The University Record, June 6, 1994

Multicultural, diversity efforts need continual re-evaluation

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

While much progress has been made in the six years since the inception of the Michigan Mandate—the embodiment of the University’s commitment to multiculturalism on campus—continual assessment of the University’s diversity efforts are needed.

That was the message delivered by President James J. Duderstadt to more than 50 top University executive officers, deans and directors at a day-long retreat on the “multicultural university” held late last month.

“The retreat was a marvelous opportunity for us to come together to assess where we are, where we’ve come from and where we want to go,” he said. “But it’s simply a slice of an ongoing, continuous effort.”

Lester P. Monts, vice provost for academic and multicultural affairs, agreed that the University must continue to expand its commitment to diversity.

“The challenges we face—race relations, ethnic interaction, cross-cultural understanding and other societal issues—are brought by all of us to this University setting,” he said.

“Society looks to the University for leadership in addressing these challenges, so I think that we have a tremendous job ahead of us in terms of educating ourselves and educating those young people who come through our doors and who go out and take leadership roles in society.”

The Council on a Multicultural University (COMU), which co-sponsored the retreat with the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic and Multicultural Affairs, has issued reports and recommendations in response to the University’s ongoing diversity efforts.

“Perhaps more importantly, we have pushed ourselves to engage in issues such as race, diversity and multiculturalism within the context of the Univer-sity, probing deeply, confronting the complexities, and moving forward to think and act constructively and boldly about these issues,” said David Schoem, LS&A assistant dean for undergraduate education and chair of COMU.

Retreat participants discussed preliminary findings of the Michigan Study Project—a report by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives on student attitudes and behaviors regarding diversity—and studied a proposed multicultural teaching and learning resource program recommended by COMU.

The Michigan Study, which will be completed and released early next year, is a longitudinal series of surveys on the entering class of 1990. It focuses on students’ expectations, perceptions and experiences with diversity and multiculturalism, explores similarities and differences among students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and examines various institutional and climate issues not related to diversity.

According to project coordinator Daniel Holliman and Prof. Gerald Gurin, the most important finding is that diversity may mean different things to different people, and they may experience it differently.

Holliman said, for example, that many white students view diversity in terms of their openness to interracial friendships and the integration of students of color from different backgrounds. On the other hand, many African American students assess diversity efforts more in terms of the institutional aspects of racial climate.

“Interpersonal contact or concern with division are not as salient in their evaluations of diversity as are issues of University commitment, respect and representation of African American experiences in the educational process,” he said.

Further, Holliman noted that the attitude toward diversity that students bring with them upon entering the University is the major determining factor in how they will respond to multiculturalism on campus.

He also said that despite group differences among students in social and economic backgrounds, there is a great deal of similarity in their feelings about the size and complexity of the U-M environment, satisfaction with the intellectual quality of classes, academic motivation, and social and extracurricular activities.

Paula Allen-Meares, dean of the School of Social Work; Peter M. Banks, dean of the College of Engineering; and Maureen A. Hartford, vice president for student affairs, responded to the study at the retreat.

A full report on students’ first- and second-year experiences will be released later this month, followed by

a final report on the entire four years in January 1995, according to John H. Matlock, director of minority affairs.

In addition to the study, the retreat addressed the COMU proprosal on establishing a multicultural teaching and learning resource program within the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

The program, which would help coordinate and support Universitywide efforts focusing on curriculum, instruction and classroom climate issues, was received favorably by retreat participants, who discussed ways of using its services.

“COMU believes that the University of Michigan would be positioned to be the national leader in the areas of multicultural teaching and learning with the institutionalization of this program,” Schoem said. “We have the faculty leadership, and current activities already in place at Michigan are fast gaining national recognition and serving as models for other campuses.”