Diversity: U’s daunting task

Lynne Kozarek

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in an eight-day series on the U2000 initiative.

Few questions elicit answers as diverse as that of what diversity itself means.
It’s an issue administrators and members of the University community have had to face in the three years since diversity became the sixth strategic area of the University 2000 plan.
The U2000 plan makes increasing the number of minorities attending the University while creating an accessible social climate a primary goal. The University has come a long way in meeting its U2000 recruitment goals, but administrators still have ahead of them the daunting task of changing campus attitudes.
In September 1994, the Board of Regents adopted diversity as the sixth strategic area of the U2000 plan. At the plan’s inception in 1993, there were only five areas targeted for reform, although each area included diversity goals. The diversity initiative covers everything from recruiting and retaining students and faculty of color to tracking students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Comprehensive Initiative
The diversity initiative also lays out goals for partnerships between the University and local communities and explains that the University’s main goal is to create a more accessible climate for minorities, women and the disabled.
The diversity initiative is one of the most comprehensive strategic areas in the U2000 plan, including several of the other initiatives such as access, outreach and a University-community partnership.
“Diversity was embedded into everything and also pulled together in a separate part of the plan,” said Jane Whiteside, senior analyst in the Office of Planning and Development.
Whiteside, who helped write the U2000 plan, said the plan defines diversity as, “men and women students, faculty members and staff from varying racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and of varying sexual orientations as well as people with disabilities,” as part of the University community.
The plan calls for increasing the number of minority students in undergraduate programs, among the students who graduate in five years and in graduate and professional studies.
The University’s goal for 2000 is for 16 percent of undergraduate students to be minorities. Currently 12.4 percent of the University’s undergraduates are students of color.
U2000 calls for increasing the five-year minority graduation rate by one-half. Twenty-two percent of students of color who entered the University in 1988 graduated by 1993. The University hopes to see 33 percent of minority freshmen who entered in 1996 graduate by 2001.
Access and Excellence
The plan states that the University should work to increase access to itself while maintaining excellence, but the inclusion of these goals in relation to diversity has been a contentious issue.
Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak said that increasing diversity and access is not at odds with striving toward excellence.
“We need to achieve both excellence and diversity,” Marshak said. “Diversity isn’t just for under-represented groups; diversity is for everyone.”
Marshak said that the main question should be how well students, staff and faculty members are prepared for the future in an increasingly varied society.
Nancy Barcel¢, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, with special responsibility for diversity, agreed with Marshak.
“I believe that access and excellence are synonymous,” Barcel¢ said. “Diversity is about excellence and it enhances excellence.”
Though it is defined in the plan, there is still much dispute over the meaning of diversity. Many believe that access and excellence are not the dichotomy they appear to be.
“Is our pie so limited that we have to break it down to those two things?” said Jessica Morgan, coordinator of the Minnesota Women’s Center. “We’ll work this out. Our job will be done when we all agree on what diversity means.”
Whiteside said that while the U2000 plan defines diversity and access to the University, it does not formally define excellence.
“Excellence is not defined, but it comes up in a lot of ways such as quality, efficiency and effectiveness,” she said. “To some people, excellence means a purist quality, but to others it means diversity.”
Others do not believe that excellence and diversity belong together at all in the U2000 plan, but most administrators agree that increasing minority access to the University must be top priority.
“The University is open and available to everyone who wants to be part of this community,” said Linda Wolford, acting director of the University’s Diversity Institute.
“If the community doesn’t reflect its society that says `we’re not here for you,'” Wolford said.
Achieving Goals
In response to the U2000 goals, the University implemented a new Liberal Education Curriculum including cultural variety and international perspective requirements.
U2000 initiatives also laid out a K-12 plan in which the University would increasingly support and assist students of color while they are still at the grade and high school levels.
Barcel¢ said that the University has set up several educational programs for minority children in elementary school and junior high. The University currently works with schools such as Humboldt High School in Brooklyn Center and Jefferson Elementary in Blaine to help young minority students join the University community.
Programs such as the Multicultural Teacher Development Program and the Minority Scholars Development Program are both working with students in K-12 to provide training, support and scholarship opportunities for students of color in keeping with the U2000 goals.
Diversity Clusters
