University of Michigan
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May 21, 2018

Coleman addresses diversity and campus climate in Feb. 20 remarks

February 20, 2014

Coleman addresses diversity and campus climate in Feb. 20 remarks

Topic: Regents

President Mary Sue Coleman devoted most of her opening remarks at the beginning of the Feb. 20 Board of Regents meeting to addressing diversity and climate on the Ann Arbor campus. Here are her complete remarks:

I want to take a few moments to talk about diversity and climate on campus.

It is an issue essential to the excellence of this university, and one to which I am deeply committed. One of my proudest moments as U-M president was in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld our right to consider race in admissions to help create more diversity in our student body.

At the time, many people asked why the University was taking on such a divisive issue in such a public way. My answer was always the same: It was the right thing to do. It was a long, difficult struggle, it was hard on many levels, and it was the right thing to do.

That we have not been able to make more progress with underrepresented minority enrollment, along with the challenging climate and inclusion issues our community is experiencing, deeply troubles me. 

We have to redouble our efforts toward a more diverse campus. We haven't realized our collective aspirations. There is so much work to be done, and we know that.

There is a larger conversation about race occurring across the country, prompted by ugly incidents of racism and intolerance at other universities and, sadly, on our own campus as well.

We hear loud and clear that students of color feel isolated and marginalized; and that our frequently declared "commitment to diversity" is perceived as disingenuous. Students here and elsewhere are raising real — and painful — concerns about campus climate and the diminishing number of students of color in classrooms.

We see the struggles many colleges are facing now, but here at Michigan we have unique challenges that have affected us these past few years.

We have struggled in the wake of Proposal 2 and the ban on affirmative action. We know that.

We have been conscientious as we worked within the new law's parameters and yet still looked for lawful approaches. We reached out to colleagues at other public universities with similar restrictions, putting their best practices into place here.

But our efforts still have not achieved what we need to achieve.

Our commitment has never waned. The environment in which we operate, however, has changed. As a public institution, we are at the confluence of deep societal forces that affect us, from K-12 challenges to the wide range of public opinion on inclusion, equity and race. 

Michigan has been one of the public institutions to always stand its ground, knowing that diversity is essential to our academic excellence. We also know from research that our alumni say diversity is among the greatest assets of the university, a defining characteristic.

We haven't always gotten it right through the decades, and we've had great struggles along the way. But the long view shows that Michigan stands for improving diversity and access in higher education. 

Other universities look to us to develop new solutions, to foster national dialogue, and to focus society's attention on this issue.

That is why today's students are raising their voices, and why so many people have filled the room today. Great struggles occur at great universities. People expect Michigan to effect social change.

I was proud to stand on the steps of the Supreme Court for that very reason. We were able to call the nation's attention to the value of a diverse educational environment for every student who studies here and for our society. Those students learn how to live and work and learn together; they create a diverse workforce, a diverse military, a diverse academy.

This is what the University of Michigan stands for.

We will continue to be engaged at many levels and in many parts of the university as we work on both increasing minority enrollment and on making our campus more inclusive. 

We have made progress in some areas, including continuing to increase the representation of faculty of color over the past decade and making significant progress in closing the graduation gap between undergraduate majority and minority students.

Also, Michigan ranks consistently in the "top ten" in awards of Ph.D. degrees to minority students, including third in the number of doctorates awarded to African Americans this past year.

In the course of the next few months, our community will see additional concrete steps.  As just some examples, we are working to ensure that all of our undergraduates receive education that will lead to a more welcoming environment, through the new Change It Up program. 

We will restore the current Trotter Multicultural Center, while identifying a central campus site and planning for a new center. 

We will continue and expand our outreach efforts to lower-income and first-generation students as one component of our effort, and we will look to all legal approaches to recruiting and retaining a more diverse class.

I want to say, too, that members of our leadership team have had constructive discussions with students from the Black Student Union in the last several weeks.

Our community's passion to make our commitment real for this generation, in these times, could not be stronger. I share that concern and that passion. Our board and our leadership team share that concern and that passion. Our new president, I know, shares that concern and that passion.

We have work to do, all of us, together. We need to recognize the societal factors that affect our public institution; we need to work within the law and with respect to a wide variety of opinion and belief. But Michigan has long been a place where these hard conversations have led to new ideas and new energy.

I am proud this university leads in the country with a historic commitment to diversity and the courage to face the hardest challenges with integrity and intellectual rigor.

Tags: diversity


on 2/21/14 at 7:36 am

While we must always be cognizant of the diversity efforts and strive to fine tune them when necessary, we cannot turn a blind eye to the actions and objectives of those who, while appearing to be for racial equity, are in reality nothing more than agitators seeking to find a place alongside the Sharpton's and Jackson's in our society. The success of their efforts do nothing but dumb down our student body.
Whenever race is used as a qualifier, it's still racism. Paint it any color you like, it's still racism. We appear to be going backwards. Instead of acquiescing to appease racial threats, why don't we do our jobs, the one we pride ourselves on being so good at which is "EDUCATING" these people on the "real face of racism". Tell them to look in the mirror.

Pat LaCoste
on 2/21/14 at 9:07 am

Here's a thought. Proposal 2 doesn't seem to ban the recruiting of black football players, does it? Then maybe it doesn't ban recruiting of black professors, physicians and other professionals either. Wouldn't a campus with a more diverse faculty be more attractive to students trying to decide where to go?

