As I sat in a packed room on Wednesday listening to the University’s leading administrators, I felt frustration mounting in the crowd.

We had gathered for a town hall meeting on underrepresented minority student recruitment efforts. Nearly every seat in the room was filled. Not surprisingly, the crowd itself was very diverse.

What does this tell us about the issue? Minority and white students deeply care about the utter lack of diversity on this campus and want to be heard. There are very few events like this one that compel top administrators to be held accountable to the students they serve.

Unfortunately, my peers and I were disappointed in the administrators.

During the first half of the meeting, the administrators praised the far-reaching recruitment and outreach programs that the University has put into place. They discussed pipelines and summer programs, taskforces and centers.

To their credit, they hit all the right points. As the mic was passed from hand to hand, each speaker spoke to the importance of diversity in a learning environment. They praised the University’s history as a diverse institution of learning, and, well, you get the point.

However, a quick look around campus reveals that these programs can’t be called successful. Either there aren’t enough of them — which is doubtful, since each speaker listed off multiple programs — or these programs aren’t reaching their full potential.

Nationwide, 16.3 percent of people are Latino/a but that number is only 4.3 percent on campus. In 2006, 7.3 percent of students were black, but today, while 14.2 percent of the state of Michigan is black, only a meager 4.4 percent of the University’s population is black. This is a clear demonstration of the drastic drop in underrepresented minority enrollment.

It’s true that the drop can partially be explained as a result of Proposition 2. Passed in 2006, Prop 2 banned affirmative action at publicly funded institutions, including public universities in Michigan. But, instead of being creative in the face of this challenge, administrators are simply using it as an excuse.

During their opening remarks, not a single administrator owned up to the fact that the University is not as diverse as it should be. They were too busy saving face to talk about the issues at hand.

Pamela Fowler, executive director of the University’s Office of Financial Aid, said she believed the University has the best institutional infrastructure for diversity recruitment in the country.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect here. If our infrastructure is so strong, where is the on-campus diversity that should come with it?

Only when pushed by the audience did the administrators finally recognize that something was lacking. One student noted that the number of black males on campus has dropped from the 600s to the 400s in just a few years. Ted Spencer, associate vice provost and executive director of Undergraduate Admissions, first chose to blame a national trend, asking, “Where have all the black males gone?” John Matlock, associate vice provost and director of the University’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, came to his aid, introducing further doubt by positing that the trend involved males of all races. Then, at last, Spencer said, the pipelines and programs are “not where we want them to be.”

No kidding.

Another question came from a member of the Coalition for Tuition Equality. This growing coalition is made up of more than a dozen leading progressive student organizations on campus and fights for in-state tuition for undocumented students in Michigan. The student asked the administrators if they supported the coalition’s goal and what they could do to help accomplish it.

Notably, all of the administrators said they supported the idea. Allowing undocumented students from Michigan to pay in-state tuition — as they do at Western Michigan University and at institutions in 11 other states — would immediately increase racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity on campus.

But, just as the supportive words came out of their mouths, the administrators lamented that they could do nothing, giving the excuse that it’s a procedure derived from national policies. On the contrary — this is an issue that can be easily addressed by our regents.

After the 90-minute town hall meeting, it was clear to me that the administrators have their hearts in the right place, but are unwilling to put themselves on the line.

In the final minutes, Matlock said, “Things tend to move when students force the issue.” I reject this notion. Students should not have to organize on campus for administrators to do their job.

But until they do, we need to stand up now to demand our diversity before it’s too late. I urge all of you to force the issue to the forefront of the University.

Yonah Lieberman can be reached at yonahl@umich.edu. Follow him on twitter at @YonahLieberman.

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