University Provost Martha Pollack joined the University’s Senate Assembly Monday to address campus diversity, as well as ongoing academic initiatives, at the body’s monthly meeting.
“If you don’t take away anything else from today, I want to invite and in fact plead for the involvement and participation of all faculty in [improving diversity on campus],” Pollack said. “It’s an incredibly important social problem and it’s one that is going to challenge us for many years.”
The University currently has the highest percentage of underrepresented minorities in its freshman class since 2005, one year prior to the passage of Proposal 2, which banned the consideration of race in college admissions in the state. Underrepresented minorities currently comprise 12.8 percent of the 2015 freshman class, compared to the 9.9 percent enrolled in the 2014 freshman class.
Minority enrollment has been a significant topic of debate on campus over the past two years, amid protests from students calling for an increase in the number of underrepresented minorities on campus and a more inclusive University climate.
In her remarks, Pollack acknowledged the complexity of improving campus diversity, but said it is an important task for the University to take on nonetheless.
“Issues of equity and inclusion are not unique to universities and these are very, very difficult social problems,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to solve the social problems of the world but we need to at least be able to start on our own campus.”
Since assuming the presidency in 2014, University President Mark Schlissel has emphasized his goal to improve campus climate and diversity through the creation of a strategic action plan. This fall, Schlissel introduced a campuswide diversity initiative, requesting that officials from each school and college develop individual plans for improving climate within their respective units.
The full strategic plan is expected to be completed by the end of this academic year and will become part of a campuswide diversity initiative to be unveiled in September 2016.
Pollack said the University will be keeping a close eye on the effectiveness of initiatives that have already been put in place. She mentioned in particular the High Achieving Involved Leader scholars program, which aims to encourage low-income, high-achieving students to enroll at the University, and Wolverine Pathways, a supplemental educational program to help elementary and middle school students learn about the higher education system which will launch in January.
“We’re going to be doing very careful assessments of it, tracking both the academic progress of the students as they proceed through middle school and high school, and then looking to see how many of them actually come here and how they succeed once they get here,” she said. “This is a sort of pipeline program, an attempt to address issues of diversity by increasing the number of students who are eligible and interested in coming.”
In addition to her comments on diversity, Pollack also discussed several recent campus academic initiatives, including the Data Sciences Initiative launched in October. The University plans to invest $100 million to the DSI over the next five years, with the hope that it will enhance opportunities for data research.
“It’s really based on the fact that data science is foundational for research across a wide range of disciplines,” Pollack said.
She added that the DSI is slated to include both a research component — the Michigan Institute for Data Science — and a set of data science services and infrastructure.
“We had dozens of faculty who said we need to come together around this, we need to coordinate,” Pollack said. “There were also a lot of faculty groups that decided on the initial areas of focus, since data science is huge, you can’t do everything.”
Pollack also discussed the Michigan Humanities Collaboratory, an initiative launched in September that aims to provide resources for humanities researchers interested in pursuing collaborative, team-based projects.
She said the initiative was created after faculty members expressed desires for further collaboration in the humanities field.
“What we heard was, we want to explore the ways of doing humanities scholarship collaboratively,” she said. “We want to look at new ways to communicate our work to the world.”
In addition, Pollack emphasized the University’s continued presence in the field of digital education. The University currently offers 42 massive open online courses.
“We’re not getting rid of face-to-face teaching,” she said. “We’re not, with a few targeted exceptions, going to do a lot of online education. But what we are going to do is double down on our explorations of ways in which we can use digital education and technology to enhance the residential experience of our students.”