Issues of diversity addressed in University-wide e-mail

By Usman Ahmed

At a time when minority recruitment at the nation’s elite schools is increasingly being contested, the University of Chicago presented its Statement on Diversity last Thursday to all members of the University community via e-mail.

The statement, written by University President Don Randel and Provost Richard Saller, summarized the University’s efforts to achieve a more diverse community, as was stated in the report by the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Affairs (PIMI). The statement focused on improving diversity among the University’s faculty, students, staff, and South Side community.

The statement conceded that very few members of the University’s faculty are of color, adding that while the proportion of faculty of color has increased by 50 percent, it is still “unacceptably low.”

In a study published two years ago, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE) brought this fact to light, ranking the percentage of faculty of color at the University of Chicago amongst the lowest in its peer group. According to the journal, 3.6 percent of full all-time faculty at the nation’s most selective institutions were faculty of color, while the University’s percentage was 2.7.

The journal also reported that only 2.5 percent of tenured faculty at the nation’s most selective institutions constituted faculty of color. The University’s percentage was 1.6 percent for African Americans and .75 percent for Hispanics.

The Statement suggested that increasing the percentage of faculty of color is not only a “moral good” but also an intellectual one, noting that a more diverse faculty will necessarily address a more diverse set of issues and expand the breadth of research at the University.

While the Statement did not explicitly discuss what measures the University plans to take to increase its percentage of faculty of color in the future, it mentioned that an increased effort would be made to recruit graduate students through the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA). However, the Statement mentioned the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and the opportunities at the University to study issues of diversity. The Center has been reorganized, prompting Jacqueline Stewart, associate professor of English Language and Literature, to tell the Maroon recently that she felt it was a driving force in the recruitment effort of faculty of color. “It shows that something vibrant is happening in this University,” Stewart said.

The statement also tackled the issue of student diversity, noting that a student’s education experience is “deeply influenced” by the composition of one’s peers.

Qaid Hassan, a first-year masters student at the Divinity School, echoed the importance of diversity in a student body. “Diversity is important because it contributes to the cognitive development of students,” he said. “This is especially important at an institution that prides itself in ensuring cognitive development to the maximum.”

Hassan, however, was more cautious when asked if he felt the University community was very diverse. “I think it’s superficially diverse,” he said, adding that as a graduate student his priorities and activities were not as socially motivated as they might be for undergraduates.

The Chronicle reported this month that the Office of College Admissions has increased its efforts to recruit students of color by hiring Norma Lopez, a Chicago native, as its first Director of Student of Color Recruitment. Lopez, who will work closely with the Office of Minority Affairs, plans for more long-term recruiting efforts that include working with feeder programs like Prep-to-Prep and with public and parochial schools in pockets of the nation that traditionally yield few candidates to Chicago.

The Office of College Admissions also attempts to recruit a more diverse student body through specialized mailings. Additionally, the University hopes that its Collegiate Scholars Program, which enrolls 60 Chicago public school students in summer school during their high school years, will entice minority students to apply to the University.

According to the statement, last year’s matriculating class was 16 percent African-American and Hispanics and fourteen percent Asian-American. In particular, the percentage of African-Americans was comparatively lower than at peer institutions.

The statement was quick to point out that diversity of color was not the only type of diversity the University looks for in its student body. It added that the University has a responsibility to extend opportunities to candidates who are not wealthy, increasing the economic diversity of the student body.

The University’s multifaceted approach to diversity resonated well with Aaron Kurtz, a fourth-year concentrating in anthropology. “Economic diversity is as important to the University’s mission as racial diversity,” he said.

The statement had relatively little to say on issues of diversity among its staff, noting that the staff is “already quite diverse.” It did say, however, that the University will increase its efforts to hire strong minority candidates for higher-level positions.

A final component of the University’s statement on diversity was its sometimes tenuous and historically notorious relationship with its local neighborhood and the greater South Side community, where the University is sometimes perceived as an exclusive and disjointed institution.

While the University has moved in recent years to change this sentiment, it remains ingrained in many community members. Tokoya Williams, a fourth-year in the College, pointed out that a significant percentage of high school students at Kenwood Academy know very little, if anything, of the University of Chicago. Williams said that the University needs to make more of an effort to reach out to neighboring educational institutions. Such an initiative was mentioned in the University’s statement of diversity, saying that, “The University is bringing its special expertise in education to bear though the Center for Urban School Improvement and its charter school in North Kenwood/Oakland.”

Among its other initiatives, the statement highlighted the University’s current policy to act as a “partner” and not as a “stranger” with its neighbors, observing that the University of Chicago Medical School and Hospitals provide more than $50 million per year in care for those who cannot afford their medical bills.

The University also plans to wield its economic muscle in the community by spending 30 percent of its recent $500 million construction program on minority vendors.