February 15, 2012

Committing to Diversity

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WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, STUDENTS RECEIVED an email statement from President David Skorton outlining the University’s new diversity goals. This statement identified several key aspects of diversity for the University to focus on, and set a deadline to implement them. We applaud the openness of this effort, and of the goals addressed in Wednesday’s statement. Moving forward, the University needs to maintain this level of inclusiveness, while introducing more specific strategies to reinforce their commitment to diversity.

That this statement was sent out to the entire the student body is a strong early indicator of the University’s commitment to implementing these goals. The public nature of the statement will ensure that the University is held accountable and that the administration will live up to the goals it has set for itself. By their own timeline, the administration and the University as a whole will engage in annual assessments of diversity initiatives, and have several specific goals addressed by 2015. We hope that these efforts are as public and accessible as this initial statement.

In this statement, President Skorton makes commendable efforts to gauge students’ feedback. The inclusion of an email address at the bottom of the statement invites a dialogue in which students can offer their own thoughts on these initiatives. The email also promises progress reports based on organized and public data. These efforts hopefully set the tone for an initiative that recognizes the value of the student voice.

While all of the goals set out in the statement are important, there are several that should be particularly focused on. Faculty diversity specifically is an area that the University needs to continue to emphasize. While programs such as CU-ADVANCE have already started to increase female faculty membership, much can still be done to bring a wider range of perspectives and experiences to Cornell’s classrooms. Additionally, faculty retention and student graduation rates are issues that have emerged repeatedly, and need to be centerpieces of the University’s broader look at diversity. Last year, The Sun reported that only 75 percent of black male students who matriculated in 2003 graduated within six years, compared to 91 percent for their white counterparts. Creative solutions to address these ongoing problems will hopefully be the outcome of this initiative.

A commitment to diversity is necessary for any institution, in higher education or elsewhere. Throughout its history Cornell has maintained a tradition of inclusiveness, but this public proclamation of the administration’s immediate goals hopefully signals a new, open, chapter of their diversity initiative. We hope the University is able to uphold this openness and produce solutions to what they have correctly identified as problems facing Cornell.