Campus officials endorse review

Review committee admits its report has shortcomings.
Thursday, May 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:25 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

While university officials said in a statement released on Tuesday that they feel a campus diversity report captured the climate of diversity at MU, the report, itself, acknowledges there are shortcomings in its findings.

Conducted by three administrators from other institutions, the report addressed “the recruitment and retention of black faculty and staff and an assessment of MU’s organization structure for diversity issues,” according to a letter sent to the reviewers by Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton, but it also conceded that the information-gathering tactics used by reviewers fell short.

A product of two campus visits, on Oct. 13 and on Dec. 1 and 2; interviews conducted during those visits; phone conversations; and reviews of MU documents, the report was sent to MU on April 21.

The report, which denounces the university’s minority recruitment and retention practices for students, faculty and staff, states the reviewers did not obtain information from deans and department heads and did not have access to recently released campus climate data.

Handy Williamson, vice provost for minority affairs and faculty development, said the review ignored numerous minority-oriented programs already in place or in development stages.

“They did not talk to all the people involved; they did not meet with the deans, did not meet with me or my staff for longer than 15 minutes — while they were looking at their watches,” he said of the reviewers.

Robert Weems, interim associate vice chancellor for equity, said the review idea spun off complaints from members of the Black Faculty and Staff Organization about their interactions with Williamson, who is criticized throughout the report.

MU official: Report overlooked students

For Weems, the major shortcoming of the report is it included little information about students. Although two team members spoke to minority student groups on their first visit, a team member who didn’t make that trip wrote that section of the report.

“I’m hoping that it was an oversight,” said Nicole Williams, president of the Legion of Black Collegians. She said, however, she thought the report was sound and addressed some of the student concerns even though the meetings were not reflected. She said she is going to write an addendum to the report using notes from the meeting with the review team.

No team members were available for further comment on the report. UM system President Elson Floyd deferred comments to the MU campus. MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton and other senior MU officials declined to elaborate on the report at this time.

The three administrators on the team were Linda Greene, associate vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin; Frank Motley, associate vice chancellor for academic support at Indiana University at Bloomington; and James Stewart, professor of labor studies and industrial relations and African American studies at Pennsylvania State University. Each was paid $2,000 plus travel expenses to visit the university and gather information for the report, said MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken.

Report almost a year in the making

Weems and Middleton originally developed the idea for the review last July. Members of the BFSO and MU administrators collaborated in finding administrators from other institutions that had what Weems said are comprehensive diversity programs that would serve as a good model for MU.

One of those institutions, Penn State, has a comprehensive diversity plan in place that added resources to the university’s minority recruitment efforts and required all students to take classes dealing with race and ethnicity, said Tom Poole, associate vice provost for educational equity at Penn State. The plan also requires yearly assessments from schools and colleges at the university on their efforts to recruit minorities and provide a welcoming campus climate, he said.

Such plans have sprung up at colleges and universities across the country as an alternative to affirmative action plans for increasing numbers of minority faculty and students, said Ruth Flower, spokeswoman with the American Association of University Professors.

The plans are not like affirmative action, she said, “because they can’t deal with goals. They do deal with ways to recruit and ways to be open and ways to encourage more people to attend from diverse backgrounds.”

The team noted that MU lacked such a plan — although Williamson said one has been in the development stages for at least a year.

Banken said diversity is an issue and a concern on campus. The report, she added, gives the university a document to work from and allows it to take steps towards hearing concerns and making things better.

MU’s recent campus climate study showed white males to be the most accepted group on campus. Racial, ethnic or sexual minorities were found to be among the least accepted.

Weems said he doesn’t think these additional pieces of information would have influenced or changed the basic findings of the report. At any rate, Weems said, a lack of a plan is reason to suspect not enough is being done for minorities on campus.

“Quite frankly, it’s one thing to say that you are committed to diversity and equity,” he said. “It’s a whole other thing to take it to the next level to develop a plan to bring about greater diversity and equity.”

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