Proud of Change
on 2/21/14 at 9:30 am

Sir, your bigotry is showing.
It is peeking out from behind your words as you strive to sound intelligent, well-meaning, and oh so nice. You're not. So let me help, "EDUCATE" you.Though you strain to cover it, we can all see your struggle. "Definition of Bigotry: Intolerance to those who hold different opinions then oneself"
We can see it. Those who have 'different opinions' than you, are "agitators" "Rabble Rousers."
Irritating, whining masses that just need to shut up.
That just need to realize that your society, your country, your city, your neighborhood, is perfect. Everything is perfect right? Nothing should change. Quit complaining, right? That's what you want to say. You want people, minorities, or just people different than you, to stop whining. You want them to shut up, so go ahead and say it. Don't hide behind nice words and 'good intentions'. Just admit it. You want them to be silenced because they are tearing down the walls of your suppposedly 'perfect world' right?
Why are you so afraid of change? Why are you so afraid of the idea that things can be improved upon? That our student body isn't dumb, it's raging. It's angry. It feels silenced by those who could only point to "Al Sharpton" as 'agitators' and not hear what we are trying to say. We feel marginalized. We feel stuck. We feel ignored by a society that we are constantly clawing at, struggling with for a opportunity to sit at the table...
Have you listened?
Or are you too scared?
Have you bent your head, and really listened, to these, so called 'dumb students' who have been indoctrinated by the only black leader you can think of? (Really sir? Al Sharpton? That's all you could come up with?) No, it is clear you haven't. You call that 'going backwards' right? You think it's great to live in a culture where everybody looks like you, thinks like you, speaks like you, and dresses like you, right? And it should stay that way right? Because nothing is wrong...So when I come, an African-American female, and I sit in class, and your child, or your neighbor, or your friend sits next to me, they are afraid.
They are afraid of change. They are afraid of different. "Who is she?" Is the first question they ask when I score better, speak better, know more than them (fighting for my right to learn because that was never guaranteed in the beginning).
"Why is she here?" is the next question, and it makes me laugh. Because what they really want to say is, "Go away." They don't like change.
Look in the mirror.
and then turn away and look at the world. It is a vibrant world full of color and different, and more than what little old you can ever bring to the table. It doesn't look the same everywhere you turn, not the real world. It is an everchanging landscape filled with people who literally vibrate with their cultures and languages and ideas. Ideas. Ahh. I love that word. New ideas don't come without change. But first you have to see, and then listen. I can't make you listen, but I can hope that when change comes, you won't stand in the way, because it's coming whether you like it or not.

Proud of Change
on 2/21/14 at 9:31 am

This comment was directed to John Dumbeck....I would apologize for the long post, but I'm not sorry. Not really, I feel much better after writing it. Best wishes.

Matt P
on 2/21/14 at 12:30 pm

If this University believes in and preaches equality, why would they want to increase the enrollment of underrepresented minorities? If they are judging applicants equally and based upon their abilities and merits, the only underrepresented minority that it would be possible to have is unqualified students.

Joan Burleigh
on 2/21/14 at 2:46 pm

President Mary Sue Coleman, as an alum, 1964, I am so very proud of your clarity, your moral courage and your leadership on issues of diversity.

s r
on 2/21/14 at 3:22 pm

Racial diversity should never be a goal. Diversity in ideas, thought processes, backgrounds, etc are important and indeed promote excellence. Simply looking at racial diversity for the sake of diversity is not the best way to approach diversifying and does not create excellence. This coming from Excellence always being the standard as Michigan and MSC represent.

John Keough
on 2/21/14 at 9:38 pm

To end discrimination you have to stop discriminating. I am curious how a policy that enshrines racial discrimination will end it. To end racism you have to to end it, not codify it.

on 2/22/14 at 4:16 pm

Dear readers,

I wonder how President Coleman would respond to the comments made by "JOHN DUMBECK," "MATT P," "S R," and "JOHN KEOUGH." All of them seem to disagree with the basic idea that UM should work for greater racial diversity on campus. And thank you, "Dumbeck," "P," "R," and "Keough," for being so honest about your feelings! Now others can see what a certain kind of racism (perhaps unconscious), mixed with a certain kind of willful ignorance, looks like. Since I doubt that President Coleman will respond, let me make four points:

To "Dumbeck": what does "instead of acquiescing to appease racial threats, why don't we do our jobs, the one we pride ourselves on being so good at which is 'EDUCATING' these people on the 'real face of racism" mean? I think you're a little confused! (If not, your writing is!) What is a "racial threat"? Hmmm. And what "jobs" are you talking about? Are you a professor?

To "P": You ask "if this University believes in and preaches equality, why would they want to increase the enrollment of underrepresented minorities?" Let me clarify the word "equality." I think it means that no one group should be underrepresented. If women were underrepresented, would you be against measures to increase their numbers?

To "R": You write "racial diversity should never be a goal." I don't think I need to add much here but to say that I'm sure the Nazis would have agreed. You also imply that racial diversity hurts "excellence." Is that what you mean?

To "Keough": You write "To end discrimination you have to stop discriminating." Yes, and to end acceleration you have to stop accelerating. How do think we should "stop discriminating"? Racism is still a very real thing in this country. A policy that helps, for example, low-income African Americans, get into college acknowledges that there are structural barriers (left over in part from the overtly racist laws this country recently had) that can impede their access to higher education. White, middle class students have never had to deal with these barriers, so their access is easier, by and large. Policies like Affirmative Action, which you're probably against, try to defeat racism by defeating the structures (like the fact that white, middle class K-12 schools are better funded than others) that contribute to inequality (proportionally more middle class white kids than working class black kids get degrees from places like UM).

I have heard many black students talk about how hard it is to be the only black student in a UM class. I think we need to listen.

Thanks for reading.


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