The University Record, February 18, 1998

Diversity is necessary for academic excellence, Knefelkamp says

Knefelkamp applauded the U-M's stance on affirmative action. Photo by Paul Jaronski, Photo Services

From the Center for Research
on Learning and Teaching

"We cannot have an excellent democracy if we do not have excellent universities, and we cannot have excellent universities if they do not mirror the diversity in our society," was the message conveyed in workshops, meetings and a public lecture by L. Lee Knefelkamp, a King, Chavez, Parks visiting professor, during her visit to the University Feb. 9-10.

In her address on "Diversity and Academic Excellence," attended by more than 80 students, faculty, and administrators in Rackham Amphitheater, Knefelkamp discussed how academic excellence is achieved through education for freedom, democracy, democratic intelligence and social justice. "Universities," she said, "are the nation's living laboratories for democracy and justice seeking in American society. Education must mirror the diversity that is in our democracy."

Shari Saunders, coordinator of multicultural teaching and learning services at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT), commented on the relevance of Knefelkamp's message. "Lee reminds us that it is 'intellectually dishonest' to ignore diversity in academic contexts," Saunders said. "Without differences, empathy for others and intellectual growth are hindered."

Knefelkamp applauded the University's "fight against the backlash," saying the U-M is providing national leadership on affirmative action.

Knefelkamp, who is professor and program coordinator of higher education at Teachers College, Columbia University, met with 40 academic and student affairs administrators to discuss "Partnerships in Student and Academic Affairs: Diversity, Student Development and Educational Outcomes." "It is time to break down the apartheid system in academic and student affairs," she emphasized. If that were done, universities could work more productively on living/learning communities, experiential learning and other methods of helping students learn to negotiate with people who are different from and similar to each other.

Knefelkamp also presented a CRLT workshop on "Nurturing Student Learning for a World Lived in Common with Others," focusing on ways instructors can make classrooms real communities. She helped participants understand the impact on students' academic performance resulting from students' perception of inclusion (knowing they "matter") versus marginalization.

Knefelkamp has four honorary doctoral degrees recognizing her work in multicultural education, contributions to theoretical and practical understanding of college students and their learning and adult learning, and her commitment to social justice.

She is the author of numerous books, chapters and articles. Her latest publication (with Carol Schneider), "Education for a World Lived in Common with Others," is a chapter in the College Board's book, Education and Democracy.

Knefelkamp's visit was co-sponsored by CRLT; the Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Rosa Parks Visiting Professors Program; the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education; and the Women's Studies Program.