Several factors hinder the recruitment of minorities

by Tom Lopez

University officials have expressed disappointment at minority recruitment rates in both the faculty and the student body. The University 2000 program’s emphasis on minority recruitment and retention, however, is reflective of the school’s strong tradition, administrators say.
“I think the University of Minnesota has traditionally had a strong commitment to diversity,” said Nancy Barcel¢, an associate vice president for Academic Affairs. “The programs in place need to be strengthened and expanded upon.”
U2000 aims to achieve “excellence through diversity,” a priority that administrators say reflects national trends, but does not come from U2000 alone.
“I think that in the last five years there has been what I call a reaffirmation of colleges and universities to diversity,” Barcel¢ said.
Michael Michlin, an educational specialist with the Multicultural Institute of the Academic Health Center, agrees with the assessment.
“People are realizing the barriers we have placed in front of persons from minority communities,” he said. “And this is a good thing for any aspect of society, of course, but especially higher education.”
Barcel¢ said she is optimistic about the future of minority recruitment in the University, saying its priority in the U2000 plan is a positive step.
“I think it has put that goal in the forefront,” she said. “It has been placed in an agenda that has all our attention.”
What the plan calls for, she said, is an evaluation of the tactics of minority recruitment, which she said was an important step.
“I think we all recognize that we’re not where we want to be and that the programs that have been in place since the ’60s have not been as successful as we would have liked them to be,” she said. “Maybe what was effective for my generation isn’t effective today, and we are in the process of examining that.”
However, the real barrier to diversity is not minority recruitment, but retention, said Robert Jones, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs. Jones blames the problem on the social climate of the University, which he said can have a chilling effect on some students.
“It can be very difficult for students of color to develop a sense of belonging or community in such a large University,” he said.
The size of the University, he noted, can be intimidating to any incoming student. That problem, however, is “exacerbated by the under-representation of students of color on campus.”
Jones said the University is taking steps to deal with the problem, citing faculty mentoring programs that can help students with feelings of isolation.
The University’s problems in under-representation are the result of a vicious circle, Michlin said.
The root of the problem, he said, is the relative absence of faculty members of color who would establish an environment that fosters diversity. The pool of potential faculty members from which universities would typically draw consists of graduates with advanced degrees. But the lack of faculty members of color impedes recruitment efforts for graduate programs because it “makes it a little harder for students to come to a University where people from their communities aren’t represented,” Michlin said.
Michlin said he did not expect the problem to be solved by 2000, the final year of the U2000 plan. “It’s not going to happen with a few more dollars and a few more years,” he said. “I don’t see how it could take less than decades.”
The University’s traditional emphasis on diversity is one of the reasons Barcel¢ came to the University last year, she said. “Many schools look to the University as an institution with a strong commitment to diversity,” she said.
But Barcel¢ said there is still much work to be done, a fact that she said the U2000 program addresses.
“We are not where we want to be in spite of our efforts,” she said. “That’s why we are looking at the issue.