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UMass Chancellor’s Diversity Plan Draws Fire From Students, Faculty

UMass Chancellor’s Diversity Plan Draws Fire From Students, Faculty

University of Massachusetts students and faculty members sharply criticized Chancellor John Lombardi’s proposal to improve campus diversity issues, saying his plan takes too much power away from students.

Acknowledging the “angst and pain and sense of alienation” that many students expressed over the topic, Lombardi says he will redraft his proposal and extend the public comment period on the plan — first scheduled to end April 1 — until April 22.

“Everybody’s voice will be heard,” Lombardi said after a faculty senate meeting where more than 100 students and professors showed up to comment on the plan.

Lombardi’s proposal, issued in late March, would reallocate $800,000 from the campus budget to pay for programs designed to improve the academic performance of minority students and to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of faculty members.

The plan comes four months after a drunken party where a group of students posed for photos with a caricature of a student government leader dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

A commission formed by Lombardi afterward identified a “climate of distrust” on campus and said many students and faculty feel “racially or ethnically isolated” at UMass.

Lombardi hopes to create a new Center for Student Development intended to address diversity issues and enhance student performance. His plan calls for hiring an associate vice chancellor and two directors to run the center.

Some worry that the center will take control of diversity issues away from students.

“It takes a voice that has been independent and puts it under an administrative umbrella where it can be controlled,” says student government President Eduardo Bustamante.

The proposal would also strip student government officials of their responsibility to fund and manage certain student support and advocacy programs. The funding and oversight of those programs would come under control of the administration, another move that critics say takes too much power from students.

“It seems like there’s an agenda being presented outside of the issue of diversity,” says Dr. Dan Clawson, a sociology professor. “This suppresses free speech and the diversity of opinions.”

Some accused the chancellor of ignoring them when they showed up at the faculty senate meeting to voice their concerns about the proposal.
“I don’t feel like the feedback coming from the community is being heard,” says Marisha Leiblum, a 20-year-old junior from Amherst who was upset that Lombardi wouldn’t respond to any student or faculty comments.

“These are very complex issues and I am not prepared at this time to go tit-for-tat right now on every point that’s being raised,” Lombardi says.
He says his revised proposal for improving campus diversity, as well as a counter-proposal drafted by students, will soon be posted on the school’s Web site. 

— Associated Press

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