Conference to help frame new Diversity Center
As part of its longstanding commitment to diversity, U-M is planning a new Center for Institutional Diversity, which will be the focus of a national conference to be held on campus in May.
The conference, "Futuring Diversity," to be held May 17-18 will bring together national experts to envision the future of our diverse society and to identify next steps in the movement toward an inclusive, productive democracy, according to Lester Monts, senior vice provost and senior counselor to the president for the arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs.
Planning for the center began in October 2003. According to its mission statement, the center is envisioned as a site where leaders from many segments of society can join in creating the models, conversations, networks and tools needed to fully address the spectrum of issues that accompany a sustained engagement with diversity.
A planning grant of $144,000 from the Ford Foundation makes it possible to gather K-12 educators, University faculty and administrators, business and military leaders, legal experts, foundation heads, and distinguished leaders from other fields for this working conference, Monts says.
"The extraordinary strength of faculty research and curricula on diversity has long distinguished the University of Michigan as a leader in national and international arenas," Monts says. "The conference will address diversity issues such as health disparities, pipeline challenges in K-12 education, community change and the corporate climate, he says.
The plan is for the center to go beyond legal matters to look at issues that haven't drawn the attention of lawyers and politicians, such as curricular transformation, diversity as a main component of interdisciplinarity, institutional research, and other not so subtle issues, Monts says. "We hope for a strong connection with campus-based units as well as centers and institutes located on other college campuses and in the private sector," he says.
The Nancy Cantor Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Diversity, the conference keynote address, will be delivered by Richard Atkinson, president emeritus of the University of California (U. C.). He will focus on diversity in higher education.
Atkinson served from 1995-2003 as the 17th president of the University of California system. His eight-year tenure was marked by innovative approaches to admissions and outreach, which expanded access to U. C. for an increasingly diverse population.
President Mary Sue Coleman says that diversity in all its forms is a crucial, central ethic at the University. In her September 2004 State of the University address, she said that in the wake of the Supreme Court cases the University carries more responsibility now than ever before.
"Those cases established the University of Michigan as the most visible defender of the educational value of diversity in higher education. It is essential that we maintain the confidence of our university and the public on this front," Coleman said.
"Now that the University has the Court's guidance we are moving forward, but we must continue to engage the issues at the heart of those cases and the new center can be instrumental in this work," Coleman said.
The steering committee for the center is made up of 32 members comprising deans, faculty, administration and staff. According to committee member Abigail Stewart, Agnes Inglis Collegiate Professor of Psychology, the center will serve as a catalyst for new research, adoption of new practices, and debate and discussion, while also serving as a clearinghouse and source of information.
"One of its most important functions will be to help keep faculty, staff and students interested in these issues connected to one another and to each other's new discoveries," Stewart says.
James Jackson, director of the Center for Group Dynamics, director of the African-American Studies Program and another steering committee member, says that the generous support from the Ford Foundation and the conference being planned underline the strengths, commitment, and national leadership of the entire University community.
"This remarkable national conference will continue the University of Michigan's commitment to making diversity a part of the daily fabric of the educational and research missions and lives of our students, staff and faculty," he says.
Following the conference, Monts says, the steering committee will gather to make key decisions about the future directions of the proposed Center's work.