The University Record, November 5, 1996

Machen counts diversity, affirmative action among U's top values

Editor's Note: By clicking on the following link, you can view the full text of Provost Machen's speech to Senate Assembly.

 

By Jane R. Elgass

 

First among the values important to the University "is a renewed commitment to diversity and informed affirmative action," Provost J. Bernard Machen told members of Senate Assembly last week.

Because affirmative action, particularly with respect to admissions, is the subject of much debate, "I would like to articulate my rationale for the policies we follow so that the entire University community will know where I stand," said Machen, who also is executive vice president for academic affairs.

"Why does the University of Michigan---or any educational institution---want to maintain diversity as a major component of excellence?" he asked.

While there is a "compelling case to be made about the need to prepare our students" for life in the 21st century, the key reason for the U-M "is an intellectual one," which he said is defined well by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty---"that it is of special benefit to the quality of thought and discourse for many opinions to be expressed."

Machen told Assembly members that informed affirmative action can be viewed "as a way of bringing individuals from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds into the University to enrich the discussion and debate that takes place here. Moreover," he added, "since we are a public institution, it is our obligation to make sure that representatives of all segments of society can participate in the debate.

"We need to be sure that many voices are heard and many ideas are expressed in order for the best thinking to occur," he said. "In short, we need to hear from a multitude of voices on issues. No race or gender has a monopoly on good ideas and intellect and, for the best ideas to flourish, many diverse opinions need to be heard."

He noted that in admissions, the U-M uses race or ethnicity as one of several factors and that the way in which admission is defined and carried out at the University is "more complex than many realize." He noted that over the past few months all units and the director of undergraduate admissions have been queried and he is confident "that our admissions policies are both legal and fully justified in terms of the University's diversity objectives."

"I believe our admissions policies are sound and that our commitment to diversity is entirely appropriate for a public university," he said. "Diversity benefits the students by challenging their prejudices, forcing their search for creative solutions, and prepares them to thrive in a diverse world; it benefits the University by stimulating intellectual vigor and a questioning spirit; and it benefits the state and nation by implementing the democratic principle of access and opportunity for all citizens."

The challenge for the U-M, he added, "lies in being sure that the programs we offer are adequate to the task."

Other issues important to Machen include:

 

Value Centered Management (VCM). The system is designed to be a way in which the U-M "can gain control of our budgetary situation quickly enough to be in control of our financial destiny in a world that is increasingly volatile," Machen said, adding that the University can't expect revenues to increase over time, particularly in the federal sector.

"There are already real limits on our capacity for discretionary funding and the future will continue to be problematic. VCM is a way to control costs, maximize revenues and provide discretionary resources for the University. What will be most crucial," Machen stated, "will be to find the appropriate values upon which to place what discretionary funding we will have."

 

Undergraduate education. With changes taking place in research universities, undergraduate education will become "a new point of emphasis and increasingly important as a component of what we offer our students."

This area should be "a major academic value," and Machen feels that all units, not just those already offering undergraduate education, should participate in undergraduate education.

Citing examples of some interdisciplinary work in which faculty members are collaborating with undergraduates, Machen said, "these experiences and many others like them belie the common misconception about the U-M, namely that faculty here are not involved in teaching undergraduates." In fact, he said, in the 1994-95 academic year, more than 76 percent of regular ranked faculty taught undergraduates, with 200 of them appointed in schools without undergraduate programs. "Looking only at the faculty in our undergraduate schools, over 83 percent taught undergraduates that year."

Machen cited LS&A's Undergraduate Initiative, which eventually will provide small seminar experiences for all first-year students, and the revision of the College of Engineering's entire undergraduate curriculum as additional examples of a renewed commitment to undergraduate education.

He also labeled "a signature experience" Interim President Homer A. Neal's encouragement of "an expanded program of undergraduate research and scholarly opportunities" that enable students to work more closely with faculty.

 

Graduate education. "We should not lose sight of either the importance of graduate education or the critical role played by graduate students," Machen stated, adding that "graduate students serve as critical connectors, linking the University's teaching, research and service missions."

"We benefit from the liveliness of their intellect and the diversity of their perspectives and life experiences. Graduate students bridge the world between faculty and undergraduates and if we hope to meet our goals as an institution, a coordinated examination of graduate education is essential---for today and tomorrow."

He also noted that, with the support of Graduate School Dean Nancy Cantor and acting Vice President for Research Frederick Neidhardt, "I have agreed to allocate University funds to help with the tuition shortfall on external training grants for graduate students, where these training grants recognize programs of unusual distinction."

He said that this issue "has long been on the agenda of the Provost's Office," and that decisions about allocating funds "will be made on a case-by-case basis with appropriate consultation with faculty."