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Updated 12:15 PM June 6, 2005
 

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  Futuring Diversity Conference
Coleman: New center will be a force

The conversation about diversity is just beginning, President Mary Sue Coleman told leaders from across the nation gathered for the two-day "Futuring Diversity: Creating a National Agenda" conference.
Organizer Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, welcomes participants to a conference to launch U-M's Center for Institutional Diversity. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

The May 17-18 event drew representatives from universities, the business sector, non-profit and health care organizations, as well as K-12 educators and artists, who shared their perspectives at an event organized to usher in a new Center for Institutional Diversity (CID) at U-M.

Thanking Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts for his leadership, Coleman said, "It was a brilliant idea to bring you all from all over the country and let you tell us about your ideas, what your frustrations are, what your hopes are, and what your dreams are. And this, for me, has been both exhilarating and sobering."

One sobering part of the conference, she said, was hearing University of California (UC) President Emeritus Richard Atkinson tell the story of what has happened since the state university system did away with affirmative action in its admissions process. Ten years worth of data Atkinson presented showed that the elimination of affirmative action by UC regents in 1995, followed by Proposition 209 that outlawed it in the state, has taken its toll on diversity in the system's campuses.

"The state has become much more diverse. The University of California is less diverse. All of us should look at that number—83 African American men total in the entering class at Berkeley and UCLA—and be afraid for the nation," Coleman said. "I think we're about global competitiveness as a country, but I think we're also about the soul of the nation. It's no less than that."

With a similar ballot proposal facing Michigan, Coleman said the state's institutions are in danger of losing ground in diversification of its campuses and workforce.

"There are no race-neutral ways to accomplish this. California has tried. Look at what they did," she said. "They did everything it was possible to do, and they are worse off than they were."

At the conclusion of her remarks, Coleman told the group not to lose faith and said the CID will "be a force."

"Higher education is about opportunity. It is about opening the doors. It's always been about that," she said. "Maybe we've lost our way a little bit; maybe we need to get back to that. It's about a wonderful force in our society; it's about lifting people up. And we want to be there to lift people up."

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