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Diversity report faults MU leaders

In 1988, the campus committed to raising the number of minority faculty members and scholarships. Sixteen years later...
Wednesday, May 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:29 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Among The review’s findings:

Management:

MU does not have a comprehensive approach to diversity management. African American faculty and staff think that some administrators are indifferent and sometimes hostile to their concerns. Women interviewed believe there are barriers to faculty retention and promotion.

Organizational:

Two diversity leaders “do not have a collaborative relationship, and this friction impedes progress in enhancing diversity.” There is significant lack of representation of racial/ethnic minority groups in key positions.

Academics:

Black faculty perceive that the administration devalues the academic specialties of black faculty who teach black studies courses. Faculty in the Women’s Studies Program do not believe the administration values their academic activities.

Efforts at MU to increase and maintain diversity have created “conflict and distrust” because of an “absence of clear vision” and “unproductive and unfocused dialogue,” a report released Tuesday states.

MU does not have a “comprehensive approach to diversity management,” the report crafted by an independent review team says. It concluded that an “absence of systematic efforts to increase staff diversity hampers the development of effective initiatives to increase student diversity.”

The review team:

WHAT WAS THE TEAM’S CHARGE?

The team’s report said it was charged with “conducting a multi-faceted examination” of MU’s “overall approach to addressing issues related to equal opportunity and diversity,” specifically recruitment and retention of black faculty and staff and MU’s organization structure for diversity issues.

HOW DID THE TEAM DO ITS WORK?

The report is based on two visits to MU, phone conversations with MU employees and documents provided by administrators.

The diversity and equity review was conducted by three administrators — from Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University — through two fall visits to campus, phone interviews and administrative documents.

The team concluded that an “almost total breakdown in communication and goodwill” exists between MU’s administration and the Black Faculty and Staff Organization.

The report also found that female faculty and staff members believe they face significant barriers to promotion as well as limited representation in the senior academic ranks.

“I think this report is going to reveal there’s going to be some drastic changes to the structure of this administration,” said Nicole Williams, president of Legion of Black Collegians.

The 25-page “On the Status of Diversity Programs on the Campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia” was provided to Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton on April 22. It was released late Tuesday afternoon after the Missourian filed an open-records request on Friday to obtain the document.

WHO'S ON THE TEAM?

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LINDA GREENE, professor of law and associate vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin

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FRANK MOTLEY, associate vice chancellor for academic support at Indiana University at Bloomington

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JAMES STEWART, professor of labor studies and industrial relations and African American studies at Pennsylvania State University

“We take these concerns very seriously,” MU Chancellor Richard Wallace said in a statement. “As a campus community, we have a strong commitment to diversity and sincerely want those concerns addressed. We are deeply grateful to members of the review team who worked so diligently to help us address these.”

One MU administrator received a special mention and unflattering reviews in the report. Handy Williamson, vice provost for minority affairs, international programs and faculty development, was singled out by “many African American faculty and staff” as “indifferent and sometimes hostile to African American concerns.”

Williamson is responsible for overseeing services and programs targeted at acclimating minority students and faculty members to the campus.

The report also states that BFSO representatives said he was “antagonistic” toward the BFSO.

Those harsh words were unfounded, Williamson said shortly after the report was released, and based solely on the concerns of a small number of faculty members.

“Throughout the whole process, I feel that I am the one who has been harassed by a small band of uninformed faculty masquerading as representing all blacks on campus,” he said.

Indeed, Williamson said the report may be entirely grounded in academic politics.

The report states that a key problem on campus is that the two MU officials who share responsibility for diversity efforts “do not have a collaborative relationship and this friction impedes progress in enhancing diversity.”

Those officials are Williamson and Robert Weems, interim associate vice chancellor for equity.

“The relative responsibility of senior university officials for establishing priorities and setting an institutional agenda is not clear,” the report states. It goes on to note that there has been “no articulation” of how the agenda of minority affairs and faculty development “interface” with international programs.

Strategic planning of diversity “should be vested in a single office,” the report said.

Middleton, the deputy chancellor, and Weems both said there was nothing surprising about the report’s findings.

“I think the report reflects a reality that a lot of people have long known has existed on the campus related to diversity and equity,” Weems said.

Williamson said problems some faculty members have with him stem from his attempts to address all minority groups and organizations equally. Because the campus provides special services to an increasing number of minorities and students with special needs, some black faculty members think that resources for African American services might be threatened, he said.

“You have a small group of people, like I said, who are trying to vie for their own interests and trying to pull others into their orbit,” Williamson said. “And I don’t believe it’s going to work.”

At any rate, he said, reviewers spent too little time on campus and talked to too few organizations to form an accurate sense of what MU is doing to promote diversity.

The report assessed MU’s commitment to a 1988 mediation agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice, the Legion of Black Collegians and the Columbia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In this agreement, which targeted MU’s administrative response to campus diversity, the position of vice provost for minority affairs and faculty development was created.

According to the report, the review team was “unable to ascertain an official” MU “position regarding the current status of the 1988 agreement.”

Williamson said the university has made good on its commitments specified in the agreement.

“The fact is that this whole fiasco is about who’s going to control a few crumbs on the table,” he said. “The other fact is that we have more black faculty than ever before. We have an increased number of black students who have achieved excellent graduation rates.”

Both the black studies program and women’s studies department are overseen by Williamson’s office. According to the report, there has been “no systematic effort to upgrade black studies from program to departmental status” and that this is a “disincentive for students” because, with that status, they can only minor or double major in black studies.

Women’s studies faculty members reported that the administration does not support the creation of a women’s studies department. The review team found lower staff salaries in areas with a high proportion of female employees and inadequate support services such as day-care options and maternity benefits.

The review also found that from 1989 to 2002, MU has not made “significant progress” in increasing enrollment of minority students.

Additionally, first-year professional enrollments (such as law and medicine) of minorities have been “stagnating or declining,” the report found, and MU has “made little progress in” increasing the numbers of full-time ranked faculty who are minorities.

“I do want to note that we are very pleased with our recent increases in minority enrollment at MU,” Wallace said in the press statement. “Since 2001, Mizzou has seen a 24 percent increase in minority first-time college student enrollment, which includes African American, Native American, Hispanic and Asian American students. Enrollment numbers for fall look extremely positive with a 13 percent increase in minority student deposits from this time last year.”

Information from MU shows that the number of minority students is up — as is the total number of students — but proportion of black students has dropped in recent years.

The report also found that:

  • MU has not clearly communicated its diversity goals or priorities to administrators and constituency groups.

  • Some constituencies believe they are benefiting from MU diversity efforts, including members of the Hispanic and Latin American Faculty and Staff Association and the Pan Asian Faculty/Staff Association.

  • The absence of systematic efforts to increase staff diversity hampers the development of effective initiatives to increase student diversity.


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