September 18, 2004

Office of Minority Affairs restructured over summer

Hoping to improve its improve its ability to attract and retain minority students, the University this summer stirred its alphabet soup bureaucracy. Administrators drew on the Provost's Initiative on Minority Affairs (PIMI) to restructure its resource program for students of color, overhauling the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) and replacing the minority-focused Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP).

Dean of Students in the University Stephen Klass and Provost Richard Saller announced in June that OMSA will be entirely recreated—to be served by a new director and awarded a higher budget—better to help minority students integrate into the University community.

"I don't think we had any other viable options," Klass said in an e-mail interview. "Tinkering around the edges of the model we had would not have served our students well. From reports we were receiving and from our own observations over the past few years, it was apparent that major structural change was called for."

The University's relationship with minority students was echoed last February at a panel discussion hosted by PIMI, the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students in the University, and Student Government. At the event, administrators took a hard look at how minority students perceive the University.

"For some reason this school doesn't appeal to African-Americans," Dean of Admissions Ted O'Neill said at the event. "We can blame a lot of people and point fingers, but we have to remember that we're not a very popular university."

The percentage of African-American students in the College last spring was 4.2, according to the Registrar's office. By comparison, Columbia College in New York last year had an African-American student percentage of 15.5, according to its Student Information Services office.

To improve the campus experience of students of color, the new OMSA will have more scheduled events and will better use of the Amandla Student Resource Center, Klass said.

"It will become a more dynamic focal point for building community among our students of color," Klass said. "The goal is for the office to be as proactive and consistent as possible in its communications with students, faculty and staff via its website, publications and public events."

Besides restructuring OMSA, Klass and Saller also decided to remove SROP—the summer research program geared toward students of color, economically disadvantaged, and first-generation college attendees—from OMSA to the Office of the Dean of Students in the College. The latter office currently oversees the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, designed to help underprivileged students pursue careers in research and teaching.

Klass said the new OMSA will collaborate with other offices, and make "intentional linkages" with academic programs such as the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture.

He did not give a specific budget or timetable for the restructuring, but said that he expects the transition to a new director to take at least three to four months.

In the interim, Special Assistant to the Dean of Students in the University Cheryl Bradley-Stone and Assistant Director of College Administration Linda Choi are coordinating the oversight of ongoing functions, and are planning events for the upcoming academic year.

Klass emphasized that the two interim directors are not treading water. "The point of staffing the office immediately—even while the search is beginning—with people of vision, creativity and high energy is to ensure that we never find ourselves in a holding pattern during this search period," he said.

The decision to replace OMSA draws on research conducted by PIMI and interviews performed by an outside administrator, Cynthia Spence. She is a faculty member and long-time administrator at Spelman College who completed similar work for the Ford Foundation.

Klass said the PIMI and Spence reports would be made public early fall quarter, and said that they pointed to the "broad-based need for the University to implement a number of initiatives related to the quality of the campus experience of our students, faculty and staff of color and issues of recruitment and retention."

"Among the most urgent of these action items," he continued, "was the need to make major changes in the structure and effectiveness of OMSA, as well as the resources committed to support it."

Klass cited the Coordinating Council on Minority Issues, which was recreated as OMSA in 2002, as an example of why the minority program needs a major facelift.

"OMSA never really made the full transition from its former format or mission,"

Klass said. "It hadn't become the kind of student affairs office to which students were aware they could turn for support, advocacy, or direction."