To members of the University Community:
As we begin the new academic term I would like to address some of the challenges we face with issues of race, identity and inclusion of students on campus, and to affirm both the university’s and my own strong commitment to diversity and to creating a welcoming and inclusive community.
This commitment is longstanding and fundamental to who we are as an institution. And yet, there are times we have not lived up to our highest aspirations. Last term, we saw this in public displays of racial and religious insensitivity and in the daily aggression our students so eloquently described in the #BBUM (Being Black at UM) Twitter dialogue. We also recognize that, despite our increased efforts, the percentage of underrepresented minority students on campus has fallen noticeably in the last few years.
While the university has seen individual instances of ignorance and apathy, we also recognize that good work is being done across campus every day by faculty, staff and students committed to advancing diversity and improving the climate of inclusion. Michigan has a proud history of fighting for social justice, including taking the fight to promote diversity all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We must honor that legacy and push ourselves to take the lead on issues of equity and diversity along all dimensions, setting the example for public institutions across the country.
To become the model public university to which we aspire, we will directly address the challenges we face. In the past several months, Royster Harper, Vice President for Student Life, and I have had productive conversations with the Board of Regents, fellow executive officers, students, faculty and staff about issues of diversity, climate and inclusion.
Based on these conversations and instructive student-driven activism, we have identified three areas that need our most immediate attention: improving campus climate, increasing enrollment of underrepresented minorities to the fullest extent permitted by law, and addressing issues surrounding the Trotter Multicultural Center. We will address these areas with immediate short-term plans as well as with longer-term engagement and thinking.
Next fall, Vice President Harper will expand a program for housing residents. It introduces university expectations for how to live together in a diverse and respectful community. The program was piloted last semester in Couzens and East Quad. Students participated in facilitated discussions on inclusive leadership, personal and social identity, and bystander intervention.
In the next few weeks, I will create a new leadership position to advance recruitment and retention goals. We know, for instance, that some prospective underrepresented minority students who are accepted by the university choose to enroll elsewhere, and we recognize that we need to take action, within the law, to encourage those students to enroll here. In addition, as Senior Vice Provost Lester Monts returns to the faculty this summer after many years of distinguished service in critical areas including, but in no means limited to diversity, I will be searching for his successor to fill the role of Vice Provost for Educational Equity and Inclusion. This position will have responsibility for providing strategic leadership that results in increased access and success for all students, the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty, and the development and expansion of academic programs that prepare all students for success in a diverse world.
Students, faculty and staff have told us that the Trotter Multicultural Center needs a fundamental rethinking and ideally should be moved closer to the central campus. For the immediate short term, we will repair the infrastructure and improve the current facility to make it a more welcoming, comfortable, inviting hub for student social activity. We will engage students in planning and design, with the goal of having a renovation plan ready before the term ends. For a long-term solution, we will examine possibilities for permanent relocation of the center. We will start a broad conversation with students, staff and faculty to capture their best thinking as we collectively reimagine a future multicultural center.
The challenges before us are complex and demand unwavering attention. We will continue to advance our thinking in several ways. First, a group of Associate Deans is already working to consider the many academic programs we have on campus that address diversity and provide recommendations about programs that are particularly effective and should be expanded, as well as about gaps that we should address. Their work should be completed sometime this semester, in time for the 2014-2015 budget process.
Second, I will establish the Provost Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to continue and expand the work begun with the 2007 Diversity Blueprints. The committee will include faculty, students and staff. The committee will be charged with developing proposals for new, innovative actions that will let us jump start the next phase of our efforts to build a climate of inclusion and to address pipeline issues. The committee will be asked both for short-term actions that could be implemented within 1-2 years, and medium-term ones, with a 3-5 year horizon. In developing their proposals, this committee will interact with other standing groups on campus that address diversity issues, notably including the university’s Diversity Council.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts as together we focus on this important work.
Martha E. Pollack
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs