University President Mark Schlissel held a session this morning during which he formally launched the University’s planning process to improve inclusion and diversity on campus. The event was closed to the press, but streamed live on the University’s website.

Schlissel has deemed issues related to diversity, campus climate and accessibility as top priorities for his administration, particularly after members of the University’s Black Student Union, among other groups, began drawing increasing attention to these challenges during the last few years. 

Last week, Schlissel told The Michigan Daily that today’s session would outline the charge and goals behind his plans, but noted that a complete strategic plan would not be detailed until the end of the academic year. 

Today’s meeting included students, staff and faculty from across the University’s departments and units who will be involved in the planning process. 

Stay with for continuing coverage. 

University President Mark Schlissel’s comments as prepared for delivery are included below.

In the months since most of us were together last, we have developed a great deal of positive momentum.

I said back in February, and I understand even better now, that there is no shortage of commitment, talent, and thoughtfulness on our campus.

Thanks to the efforts of many individuals, our work to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Michigan is moving full speed ahead.

To those of you who were here in February, thank you for joining us once again.

To those who are together with this group for the first time, welcome. We appreciate your willingness to engage, and we need and value your perspective.

And to those of you who have been working very hard on this issue at the University of Michigan for years, and sometimes even decades, thank you for always keeping our passion alive. And thank you for keeping accountability at the forefront of our discussions.

Together, we are writing a new chapter in our proud, nearly 200-year history as a leading public university.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the U-M Medical School graduation of Alexa Canady, the first female African American neurosurgeon. But it’s a distinction that almost didn’t happen.

That’s because during her time as an undergraduate at U-M, she went from being an honors student to being on academic probation. She has said that she was lost during her sophomore year.

It’s almost unimaginable that we nearly lost a student of her talents.

She found her way, through her now legendary personal will, and she graduated in zoology in 1971, the year before Title IX would be passed.

I have had the chance since our last meeting to reflect on our discussion and to read the comments you submitted.

One question that came up on one of the feedback cards was, “how can you ensure that this will be taken seriously?”

I hope today’s update provides a strong initial answer to that question.

We have involved a broad spectrum of students, faculty, and staff in our planning efforts. We understand the challenges we face. And we are ready to move forward with purposeful, concrete steps.

Some of our new efforts are already underway.

Another commenter in February pointed out that “diversifying the University does not necessarily mean lowered standards. There are plenty of equally talented people who choose to go elsewhere.”

Undergraduate recruitment at U-M is making strides to bring more of those talented students to our campus.

Our admissions and financial aid staffs have reduced the time gap between offers of admission and awards of financial aid. We are also reaching out earlier to applicants with incomplete aid applications, and communicating more strategically to encourage admitted students to enroll.

We expect that these changes will lead to modest increases in the diversity in this year’s incoming class.

The admissions efforts have been led by Dr. Kedra Ishop, our Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management. Her position is relatively new, and adds a strategic component to the previous strengths we had established in admissions.

We also have just launched a pilot program to help recruit students from economically disadvantaged families in our state. This pilot was developed in conjunction with Susan Dynarski, a professor of education, economics and public policy.

Called the HAIL Scholars program, it is designed to increase applications to U-M

from high-achieving, low-income students. In collaboration with 259 high schools, we’ve identified about 1,000 such students from all across the state.

We will use a variety of outreach methods to encourage them to apply to the U-M and help guide them through the process. If they are admitted, these students will be guaranteed four years of free tuition and fees, as well as additional financial aid according to their level of need.

I know that our schools and colleges have some exciting efforts of their own underway, as well.

It bodes very well for our future success that many initiatives are not originating centrally. The Michigan entrepreneurial spirit is thriving.

I also want to update everyone on a few of the other points I made in February.

Provost Pollack and then-Interim CFO Doug Strong stood up a Staff Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – as recommended by the provost’s earlier faculty committee.

The staff committee was chaired by Associate Vice President for Human Resources Laurita Thomas, and they submitted their recommendations to enhance staff diversity and inclusiveness last month. We’re sharing that report on the web and are working on its implementation.

Our New Faculty Orientation this year included a session on leveraging student diversity in class discussions, with plans in the works to expand this training to all faculty.

And we are planning a University wide Diversity Summit that begins November 4th.

Rob will go into further detail in a moment, but I want to talk about where we stand in the planning process.

At this stage, we are not seeking to define where we will end up, or what success will necessarily look like.

We want to have the structure in place that will allow us to engage the great minds and the passionate individuals on our campus – and to move forward in a collaborative manner.

This is a process that is about your voices, your ideas.

After all, when Alexa Canady found her way, there were U-M people and programs that helped to guide her. She earned a summer health scholarship to work during the day in the genetics lab of a faculty member named Art Bloom.

In the evening, she worked as the editorial page editor for the Michigan Daily.

That summer helped her find her voice, and her lifelong love of medicine.

Our ability to cultivate the talents of our students is the most invigorating aspect of this work.

I can assure you that the senior leadership at the U-M is fully engaged. All of the executive officers have embraced the process, and they are committed to the collaboration needed to make it successful.

And what started as a smaller team of leaders and key personnel is growing.

Today, Rob will introduce and discuss the role of approximately 60 individuals we are calling planning leads.

They come from each of our schools, colleges and campus units. They will spearhead the planning process within their units and coordinate with the overall university effort.

We know that the process itself will be neither easy nor quick.

We will disagree at times.

But the structure we have built is designed to encourage discussion, the sharing of successful programs, and the development of new ideas.

I worked with many staff and academic leaders to develop a charge for our work that fosters our collaborative approach. I am pleased to roll it out publicly for the first time today.

The charge document is at your seats, and we will be sharing all of this information on the web.

It states that our dedication to academic excellence for the public good is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word.

We also must ensure that our community allows all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive.

The specific charge is simple, by design.

I want each unit’s plan to be aspirational, concrete, include ways to measure progress, and be consistent with activities that occur throughout our campus.

As I have said, we want to encourage innovation, to set broad parameters, not prescribed boxes.

We will move in the same direction, but how we arrive, and even where we arrive, will be up to you. I want the best ideas to rise to the top.

Plans will be due by the end of this academic year. We will then use next summer to amalgamate the individual plans into a comprehensive university planto be announced and implemented in September 2016, one year from now.

As I said to you in February, and I want to reiterate now, my commitment to engaging with you as leaders in our community is a top priority for the long haul.

Each time I speak about my goals for the future, I reiterate my commitment to making diversity, equity and an inclusive campus environment a major focus of my presidency.

At that February meeting, I also mentioned that U-M graduated Ida Gray, the first African American woman to earn a degree in dentistry.

One of the comment cards submitted that day noted that our School of Dentistry celebrates her graduation every year.

It went on to say, “Moving forward, let’s celebrate our success in diversity and ask ourselves: ‘What will we be saying we were first in 100 years from now?’ Let’s set goals and go for them!”

I say yes! Let’s do it.

Today, we start pursuing that future in earnest.

Let’s give the future members of our community something big, something bold, and something worthy to celebrate.

I am proud to take on this work with you at the University of Michigan.

Thank you very much.

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