The University Record, January 25, 1993

Much remains to be done in achieving Mandate

By Jane R. Elgass

“We are now part way across the street trying to get to the other side and there are lots of trucks going in both directions.”

That was how President James J. Duderstadt characterized the University’s progress in reaching the goals of the Michigan Mandate at last week’s Regents’ meeting. His remarks came at the conclusion of a nearly three-hour wide-ranging discussion among the Regents and six faculty and staff members who made presentations on various elements of the Mandate.

The panelists detailed successes as well as areas in which the University falls short. One of the roadblocks to achieving the goals of the Mandate, a recurring theme of each speaker, is the campus climate.

Medical students, for example, say when they leave that they “got a good education in an uncomfortable environment,” reported Frederick C. Neidhardt, the Frederick G. Novy Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Medical School associate dean for faculty affairs. Neidhardt said that this feeling is not restricted to the Medical School but is present in varying degrees across campus.

Neidhardt heads the 40-member Council on a Multicultural University, which is charged with implementing the Mandate in the schools and colleges.

“Multiculturalism is the job of the University right now,” Neidhardt said, adding that this year his group is “turning its attention to the University’s environment, how people are treated.”

The group’s premise this year underscores that focus. It states in part:

“New efforts must address the features of our environment that contribute to, as well as those that impede, the creation of a sense of community in the University—a community based not on homogeneity of background and heritage, but on shared values, personal aspirations, and goals for the American and the global society.”

Harold R. Johnson noted that “students, faculty and staff bring all sorts of ‘baggage’ with them when they come to campus, and the University becomes a crucible for working out problems.”

Adding that “stereotypes continue to be a very serious problem,” Johnson said that “if we are to be truly successful in creating a model community, we must be certain to target all elements of our community—students, faculty, staff, Regents, alumni.”

Johnson, special counsel to the president who chairs the committee searching for a vice provost for academic and multicultural affairs, explained that through a title change there has been a shift in emphasis in that position. “The person in this position must work closely with instructional units,” he said. “There needs to be a high degree of encouragement of the development of research and instructional initiatives to promote multiculturalism.”

Neidhardt suggested that units perhaps should undertake cultural audits, to assess their conduct, to identify what does and does not work.

“The first step in engaging the community in the Mandate,” he said, “is self-awareness, awareness of the environment.”

The audits, he explained, would not be tools to discover scientific fact, but rather a way in which units can determine what they should become.

Law School Dean Lee C. Bollinger agreed with Neidhardt, adding that “things clearly are better. I don’t think things are perfect. We need to look at where we’re going. The problems are many, and we have to determine how to be authentic about the effort. The costs of preachiness are high.”

Bollinger, who characterized the Law School in 1987 as a place of “tremendous conflict,” said progress has been made in creating a more welcoming environment for students, but efforts in recruiting minority faculty have so far fallen short of hopes.

Bollinger hired a minority Law School graduate to conduct confidential interviews of students and alumni. Done over a period of six months, the notes “fill four file drawers and are not pleasant to read. They provided telling evidence of our problems. We had to face up to the fact that we were inflicting pain, whether it was conscious or not.”

The results so far?

The admissions process, criticized as being “unwelcoming, even offensive at times,” has been substantially revised, resulting in an increase in admissions and in the quality of the applicants. New courses have been introduced that address race and gender issues. Faculty have held meetings on classroom dynamics and a survey is under way to determine if progress has been made in that area.

Bollinger is “satisfied with efforts” in increasing the diversity of the faculty, but “less satisfied with what has happened so far.”

These efforts include appointment of a three-person committee whose sole charge is to locate minority candidates for faculty positions. Bollinger said that about 20 percent of recent offers have gone to minority candidates, with relatively poor results in terms of acceptances.

Dean of Students Royster Harper told the Regents that the non-majority members of the University community are different in many ways, but especially in the power they have. “They don’t have the privilege of power of presence, and that is the crux and core of our campus climate challenge.

“For many of our community members who are non-white,” Harper noted, “the experiences of being tolerated are everyday occurances. They are in effect ‘being put up with, being permitted or allowed’ to be members of the community, rather than being accepted, valued and embraced.

“We must move from tolerating diversity to embracing diversity with words and deeds,” Harper said. “We must lead by example.

“Often what we say is not reflected in our behavior. We have an opportunity to challenge, shape and create a different set of experiences” and should take advantage of it, she added.

The University, Harper said, needs to create an environment in which “it is all right just to ‘be,’ a climate in which a person can say ‘you know,’ and know that those who hear really understand.”

David Schoem, LS&A assistant dean for undergraduate education, briefed the Regents on a program that in the long term will do much to develop an educated and informed citizenry, “students who will make contributions as leaders in a diverse society.”

The Program on Intergroup Relations and Conflict offers a variety of ways in which students can confront their beliefs and begin to understand those of other people.

The program, Schoem explained, is based in the curriculum as part of the liberal arts experience. It is organized across academic units and also has a research component.

Dialog groups facilitated by program staff are an important element of the program. “They provide a safe educational environment in which students are free to talk about issues of race and ethnicity,” Schoem explained. “They are able to learn about themselves as individuals and about other groups.” In the dialog groups, “we are building an environment for discussion in which students feel safe.”

The problem of an uncomfortable climate for some minority graduate students is being addressed by Warren C. Whatley through a change in the structure of financial aid programs. Whatley is associate dean for graduate recruitment and support in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

“Initially, we guaranteed four years of support through Rackham for minority graduate students. We discovered, however, that the students were not considered a part of their department because of the source of their funding. They were not given opportunities to teach, were not interacting with other students and faculty, were not a part of ongoing activities.”

Now, four years of funding are available only if the department contributes funds and the fourth year of study requires a research component to acquire funds that year.

“We see this as an incentive for departments,” Whatley said. “It encourages them to engage students, to listen and provide a nurturing environment so students can succeed, to consider their long-term relationships with students. It provides more points at which diverse people can come together and has sparked important social change in some departments.”