10 NO. 3 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH WINTER
"We need to bring individuals from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds into the University so as to enrich the discussion and debate that takes place here .
"We need to be sure many voices are heard and many ideas are expressed in order for the best thinking to occur . No race or gender or culture has a monopoly on good ideas and intellect, and for the best ideas to flourish, many diverse opinions need to be aired. For these reasons, as well as many others, diversity makes sense for a public institution such as the University of Utah."
President J. Bernard Machen, from his installation address, September 25, 1998
Delivering On Diversity
Howand how wellis the University implementing one of its key goals?
By Theresa Desmond
When President Machen made diversity one of the three principles that would guide his administration, he knew as well as anyone the promise and challenge in making real the ideals embedded in his words.
In August, in his State of the University address, the president reiterated his commitment to diversity, noting that it will be "the defining characteristic of a good university." While he lauded the U's successesincluding conferences and events about diversity, new programs in ethnic and women's studies, and additional scholarship money for minoritieshe also spoke of the need to "highlight deficiencies" in order to make improvements.
Faculty, alumni, students, special interest groups, and the media all watch the U carefully to see how it addresses diversity. Does the representation of minority students, faculty, and staff reflect the racial and ethnic makeup in Salt Lake City? In Utah? Should it? Are effective faculty-recruiting methods and student programs being implemented? Should our definition of diversity include, as this administration believes, economic, religious, and regional diversity, as well as racial, ethnic, and gender diversity? What should we achieve through diversityand how do we measure it?
The result of such questioning is a range of opinions, itself worthy of the term "diversity," and some that have been less than positive. Recent media stories have reported complaints by the Health Sciences Diversity Advisory Board about the commitment of the U's health sciences in recruiting and hiring minorities; a subsequent U.S. Labor Department investigation into the U's hiring practices; and the resignation of Mark McPhail, an African-American communication professor who cited his disappointment about the U's diversity policies as one reason for his leaving.
But hearing these voicesand many othersis necessary, as the president points out, for "the best thinking to occur." Diversity is complex and many-layered. Assessing a large institution such as the University in terms of its representation of peoples and programs requires an assemblage of many voices, a scrutiny of numbers, and careful listening.
The struggle to define and attain diversity is, of course, not limited to this university. Class-rank plansautomatically admitting, for example, the top 20 percent of high school graduating classeshave replaced affirmative action programs in California, Texas, and Florida. And national studies and surveys on diversity-related subjects abound, from an MIT study finding gender bias among MIT faculty to a 1997 study indicating that today's students voluntarily segregate themselves on campuses, defining themselves through differences rather than similarities.
At the U, recent studies have refocused attention on diversity. In the spring, the University Diversity Committee, an internal group of faculty and staff, issued a profile of diversity at the University, "The Shape of the Valley: Diversity at the University of Utah 1996-1999." And in June, the State Board of Regents issued its "Annual Report on Women and Minorities in Faculty and Administrative Positions in the Utah System of Higher Education." Both reports show that while progress has been made in most areas in terms of the numbers of women and minorities at the University and other Utah campuses, those groups are still underrepresented systemwide in terms of numbers and levels of positions.
The regents' report, which reviewed all nine institutions of higher education in Utah, notes the following:
The regents' report concludes that "progress in the hiring and promoting of women faculty has been more challenging for some of the institutions." Additionally, the report notes that "the recruitment of minority faculty and administration continues to be a challenge" and that the system should "strengthen its efforts to recruit, retain, and promote both women and minorities."
Internally, the University has compiled statistics about itself, both through its diversity committee and its office of institutional analysis. The committee report indicates that in 1996-97, eight percent of U students were minorities, while 45 percent of students were women. The office of institutional analysis notes that in 1999 10.2 percent of full-time faculty at the U were members of ethnic minorities. A 1998-99 survey by the American Association of University Professors shows that 29 percent of full-time faculty at the U were women, tenth highest of 50 public research universities.
The regents' and the U's internal reports indicate that the U's minority student population does not reflect that of the state, which, as Liz Tashjian, chair of the University Diversity Committee, and others believe, ought to be a minimum standard. Still others say that it is the number of minority students who have prepared themselves for college that constitutes the appropriate benchmark. Figures from state officials also indicate that in a decade there will be 114,470 more children ages 5-17 in Utah and that 30 percent of these new students will be minorities.
But numberswhich, significantly, can vary according to definitions of "full-time faculty," among other thingsare only the beginning of the discussion.
So what's being done?
