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.