Virginia Tech to Increase Investment in Diversity

BLACKSBURG, Va.

Virginia Tech plans to invest nearly $1 million over the next five years to increase ethnic diversity on campus.

A report said the school will spend $899,000 to implement task force recommendations that call for additional faculty, greater minority student recruitment efforts, outreach programs and curriculum changes.

Last fall, Virginia Tech’s Black student enrollment was 4.6 percent, third-lowest among the state’s 15 four-year public universities, according to the State Council of Higher Education. Hispanic enrollment ranked in the bottom half.

Tech Provost Mark McNamee formed the task force in the summer of 2006, in response to protests over the announced departure of Black political science professor Christopher Clement, who received a negative review in his tenure process.

The task force’s action plan calls for “cluster hires” in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years to bolster the complement of minority professors and provide mentors to faculty already at the schools.

Six would be hired next year, four of them senior positions in Africana studies and race and social policy.

Overall enrollment of Blacks at Virginia Tech has declined since 2003, when the board of visitors voted to end affirmative action in hiring and student enrollment. The board quickly reversed the decision, but Black freshmen enrollment plummeted and has been slow to recover.

Karen Eley Sanders, associate vice president for academic support services, said applications by Black and Hispanic students have increased, but the university still struggles to get them to accept offers of admission.

Sanders said a new Presidential Scholarship Initiative, providing tuition, fees and room and board to 50 low-income Virginia students a year beginning next fall, should help address the problem. Black and Hispanic students who decline Tech’s offers typically cite finances as the reason, she said.

Kevin McDonald, Tech’s vice president for equity and inclusion, said he’s optimistic that university leaders will not allow impending state budget cuts to affect the task force’s plan.

“I’m confident that they’re supportive of this, they’re backing this and, even in the face of some of our fiscal challenges, that they will make sure that diversity isn’t an area that is short-circuited,” he said.

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