April 9, 2012

Diversity Plan Delegates

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A plan to increase student, faculty and staff diversity by delegating responsibility to leaders of the various colleges has been circulated among top administrators on campus and is in the final stages of planning, according to Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Laura Brown.

“If you announce broad goals, it’s really hard to hold anyone accountable,” Brown said. “This gives each of them the opportunity to highlight five goals, report back and use those as target points.”The new approach –– called “Toward New Destinations” –– was announced by President David Skorton in an email to the Cornell community on Feb. 15 and will go into effect starting in the next academic year.

Over the course of the next year, each college dean and vice president will be expected to choose five specific goals from a “menu” of 16 to work on during the course of the academic year, according to Brown.

Options include increasing certain types of diversity, “increasing engagement for a target group” and supporting career development. The deans and vice presidents will report to Skorton and Provost Fuchs at the end of the year, according to Brown.

Brown also said the new policy allows each college to create its own approach to improving diversity, while still maintaining a system of accountability.

“Each college has its own priorities and its own strategic planning around diversity,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to meddle in what they thought was appropriate. It will look different from college to college.”

The new diversity priorities were created by the University Diversity Council, a group charged with promoting diversity throughout Cornell. This council includes five University employees with previous experience advancing diversity in higher education.

Brown said that these employees will report to administrators on the progress made on specific goals of the initiative. She said this collective approach garners the opinions of more people on campus and thus allows for broader professional expertise.

“It’s an approach that accepts how diverse Cornell is and doesn’t try to centralize it in one person,” Brown said.

Toward New Destinations targets diversity through four principles: composition, engagement, inclusion and achievement, according to a summary of the document released to The Sun.

According to Brown, “composition” refers to the diversity of the University’s demography, while engagement refers to whether minority members on campus are joining and staying involved in social and professional activities on campus.

Brown said that “inclusion” considers the degree to which diverse members of the campus community are made to feel welcome. “Achievement” addresses issues such as the academic successes of underrepresented individuals and their rates of admission to honors programs.

“It’s not only about how many underrepresented individuals you admit and how many graduate,” Brown said. “We want to know whether they’re doing as well in terms of academic performance, participating in honors programs, study abroad –– all the things that our most successful students participate in. We want them to be achieving as much as any students that are here.”

Brown also said that in the future, Toward New Directions will become a public document to increase awareness of the initiative.

“It creates a public planning process that the whole community will understand and it foregrounds for the leadership a regular occasion where we will meet and talk about the University-wide process,” Brown said. “It gives us a way of coming together, integrating the things we’re doing and make progress in a collective way.”

Alexander said that she hopes Toward New Destinations will provide momentum for advancing diversity at Cornell.

“This is a marathon, and not a sprint. It will evolve over time,” she said. “It will help us take honest assessments as to where we are and what we need to address … We have to start somewhere and get the program rolling.”

Original Author: Emma Court