COLUMBIA — Student and faculty groups at MU are taking steps to ensure that diversity is a facet of undergraduate education. The discussion, though still in an exploratory phase, is set to come up during Thursday's general faculty meeting.
Jim Spain, vice provost of undergraduate affairs, said a diversity course requirement in the general education curriculum would fulfill MU's promise to prepare its students for a diverse workplace in which they can function effectively.
“Some kind of background in diversity is important," he said. "It’s important we find a way to do that.”
The curriculum structure won’t allow for one universal class, Spain said. Instead, each school or college would have to provide a class that fulfills the requirement. Some divisions, including the School of Journalism and the College of Education, already have one.
The general faculty body will discuss at its meeting Thursday whether to form a committee that would review MU's general education curriculum. According to a draft of the proposal, the committee would explore several issues, including the need for and possible parameters of a required diversity course.
MU Faculty Council chair Tom Phillips said he thinks the process for such a change in the curriculum is “complicated but important.”
Phillips said his main concern is for students’ course load. Because the curriculum is already very tight, it would be hard to fit in — and also fund — another requirement, he said.
The Missouri Students Association Senate adopted a resolution last month that asks the potential review committee to make the undergraduate diversity course requirement a top priority for its inquiry into the effectiveness of the current curriculum.
The resolution also asks that the committee include student representatives; that Four Front, an umbrella minority student organization, be allowed to appoint two professors to the committee; and that the committee submit its recommendations within one year.
Phyllis Williams, an MU senior and student senator, said that the process “ is going to take longer than we thought.”
But student participation is a great way to start, she said, and it is essential because the student body's needs are not always expressed by the faculty in a way that matches their original needs.
Pablo Mendoza, assistant director of MU's Multicultural Center and Four Front adviser, has been one of the unwavering advocates for this issue for years.
“If we’re going to be effective, we need to be able to walk across cross-cultural lines,” he said.
The original idea of a diversity requirement, which was hatched about six years ago, was for “a class to discuss people’s misconceptions,” Mendoza said.
Together, Four Front and Mendoza studied diversity programs around the country for a guiding model, looking at schools that have similar existing requirements.
For example, the University of Wisconsin’s Faculty Senate approved in 2003 a 3-hour diversity course requirement to meet the university's goal of marrying diversity to all disciplines in the curriculum. Students are now required to take a three-credit course that considers ethnic and racial minorities that have been marginalized or discriminated against in the U.S.
The Intergroup Relations program at the University of Michigan also inspired discussion at MU. According to its Web site, Intergroup Relations, a social justice education program, was started in 1988 at a time of heightened racial and ethnic tensions at the university. Although the program is not a campuswide requirement, it began to operate as a unit in the Division of Student Affairs 10 years ago.
After Four Front and Mendoza researched such models, they approached Spain, who said he’s spoken before the Faculty Council about the need to review the general education curriculum.
Spain, who was a member of the committee that formulated the student Senate resolution and who is also a proponent of the review committee, said he thinks the overall process has gone well. Although it may seem long, the review process is “thoughtful and deliberate,” which he said is important because the requirement will affect everyone.
Williams said a mandatory diversity course "satisfies a requirement of the university that has yet to be fulfilled ... without extending (the length) of students' curriculum in any way."
To Mendoza, a lesson in American history is all one needs to acknowledge the need for a diversity requirement within all schools and colleges. “It would be very beneficial to not repeat the mistakes that have occurred,” he said.
And if the entire process is completed, Mendoza said, he thinks MU will be a leader in the state on diversity education.