving the climate for students, faculty and staff.

Courant said that in athletics, diverse people get together and address big problems they only could solve in a group. Academics could learn from that strategy.

"How do we engage people who are uninterested, skeptical?" he said. The faculty should organize curriculum so that people practice solving hard problems as a group.

"Vigorous argument and disagreement is a sign of respect," he said. "If I'm going to argue about something, it means I respect your point of view."

Slottow cited efforts his unit has made to cultivate the values of diversity in the workplace. "Our goal is to figure out how to leverage diversity and leverage this effort to influence positively our climate," Slottow said. "It's the right thing, it's good business."

He noted, for instance, that his unit has conducted climate surveys of women, minorities and others and has seen a 20 percent increase during the last five years in responses that say supervisors are creating an environment of trust. About 75 percent of those surveyed said they regularly receive recognition and encouragement. Human Resources recently rolled out a Web site, Building Great Places to Work., and the topic of diversity now is integrated into all Human Resource Development classes.

Kelch said all faculty, managers, supervisors and postdoctoral fellows who oversee others within the U-M Health System (UMHS) are expected to participate in Leading a Diverse Workforce training that blends diversity concepts with sound management practices.

UMHS has developed and implemented programs to support the recruitment, retention and career development of outstanding faculty, staff, and students from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds, Kelch said.

Resolving health disparities is another goal of UMHS, one that benefits the entire population, Kelch said. UMHS is doing more research to address disparities in health care, working to include more minorities in clinical trials and striving to recruit minority researchers, he said.

"Cultural competence is simply good medicine," Kelch said. "We are striving to achieve our goal of better health care for all."

Related stories:
Chesler offers framework for diverse campus>
Dialogue at the heart of summit activities>

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