MU faculty to discuss adding undergraduate diversity requirement

Monday, April 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

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.

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G A Miller April 27, 2009 | 11:27 a.m.

This is all about giving some LAME professors some student bodies in their classrooms to justify their salaries. Students in REAL majors don't have the time for this trivial nonsense. AND at today's tuition prices it is an unacceptable addition.

(Report Comment)
G A Miller April 27, 2009 | 11:35 a.m.

AND As I read this again, this sounds like a Four Front and Mendoza "Re-Education Camp". Shades of Stalin, Lenin and Chairman Mao.
I'm pretty sure I don't want to learn their politics!!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 27, 2009 | 12:37 p.m.

And we're paying state taxes for this?

If you want "diversity," go to Ellis Library or the Columbia Public Library, or both, get the needed materials and read about it on your own.

You CAN read, can't you?

The purpose of university learning is to learn HOW to learn. It is not to mimic baby birds being fed by their parents.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 27, 2009 | 1:10 p.m.

If you come out of the public school system, diversity requirement fulfilled.
If you ever watched television, watched Hollywood movies and
hung around the mall, diversity requirement fulfilled.
If your parents home schooled you and your family lives in a cave, maybe you need some exposure to diversity.
Waiting in line at the college book store, taking a tour of all the special interest groups on campus grounds and reading a copy of the Maneater, should just about do it.
Heck, diversity requirement fulfilled!
(Afterall, when it's all about diversity it's really a pass/fail world, isn't it?
Unless, the college is trying to develop a "politically correct" drone processing plant instead of facilitating free thinkers.)

(Report Comment)
Matt Y April 27, 2009 | 2:56 p.m.

What better way to showcase diversity than to impose homogenity of thought from above?

Isn't part of the university experience to prepare young people for the 'real world'? And doesn't that 'real world' involve coming into contact with people who have views different from your own that you may not necessarily like?

(Report Comment)
Julie Terry April 27, 2009 | 3:09 p.m.

"Students in REAL majors don't have the time for this trivial nonsense."

Miller - Education and Journalism are not REAL majors? If you know how to read and write, I'm pretty sure you gained those skills from a teacher. And, since you're spending time commenting on this website (which happens to be a NEWSPAPER), I'd also imagine that you attempt to keep up with the news.

Maybe in the future it would behoove you to think before responding. Oh, and while I'm certainly not a "commie" there are principles that can be learned from any type of government structure. Communism, like Democracy, has both positive and negative points.

(Report Comment)
john evenview April 27, 2009 | 3:12 p.m.

Pablo Mendoza is a moron. We seriously need to get him the hell out of our University. He tries to take credit for being a student group advisor, and in all honesty doesn't really do anything but sit around and use students. (His weight shows it too!) He also hypocritically allows student groups to form for his own interest and only wants them for his best interest. This further goes for these "separate" minority groups that further segregate from the primary minority group.
What a waste of a class. How much "diversity" do we need? We have a black president. Don't we? We are switching to digital TV. Aren't we? More TV Channels equals more diversity. Come on this is getting a bit ridiculous.
More money for the school is all this amounts to along with giving a few professors a bigger paycheck.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 27, 2009 | 3:43 p.m.

I find myself in general agreement with you, john evenview. If you cannot get this Mendoza character out of UM System would you please arrange to keep him at MU? We (MS&T, UMKC, UMSL) neither want nor need him. We have more than enough problems as it is.

(Report Comment)

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