"I think a university should expose us to difference, to new ways of seeing things," says Karen Dace, associate vice president for diversity. "Part of my job is making sure that people who have been viewed as different feel welcome, safe, and important." At the U, several programs under Dace's direction encourage diversity, including the Women's Studies Program, the Ethnic Studies Program, and the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. Her office also sponsors annual events such as Days of Remembrance, honoring the six million Jews lost to the Holocaust, the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, and Women's Week.
Additionally, Dace's office assists department chairs and deans in faculty searches. An African-American woman, Dace is well aware of the challenge of recruiting minority faculty. In her last year of graduate school, a visiting professor from the University of Utah encouraged her to apply for an opening at the U. "I thought, 'Utah? Why would I want to go there?'" Utah's "image problem" is one factor in pursuing diversity that many administrators hear about, according to Tom Loveridge BA'79 MED'81, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Employee Relations. "Utah has a reputation as being very conservative, and the things that get into the media about Utah are often about religious fundamentalism and not about many of the other things that are happening here. So we have an extra burden," he notes. When Dace finally did interview for the job, she, like many candidates, wondered about more than her faculty responsibilities. "I wanted to know if there was a church for me, and whether I could have a social life."
In her current role, Dace helps identify places to advertise positions in order to "cast a broad net, to provide information to as many people as possible." She arranges to have women and minority candidates meet with members of the campus and community and with alumni. And she encourages candidates to do what she didspend some time in Salt Lake City and in Utah, taking in downtown and the natural beauty of the state. "I spent two years gasping at the beautiful surroundings every time I opened my front door," she says. Because competition among universities for "star" women and minority candidates can be fierce, Dace also, on occasion, draws on special funds to attract such recruits.
Jesse Soriano, director of ethnic minority affairs for the health sciences, echoes the need to think broadly and actively when recruiting faculty, staff, and students. His office, created more than five years ago, is charged with increasing diversity in the health sciences, as well as "improving the atmosphere for diversity." Increasingly, he says, "the focus is on getting representatives from all underrepresented areas, including, for example, rural areas and among people with disabilities."
For Soriano, recruiting is essentially a matter of setting out the welcome mat. "We have to sound friendlier and be more inviting. We need to establish the U as a place that welcomes diversity. And we need to offer better money, or incentives." To that end, help is on the way in the recently announced $1 million endowment for underrepresented students in the health sciences.
Recruiting students to the health sciences is particularly challenging, Soriano points out, because they have to be well prepared academically long before an undergraduate or graduate program. "If we don't get kids interested in sciences early on, they won't have the opportunity to take the math and science classes they need." Two health sciences programs in area high schools, the Health Professions Academy and the Health Sciences Academy, bring students to the U to visit labs, attend lectures, and shadow professionals, all in an effort "to motivate students to consider the health sciences as a career."
Outreach programs are also a key part of the medical school's diversity program. Its director, Kristi Ryujin BS'95, notes that the school "has more than doubled its outreach in the last year." In 1999-2000, 14 percent of the U's medical school students were minorities; this year, it's 18 percent.
Ryujin focuses heavily on long-term outreach in diverse areas of Salt Lake City. The medical school has a variety of programs at Edison Elementary, Northwest Intermediate, and Glendale Junior High that involve medical students teaching the younger students everything from using 911 services to dissecting cow hearts. In area high schools, the medical school has a summer lab research program for disadvantaged students, a training program for Native American students, and a "future doctors" program that offers lectures and activities for students in the Salt Lake and Granite school districts.
Ryujin belives that when students do get to the U, first impressions mean everything. "Ninety-nine percent of the challenge is having a welcoming atmosphere both at the institution and within the community." That means visibilityseeing people of color or women in leadership positions. "I struggled when I started as a student," says Ryujin, who is Asian American, of her time at the U. "I was one of the few students of color in my classes, plus I'm not of the dominant religion, so it was difficult. It wasn't until I had a minority professor, David Sanbonmatsu in psychology, that I improvedin fact, my GPA went through the roof."
Achieving a mix
Dozens of other diversity programs and initiatives exist at the U, from the Summer Research Opportunity Program at the graduate school to several student-sponsored clubs and organizations to the curricular requirement that all students take one course that addresses diversity issues. But while such programming efforts certainly produce results, they cannot do it all.
Achieving a diverse student body, says Suzanne Espinoza, director of student recruitment, is definitely on the administrative agenda. "We follow up on everyone in recruiting," she notes. But she points out that the pool of college-going minority students in Utah is rather small. "In 1999 there were 33,000 students in Utah who graduated from high school; of that, 22,000 take the ACT; of that, about 1,300 are ethnic minorities; and, according to an ACT report, of that, about half550have taken the core coursework that would make them academically prepared. And those students will be spread among all of Utah's colleges and universities," she says.
