The Association of Black Professionals, Administrators, Faculty and Staff; Council for Disability Concerns; MLK Symposium Committee; President’s Advisory Commission on Women’s Issues; Professional Latinos at UM Alliance; UM LGBT Faculty Alliance; UM Library Diversity Council; University Diversity Council; Senate Assembly Committee for an Inclusive University; Women of Color in the Academy Project and the Women of Color Task Force publish this open letter to the University Board of Regents and Presidential Search Advisory Committee in order to voice our concern that the next president must be experienced and successful in increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff. Our new president must also be accomplished in promoting a healthy climate that respects the contributions of every person, regardless of differences of race, gender, sex, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, age, veteran status, documentation status or other factors.
We believe the next University president must have vision and demonstrate success in increasing diversity among the student body, thereby broadening access to a Michigan education. We‘re grateful for leaders at the University who have fought for affirmative action, dating back before the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger Supreme Court decision. Despite significant efforts made to increase the racial, ethnic and economic diversity of student enrollment since passage of the statewide ballot measure prohibiting affirmative action, the University’s student composition is now 74 percent white and a majority upper-income. Between 2005 and 2012, data from the Office of the Registrar show the percentage of under-represented minorities at the University decreased from 12.1 percent to 9.7 percent among U.S. students. All our students are being shortchanged in their education by the limited intellectual and social engagement with people different from themselves. Furthermore, the University is not adequately fulfilling one of the key roles of American public education — increasing social mobility for working class people and people of color.
We urge you to select someone with documented success in promoting appreciation and support for all people, regardless of race, gender, sex, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, age, veteran status, documentation status or other factors. In a 2006 report, Rackham Graduate School and the University’s ADVANCE program assessed the climate for doctoral students. Factors surveyed included students’ morale, overall climate of the department, graduate school experiences, advising and support, and career goals. The survey revealed that “in all areas women students report(ed) somewhat less positive experiences than d(id) men, and in some areas U.S. born students of color and international students of color report(ed) less positive experiences than (did) U.S. born white students.” One of the report’s key recommendations was that graduate chairs, department chairs and faculty in general be sensitized to the different experiences and needs of female students and students of color. Since passage of the state’s anti-affirmative action measure, some people contend that the academic and social climate for faculty, staff and students of color has become more biased and disrespectful.
Meanwhile, the University struggles to attract and retain significant numbers of faculty of color, particularly women. In the annual Faculty Cohort Update, data showed that of all assistant professors hired by U-M between 1996 and 2006, 485 were white men, 269 were white women, 228 were men of color and 133 were women of color. The rate of tenure achievement for these respective groups was 65 percent, 62 percent, 61 percent and 57 percent. In the Exit Interview Study of faculty who voluntarily left the University between 2009 and 2012, women faculty were more likely to cite poor climate as the most important factor in their decision to leave. Faculty of color also described improvements in morale and climate as necessary, more often than did white faculty. Data such as these impress upon us the importance of choosing a president who is experienced in promoting diversity, inclusion and equality in an academic setting.
We need a president who expects the best out of all community members, not just those interested in supporting diversity. Certainly universal training will never be sufficient to prevent all incidents of bias, intolerance and disrespect from occurring, but it will create the necessary foundation to fulfill our mission, as noted on the provost’s website, of “preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.” In terms of organizational culture, the University offers valuable programming designed to improve communication and understanding across race, gender, disability and other differences. We’re grateful for training and dialogue opportunities offered through the Program on Intergroup Relation, the ADVANCE Program, Office of Institutional Equity, CRLT Players Theatre Program, the Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center and a number of diversity groups across campus. We’re champions of these resources, yet we’re frustrated that there’s no expectation that all staff, faculty and students attend and learn from them.
We believe it’s critical that all presidential candidates have documented experience in recognizing and addressing the serious problems of sexual assault and domestic violence that occur within a typical campus community like ours. Fulfilling the University’s Title IX obligation to provide an environment free of sexual harassment and violence is fundamental to maintaining a safe and respectful climate for all.
To ensure that the next president shares the University’s core values of academic excellence, diversity and access, the process must include candidates who themselves bring a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, academic disciplines and identities. The process of choosing the next president is incredibly significant. We commend the regents for selecting such a highly distinguished and diverse faculty committee to advise on the presidential search. However, we note that the committee has no faculty from the arts and only one exclusively from the humanities — yet the arts are an explicit and important part of the University’s mission. Another way to view diversity is through the fields of study on campus. These fields may not bring in funding the way some others do, but contribute to the celebration and promotion of diversity that we espouse and are integral to the holistic development of our students.
Some of our groups have already sent letters to the Presidential Search Advisory Committee and the regents, arguing that successful promotion of diversity must be a clear strength of the next person chosen to be the University’s 14th president. We encourage readers, whether as individuals or in groups, to share their views as well by emailing UMich.President@russellreynolds.com.
This letter was written by a coalition faculty and staff members representing campus diversity groups.