Dear BI Career Consultants:
As a dean, how do I get my faculty and the academic vice provost/provost to buy into our diversity agenda?
Dr. James Anderson
Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies
North Carolina State University
To promote any campus initiative, successful deans understand what the faculty value, how academic business gets done and how to facilitate the provost’s academic vision. Successful deans have credibility with senior administrators and a cross-section of the faculty and staff, and they understand how to promote complex and sensitive agendas like diversity. Deans who have difficulty conducting general university business likely will have only minimal success promoting diversity.
My experiences at N.C. State and with other two- and four-year institutions suggest that the presence of a conceptual model facilitates one’s ability to advocate for diversity initiatives. For example, suppose I were asked to address the question, “How does the presence of diversity initiatives impact the overall quality of the undergraduate experience for majority and non-majority students?” Before I request resource support for diversity efforts, I need to educate the campus community on the relationship of diversity to teaching and learning, to student success-persistence, to curricular and co-curricular experiences and to career planning — all areas that impact the undergraduate experience. I need to identify for the faculty and the provost the best research, best models and best practices associated with diversity that enhance the undergraduate experience.
I know faculty value things like promotion and tenure, release time, research support, motivated and competent students and institutional reputation. Why would I promote diversity agendas that don’t touch on what the faculty value? Yes, there are areas of diversity that faculty should learn to appreciate. But I often have to lead them there by first connecting diversity to what they value.
The provost or vice provost for academic affairs is charged with promoting the academic mission. This person responds to many clients: faculty, students, alumni and trustees. The provost tends to support, with resources and clout, those diversity agendas that help him or her promote the academic agenda and meet the clients’ needs. The provost looks to me, as a dean and vice provost, to recommend diversity initiatives that work, that are cost effective and that empower students and faculty.
As a senior administrator, I cannot afford to lose credibility with faculty and provost by recommending diversity projects that induce conflict, that serve a narrow group’s agenda, that don’t reflect excellence, that waste resources, that don’t reflect the best practices, etc. At the same time I must represent and protect the interests and concerns of diverse populations on campus.
Finally, I must devise strategies that allow existing administrative groups — such as committees or the faculty senate — to have input into the development of a diversity agenda, most often via a guided process that promotes dialogue about the pros and cons of diversity. The naysayers must have their day in court. But I must be ready to anticipate and counter their positions with substantial evidence and a collegial spirit that will foster an informed collaborative effort toward achieving diversity.
Dr. Anthony Tillman
Executive Associate Dean of Student Life,
To put forward a diversity agenda on the college campus, two things, at a minimum, must be determined. First, is diversity an institutional goal? Second, how is diversity being defined?
For the sake of argument, assume that diversity is an institutional goal and assume that we are discussing the presence of African American, Hispanic and Native American students.
To achieve and maintain diversity, the campus climate must be responsive to the needs of these populations. Programs that provide strategies for helping students adjust to campus practices and policies improve retention and maintain diversity. Strategies that include student assessment programs improve retention and maintain diversity. Present faculties must become more involved in assisting these students to achieve academic success. This condition is requisite for the success of any college student. But for students coming from underprepared backgrounds, a factor for many minority students, it is imperative.
Associated with this principle is the hiring of a more diverse faculty and administration to provide role models and advocates for these students.
The most salient means of convincing high-level administrators and faculty of the merits and advantages associated with the promotion of a diversity agenda are through data that supports this concept. A study of diversity’s impact on student learning in the fall 1996 edition of Diversity Digest states:
l Institutional characteristics related to successful recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups include the fostering of a nurturing campus climate, diversity in the curriculum, faculty diversity, clear learning expectations and student involvement with faculty and campus life.
l Comprehensive institutional change ,addressing both campus climate and the curriculum, is the right strategy for ensuring learning success for both minority and majority students.
l More comprehensive institutional change is increasingly related to satisfaction, academic success and cognitive development of all students.
l The perception by students that the institution places a high value on diversity is a powerful determinant of student satisfaction with college and of commitments to racial understanding.
To be sure, the best goals and outcomes of diversity will not be accomplished overnight. Do not be discouraged. Lasting diversity will be achieved through diligence, the commitment of resources and strong leadershipThe rold of those of us in the community trenches is to hold our institutions accountable for their efforts toward this agenda.
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