November 18, 2004
Vol. 24 No. 5

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    Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues to result in program improvements, University-issued diversity statement

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Earlier this month, the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues released its 2003-2004 Annual Report. University Provost Richard Saller commissioned PIMI two years ago, and the 2003-2004 report represents the broadest evaluation of the University’s performance on issues related to diversity in more than two decades.

    The University embarked on a similar evaluation of the state of diversity on campus in 1983, when it published “Black Enrollment at the University of Chicago,” commonly known as the Norton Report, to identify ways to increase black enrollment.

    “Our committee undertook this work out of a conviction that the issues we were charged to address were central to the University’s mission,” said Kenneth Warren, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Friedman Professor in English Language & Literature and co-chair of the PIMI committee. “We wanted to build on the fact that over the last century, the University, most notably in the social sciences, played a major role in training scholars from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds who conducted pioneering research on race and society. We felt strongly that the University needed to address its role and responsibility as an institution on the South Side of Chicago and as a large employer of a diverse workforce.”

    “The University has substantially higher aspirations for itself regarding the diversity of our community than is reflected in our current student, faculty and staff demographics,” said Stephen Klass, Vice President and Dean of Students in the University, who co-chaired the PIMI committee with Warren. The committee addressed a broad range of issues related to the recruitment, retention and quality of life of the University’s community of color.

    The first and most urgent recommendation of the PIMI report was a call for an institutional statement reaffirming and strengthening the University’s commitment to these issues.

    Earlier this month, President Randel and Provost Saller released the diversity statement, which can be read in its full text online at: http://www.uchicago. edu/docs/education/diversity-statement.html. In closing, Randel and Saller note in the diversity statement:

    “Over the past year, a group of faculty, administrators and students have been reviewing the University’s present situation and formulating recommendations to improve diversity. Their report summarizes the rationale for their mission in the following words:

    “‘We recall the Norton Report and its conviction that diversity is essential to the mission of the University of Chicago in order to remark that the existence of the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues stands both as a testament to the progress the University has made over the past two decades in addressing minority issues and as an admonishment that much work remains yet to be done, if the University is to fulfill its broader mission. A commitment to diversity is not merely, or even primarily, a matter of public relations. The production and testing of knowledge for the benefit of all demand intellectual and social restlessness. We must be willing to ask whether or not those things that appear true and good to us, and to those we deem like us, appear likewise to those who seem different from us. We must be willing to hear from a variety of sources to determine if our research agendas and priorities suffer from unintended biases rather than reflect a proper estimation of the state of knowledge in our respective fields. We must understand that we do not exist outside of the society we study but that we act within it and upon it, and that part of our responsibility as an institution for reflection and research is to be aware of and to assess how what we do affects the world around us. All of these activities and responsibilities presume diversity as a necessary condition of their fulfillment. To fail to ensure social and intellectual diversity at the University of Chicago is to fail to realize our educational and research missions in a fundamental way.’

    “The report offers a number of recommendations to which we are committed. In the wake of the Norton Report the University made some progress; we now need to raise our aspirations, to monitor our improvements and to confront our shortcomings. Our higher aspirations will be met only with the focused effort of the whole campus community.”

    The PIMI report highlights and specifies five central issues for action in the coming academic year. “Our students in particular,” said Klass, “have pointed to these five issues as having the most impact on the overall quality of their experience at the University and as the ones that will make Chicago more attractive to a deeper and broader number of students of color.” The five issues are improving the University’s institutional communication on diversity; recruiting and retaining faculty of color; improving student services for students of color; developing curricula of interest to students of color; and developing diversity training for students, faculty and staff.

    Acknowledging that the recruitment of faculty of color is one of the most vexing of diversity-related issues, the report recommends that the University initiate a comprehensive analysis of its faculty recruitment strategy in the coming year.

    “This challenge is being addressed by universities across the country,” Klass said. One of the strategies advocated by the report is to continue to develop and expand “pipeline” programs, which nurture promising minority scholars.

    These programs, such as the Summer Research Opportunities Program, Mellon-Mays and McNair Scholars program, seek to encourage undergraduate students of color to consider academic careers.

    The report closely links low numbers of faculty of color to low numbers of curricular and academic offerings that are of special interest to students of color. The report calls for a formal subcommittee to be convened in the 2004-2005 academic year to evaluate ways in which various departments can develop curricula of special interest to students of color.

    This year, for example, the College is offering “Colonizations” in its Civilizations sequence. This course approaches the concept of civilization, while emphasizing cross-cultural connections, and exploring slavery and colonization in Asia and Africa. Faculty in the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture conceived the course, which has been extremely popular with students.

    One of the most immediate changes prompted by the PIMI committee was the Student Programming and Support Subcommittee’s recommendation to reorganize the Office of Minority Student Affairs to improve the quality of service and support provided to students of color. Currently co-directed by Cheryl Bradley-Stone and Linda Choi, Special Assistants to the Vice President and Dean of Students in the University for Diversity Affairs, OMSA already has expanded its resources, enlarged its staff and raised its profile, all while refocusing its mission. At the same time, a national search for the Deputy Dean of Students in the University and Director of OMSA is underway.

    Klass emphasized that institutional change of this order of magnitude requires considerable amounts of discussion and analysis, and thus, he expects that implementing some recommendations will take much longer than will others as they are addressed over time.

    The complete text of the PIMI document is available online at http://www.uchicago.edu/docs/education/pimi.pdf.