This is a critical time in the life of our University to recognize how far we have come in creating a diverse and inclusive community, but also a time when we must face squarely the long distance we still have to travel. In the wake of our commemoration of the 40th anniversary of The Straight Takeover, I feel compelled to elaborate on my commitment to diversity by sharing some thoughts about what we aim to achieve and how we will know if we are successful. I also want to alert you to some upcoming opportunities to engage the administration and other Cornellians on this set of issues.
It is important to begin by recognizing that diversity has long been a core value at Cornell, and our University today is more diverse across all dimensions than it was a generation ago. In the past decade, good progress has been made in improving faculty and staff diversity due to the diligent efforts of colleagues in our colleges and other units alongside our human resources professionals. Progress is recognized by the annual Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony and the Cook Award for commitment to women's issues and for improving the climate for women at Cornell; progress is evident in the substantial increases in the number of admitted students of color for the Class of 2013 — up 35 percent for African-Americans and 16 percent for Latinos, from last year; and in the recognition that we continue to receive from the U.S. Department of Labor, AARP and other organizations for our commitment to staff diversity.
However, the current level of diversity is far from representative of the society in which we live, and the gains we made in years past are at risk in our present austere environment with reduced resources for recruiting and retaining faculty and staff. Nonetheless, we have plans to solidify and improve our gains, and many actions have been taken to turn this rhetoric into concrete results.
What are we trying to accomplish? First, we want the composition of our community and leadership to reflect the composition of the broader society. Second, we want our faculty, students, staff and our Board of Trustees to have access to the intellectual tools required to think critically about diversity and to have ample opportunities to engage members of our community who have experiences and perspectives different from their own. Third, we want our community to embrace and support individuals from all backgrounds. Finally, we want individuals from all backgrounds not only to be present at Cornell but also to achieve their full potential for excellence.
To succeed, we must focus particular attention on groups qualified for a given role at Cornell, but nonetheless failing to achieve at least one of our diversity goals. Our view of diversity at Cornell is a broad one, encompassing not only race, ethnicity and gender, but also socio-economic status, sexual orientation, disability and other characteristics that serve to identify individuals and groups. We must take a strategic approach to diversity by understanding, for example, that in some areas, such as the sciences, gender is still an issue, while in others we have made larger strides. It is critical that we set explicit, measurable goals for targeted groups, collect reliable data and monitor key metrics to track progress.
The University Diversity Council (UDC) Executive Committee, which Provost Fuchs and I co-chair, has been at work for over two years in partnership with an active working group of faculty, staff and students. The Faculty Diversity Institute — one of the UDC’s initiatives — is about to hold its second annual retreat with a diverse group of faculty from across the campus who are eager to make their courses more engaging and inclusive for all students. As part of one of our other UDC initiatives — Breaking Bread — the Cornell Women’s Resource Center and the Cornell Coalition for Life are co-sponsoring a dinner and discussion this evening focusing on pregnancy, abortion and the potential for common ground in this often contentious debate. We are also committed to ensuring that as we conduct strategic planning to identify the future priorities of this great University, we will pay particular attention to how decisions will impact our diversity goals.
In these last weeks of the semester and into the summer and fall, look for more discussion of these issues by the senior leadership of the University and the University Diversity Council in these pages and in other publications. Look for a multi-day event later this month, “Day Hall Talks Diversity,” featuring data about diversity at Cornell and opportunities to discuss diversity concerns with members of the UDC. Also look to www.cornell.edu/diversity for information about diversity at Cornell, and use firstname.lastname@example.org to share concerns, comments and questions.
It is necessary, but not sufficient, for specific areas to excel in diversity; the entire campus must accept accountability for creating an affirming climate leading to engagement across social boundaries. I pledge to continue to find new ways of reaching out to the Cornell community to achieve the goals we all share for our University in the area of diversity. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and concerns.