Task force discusses ways to diversify University staff

Creating a more diverse staff could attract a more diverse student body.

by Nina Petersen-Perlman

University officials need to be held accountable to their promises of making diversity a priority, according to comments made at Wednesday’s diversity task force public forum.

The purpose of the meeting was to allow members of the public to comment on the task force recommendations released in December as part of the University’s realignment plan to become one of the top three public research universities in the world.

About 20 people from the Twin Cities campus attended, nearly all of whom were task force members or University administrators and faculty members.

Administrators and faculty members from the University’s coordinate campuses in Crookston, Duluth and Rochester also sat in on the discussion via videoconference. No one from the University’s Morris campus was present.

The Crookston representatives expressed concerns that they did not have the resources they would like to allocate to diversity programming.

People from the Duluth campus focused on their desire to see more specifics in the recommendations and greater accountability from University leadership, especially in the area of recruitment and retention of a diverse staff.

Without a diverse staff, they said, it is harder to recruit diverse students ” a goal mentioned in several task forces’ recommendations.

People from the Duluth campus said they had seen the same issues discussed again and again with nothing accomplished, something that would change with high-level dedication to the issue.

Task force member and director of Disability Services Bobi Cordano suggested having the administration issue a report detailing its progress to the task force in two years.

“We need assessments at the beginning and evaluations at the end,” she said. “We tried to use language (in the recommendations report) that was measurable.”

Kimberly Simon of the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action said the recommendations focused too much on students.

“When recruiting faculty, we need to think about the environment we need to retain them,” she said. “We need top-down support to get the enrollment up and then get the climate ready.”

Julius Erolin, also from the Office of Equal Opportunity, agreed.

“This is about a serious culture change rather than initiatives,” he said.

Task force member Sandy Harris said the search was already under way for a new vice president of Access, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, a sign the University takes diversity seriously, she said.

Cordano said the fact that they assigned a whole task force to the topic is encouraging.

“Success follows in all other areas when you make diversity a priority,” Cordano said.