In response to U2000 initiatives, Barcel¢ has created “diversity clusters” for faculty members responsible for recruiting minorities into their programs or departments. The meetings focus on coordinating individual efforts and making departmental initiatives work together for greater efficiency.
Barcel¢ has also developed the faculty development initiative in response to the U2000 goal to further recruiting and retention of minority and women faculty.
A $150,000 minority faculty research fund was created in 1994 in response to the U2000 plan. The money is used to fund research by minority faculty and by non-minority faculty researching minority-related issues.
Another U2000 goal is to recruit and retain a varied faculty. In a move many say is long overdue, the American Indian Studies department will have tenured faculty for the first time in 17 years. Currently all tenured faculty in the department have tenure through other departments. Tenured faculty in a traditionally minority department is just one step in recruiting minority faculty and keeping them at the University.
Many students support U2000 efforts to diversify the University campus and say that access is an important step.
Jigar Madia, the Minnesota Student Association’s speaker of the forum, said that attempts to improve diversity on campus were long overdue and that MSA supported the U2000 initiative.
“The University can be all things to all people,” Madia said.
Increasing Opportunity
Sheryl Spivey, director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said that since 1995 they have been reviewing their policies and working hard to make financial aid more readily available and easier for all students to receive.
“Our emphasis is definitely on helping needy students be successful,” Spivey said.
Spivey said that the University matches Pell Grants dollar for dollar with a grant from the University for all students. For example, a student receiving a $2,700 Pell Grant would ultimately receive a $5,400 grant.
The Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid also offers several scholarship opportunities for minorities.
The Native American Scholarship, the President’s Outstanding Minority Scholarships and the Carlson Advantage Program of the Carlson School of Management are just a few examples of scholarships and programs offered to minorities.
Spivey said that her main goal for the year 2000 is to be able to say that the freshmen class of 2000 graduated with no student loans.
“We want to help them with scholarships, grants and work awards,” Spivey said.
“I’m really concerned about the indebtedness of students. If they take out a loan, when they graduate they could have a $20,000 debt waiting for them. That’s a big debt.”
A Move Toward Retention
Another undertaking the U2000 plan mandates is increasing the retention of students, staff and faculty of color once they have been successfully recruited. Some say that retention is the most daunting task facing the University because the social climate at a large institution can often be hostile and overwhelming.
Dr. Jessica Bailey, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs with responsibility for diversity, and chairwoman of the Commission on Women, said that retention varies by department, but ultimately to increase retention, the social climate needs to change.
“The climate needs improvement and can’t just have a Band-Aid,” Bailey said. “This is a complex, long-range process. We have done a good job of attracting, but not such a good job of retention.”
Wolford said that U2000 will have achieved its goals when the University is not only meeting its recruitment goals, but is also retaining people.
“Our climate can be unwelcome sometimes and (minorities) get burned out because they are the only minority in the department and are asked to be on task forces and participate in special projects to represent the viewpoint of people of color,” she said
A New Attitude
Jaki Cottingham-Zierdt, director of the Multicultural Institute of the Academic Health Center, said that many factors affect retention, but most importantly, it requires a change in attitudes.
Cottingham-Zierdt said that the change must take place across society and will require entire generations to change their views of minorities.
Professor Guillermo Rojas, director of the University’s Martin Luther King Program, said that more action and less talk is necessary for retention.
“Some people think that by going from tacos to burritos — by changing the menu — they think they have achieved diversity,” Rojas said. “There are people who go for the hoopla and people who work in the trenches to put a human face on diversity and are interested in the human aspect of it.”
Cottingham-Zierdt said the University is doing well with some of the social change, but needs to change its view of minority communities.
“The view we seem to have is that we’re going to help these ‘poor little people’ when we should be looking at the wealth these communities have to offer,” she said.
The University has defined its goals for diversity, met some of them and is now focusing on a vision for 2000 and beyond.
“The more diverse we are, the better off students and faculty will be,” Morgan said. “The more diverse the University is, the more likely they will hire and recruit diverse people in every way.”
While some say the ultimate U2000 goal is recruiting a diverse University population, others still focus on changing social attitudes, from flat-out hostility to well-meaning paternalism to minorities.
“Utopia would be when we don’t have to worry about diversity because it’s already there,” Marshak said. “Is this in the near future for the University or society? Probably not, but it is the goal we need to work toward.”

Tomorrow: Hasselmo and Yudof discuss the future of U2000.
For more information, go to: http://umn.daily.umn.edu/library/focus/U2000.html
— Staff Reporter Kamareia Forcier contributed to this story.