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Updated 1:30 PM October 12, 2007
 

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Diversity efforts moving forward, leaders say

Diversity is not the job of one person and is not just about students but must be a shared vision by and for all. This theme was central to the messages shared Oct. 4 when campus leaders convened once again to take the University's pulse on issues of recruitment, retention and campus climate.
"I believe the problem of racism isn't going away any time soon," Theodore Shaw, outgoing director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said Oct. 4 during the annual Nancy Cantor Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Diversity. Shaw opened the Diversity Summit with his talk, "The Betrayal of Brown: The Struggle Over the Place of Race in America." He said passage of Proposal 2 and the threat of similar initiatives in other states, a June court decision against voluntary school integration and the recent Jena Six case represent betrayals of Brown v. the Board of Education, the case that made segregation illegal. Despite progress made over more than 50 years, great inequality still exists, Shaw told the audience in a packed Mendelssohn Theater. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services

"Building and celebrating diversity at Michigan cannot be the work of one person. It is not the president's job, or the dean's job, or the work of the admissions counselor. It is a shared responsibility, and one we all must accept and carry forward," President Mary Sue Coleman said at the third annual Diversity Summit held at the Michigan League.

The first summit since the passage of Proposal 2 last November, this year's program was dedicated to updating the campus on the progress of Diversity Blueprints, one of the tools developed in the wake of the ballot initiative that banned discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender and national origin in public education, employment and contracting.

"We have been doing this work for a long, long time at Michigan, and we are known throughout the country for our leadership in diversity. We have a distinguished, enviable climate, and together we share the responsibility of maintaining and enhancing a vibrant campus," Coleman said.

"Today is dedicated to looking forward."

From new tools being used in the admissions and financial aid processes to programs for attracting and retaining faculty and staff, units across campus have been working to make the University one in which all who work and study here can thrive, leaders said, citing countless examples and research.

Among the new programs derived from the Diversity Blueprints is establishment of a Center for Educational Outreach and Academic Success, a unit that would facilitate and support partnerships between the University and K-12 schools and community-based educational organizations.

"The main purpose of the center is to help coordinate our many outreach programs; it is not intended to take over any of the outreach work of individual units," said Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs.

The extent of current outreach was discussed by School of Education Dean Deborah Loewenberg Ball who shared a draft document that inventories more than 130 examples of university-wide programs engaged with pre-school-grade 12 schools, in efforts directed at academic enrichment or career exploration.

"It's incredible how much engagement there is," Loewenberg Ball said, adding that she suspected the draft list was not all-inclusive.

Improving the pipeline through earlier involvement with schools was a theme echoed by many presenters at the summit, including Anthony England, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering (CoE). He oversees a program to tackle declining numbers of women and minority students in engineering. Michigan Engineering has established a diversity council that during its first year focused on recruitment and this year is working to make sure admitted students have a successful transition to the rigors of the University. The CoE program first targeted students in Ypsilanti schools and England said they hope to expand soon to other K-12 districts.

A number of speakers addressed campus climate issues for students, faculty and staff.

Provost Teresa Sullivan cited the National Study of Student Engagement (referred to as Nessie), saying students at U-M are more likely than peers at other institutions to talk with students of other races, religions and faiths whose political and personal values differ.

"These findings tell us that our students are eager to learn from the diverse community here. They seek experiences that will broaden and deepen their knowledge of the world. Their success in this is a testament to the skills and talents of the faculty and staff who nurture the curiosity of the students and support the environment in which these conversations occur," Sullivan said.

"The Nessie study indicates that our students find the environment here encourages contact among students of different economic, ethnic, racial or social backgrounds and that it helps them develop the skills they need to work effectively with others."

Sue Eklund, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, cautioned, however, that isolated incidents on campus can work against diversity efforts if the University isn't strategic about insuring a positive climate. Last year the Division of Student Affairs launched an Expect Respect campaign to encourage those who experience hate or bias to let it be known, and this year it will continue the discussion at a Climate Matters at Michigan conference in November.

"We need you," Eklund said to those present. "We need you to send us your students and be our partners."

Other climate, recruitment and retention discussions surrounded faculty and staff at U-M. Programs such as Voices of the Staff, the U-M Health System's Taking Care of Our Own emphasis on employees and patients, and the Business and Finance Division's investment in training and recruitment for staff members are among the ways U-M is seeking to improve the work experience for employees.

Other diversity efforts highlighted during the summit:

• Descriptor PLUS — a College Board program adopted during the 2007-08 admissions cycle, which targets student populations from schools and neighborhoods that often do not yield Michigan applicants;

• personal admissions outreach by Coleman and others to prospective students through visits, phone calls, e-mail messages and other communication. Coleman said executive officers have pledged to get more involved in these efforts as well;

• a host of new financial aid programs that help the University meet the full demonstrated need of students, with notification in a timely manner to insure U-M is competitive with other institutions;

• a new Distinguished University Leader award offering a small stipend for professional development to those who work to improve campus climate; and

• an expansion of the ADVANCE program STRIDE (Science and Technology Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence) to other areas of the campus. The program successfully has helped recruit women faculty in science and engineering.

"You will leave today armed with new information, new ideas, and a renewed commitment to a learning environment respected for its openness, its rigor and its diversity of disciplines, ideas, cultures and personal stories," Coleman said. "You can make a difference."

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