In response to concerns raised by an article in The Atlantic that called attention to declining diversity at the University compared to peer institutions, the University’s Senate Assembly — the largest faculty governance body on campus — discussed a drafted statement that called for increased attention to the issue.
The statement, drafted by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Values, said the lack of diversity was “already having a deleterious effect on the educational experience” at the University.
“(We) fear that if trends continue, the University will suffer greatly in its ability to attract persons of diverse backgrounds,” the statement read. “We therefore urge the University administration … to embark on a comprehensive and public program to increase (diversity).”
African American enrollment at the University has dropped precipitously in recent years, falling from 8.5 percent in 2002 to 4.4 percent in 2011 according to estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics. Hispanic enrollment has also declined from 5.9 percent in 2002 to 4.3 percent in 2010. Part of the decline can be attributed to the passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, which outlawed the use of race consideration in the admissions process for public higher education institutions in the state of Michigan. The ban was declared unconstitutional but faces further scrutiny.
Despite its application to public higher-education institutions statewide, other Michigan institutions have maintained or increased their enrollment of minorities over the past decade.
The University has attempted to blunt the effects of the ban through outreach to minority groups, strengthening a central diversity office on campus and the independent initiatives of several colleges.
Associate Prof. John Carson briefly spoke on the subject and addressed questions from fellow Senate Assembly members.
“The University hasn’t been performing as well as we would like,” Carson said. “(It would be best to) see the implementation of a program … (that has) a whole set of ways that Michigan can move forward.”
In response to Senate Assembly members who spoke about their appreciation of the University’s proactive measures, Carson added that it could always do more.
“We would be foolish not to (do more to) confront this problem, but we would be also foolish not to applaud current University efforts,” Carson said.
Many Senate Assembly members also raised concerns that the University is not mustering all available resources to increase diversity.
This concern was echoed by University Provost Philip Hanlon in a Jan. 28 Senate Assembly meeting, when he said the University has hired a marketing director to correct the popular perception that students from lower-income families couldn’t afford to attend the University.
“We are not getting the message across,” Hanlon said.
Engineering Prof. Kimberlee Kearfott, the chair of SACUA, said there is a lot of work to do regarding diversity initiatives in the long term.
“It is not a matter of how much money we are spending, it is a matter of focusing on our goals,” Kearfott said. “There is plenty of room for increased communication.”
E.J. Westlake, an associate professor in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, said her classes have been directly affected by a lack of diversity in her class on American dramas. She said a lack of diversity among students makes for a narrower variety of viewpoints.
“We need to have students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different racial backgrounds in order for us to have a real discussion about what is really going on in this country,” Westlake said.
Westlake added that any initiative to increase diversity has to be spearheaded by the University’s executive officers.
“The upper level of administration really need to be the ones who drive this.”