Espinoza believes that early preparation and providing resources to all groups are the keys to achieving true diversity. "How do we make sure students are prepared? It's important to be concerned about issues of access. In this country, certain groups have not had access to higher education. We have to go after those underrepresented groups and go after a broader definition of diversity." Espinoza's office visits area high schools to talk about admissions processes, invites students to campus for tours and to meet faculty, sponsors a "Diversity Dinner" for minority students, and works closely with high school counselors to be attuned to all interested students.
And student diversity is not simply a matter of recruiting. As alumna Tamara Taylor BA'95, an African-American woman, points out, "We can't just recruit students and expect them to succeed and feel this is a place where they belong if we don't change the environment." Most students are quite familiar with the rhetoric surrounding concepts such as "diversity" and "multiculturalism," and familiarity can breed contempt (as Taylor experienced in leading diversity workshops), apathy, or confusion. Jason Satterfield, chair of the ASUU [Associated Students of the University of Utah] diversity board, believes that "most people, if not all, appreciate the importance of diversity. But people don't know exactly what it means, or what exactly we need to do."
Satterfield says that some diversity efforts, such as student
groups, designated campus offices, and specific events, can actually further
isolate students. "People are segmented to different parts of campus,
and they don't cross lines. If you're an ethnic minority, you're relegated
to, say, CESA [Center for Ethnic Student Affairs]. We need to collaborate
among groups more to cover many dimensions." Satterfield, a gay student,
believes that such interaction is essential in order to curtail an "us
vs. them" mentality. "For some time, I sensed from people a
feeling that it was okay to be gay as long as I didn't talk about it.
People would say, 'Why are you making such a big deal about it?' But I
think accepting people includes hearing them speak."
The student mix at the U is also significant for its smaller percentage of female students45 percent of the student bodywhich runs counter to the national trend of female undergraduates outnumbering males. Kathryn Brooks, director of the Women's Resource Center, believes a variety of reasons contribute to that. "In Utah, women marry younger and have children at a younger age. The U is also more expensive than other schools in the state, so women may find schools that are close by them and affordable. Also, the U has traditionally had a strong male culture, with emphasis on the sciences and engineering, and that may have kept some women from enrolling." And, Brooks adds, "The school song, 'I am a Utah man ,' doesn't help, either."
For faculty, both Brooks, who is also chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, and Tashjian, the chair of the U's diversity committee, point to "tracking" as a significant piece of the diversity puzzle. "[The committee] found that women and minorities are often tracked into teaching and service positions, not into research positions," says Tashjian. "Those service positions are needed, and the people filling them are doing a good job. But it's a fact that the important positions are research ones. So this tracking is harming the future careers of women and minorities, and this is happening to an astounding degree." Brooks agrees, noting how often female faculty are placed on time-consuming search committees, pulling them away from research time.
Is it diversity or preferential treatment?
But just as administrators at the U learn about and struggle with the intricacies of establishing a meaningful diversity plan, there are those who believe that much of the attention is mislaid. Roger Clegg, general counsel of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education that diversity "cloaks an agenda that is anti-merit, pro-preference, and anti-assimilationist." Others simply believe that overuse of the term has rendered it meaningless. And some believe that universities, long accused of having a liberal agenda and being slow to act and change, need to move away from a theoretical model to a business model, focusing on incentives, consumers, and bottom lines in order for the notion of diversity to have any teeth.
In the end, diversity may be about age-old issues of fairness and perceptions of difference. Soriano, for example, believes there are good legal and business reasons to address diversity. But, he says, "there is also an ethical reason for this office to exist. We need to be fair to everybody." That includes those who do not have the finances, support networks, or longstanding traditions that make higher education easily accessible.
Tashjian also believes that fairness in assessment and access is crucial. "We tend to overestimate the abilities of someone who is like us; we're less comfortable with people who aren't. But the social cost of denying access to higher education to women and minorities is huge. We only have to look at the outcomes of education: income levels, types of jobs, service to community."
Loveridge points out that affirmative action is not preferential hiring"it is active recruiting from available pools of women and minorities to increase the likelihood that the people you have employed represent the availability of women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans." Diversity can, and should, go beyond those federal guidelines, Loveridge believes. "Most people around campus are supportive of the idea of diversity, but they get apathetic. That's why it helps to give people incentives."
"There's no doubt that we need the programs and policies that enhance diversity," says Taylor, the second African-American woman to serve as the U's student body president, "but the most meaningful work will be done at the personal level.
"I think diversity is about making people feel valued, and that's difficult to measure. But I think we should be asking, how do we deliver excellent customer service? Are we saying in all ways, we are so glad that you are here?"
Theresa Desmond is editor of Continuum.
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