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  February 5, 2001

Taylor Appoints Committee
to Develop Diversity Plan

A 24-member task force has been assembled to create a five-year strategic plan to enhance diversity at UConn among faculty, staff and students.

"We are a University, and diversity is important," says Ronald Taylor, UConn's vice provost for multicultural affairs. "It must be part of a student's education in the 21st century. In a world that is more diverse, it is our obligation to make sure that students grow at a University that is more diverse."

The committee will have to work fast, Taylor says, noting that he has been charged by the Board of Trustees with delivering a plan by June. He expects the group to begin meeting within the next few weeks.

"It is ambitious," Taylor says, "but we've been busy behind the scenes, obtaining plans from other universities. And we have a structure in place already with the cultural centers, the institutes, and this office," he adds, pointing to the creation of the office of multicultural affairs a few years ago as a key to the future.

"This effort will not work without the commitment of the leaders of this University, and I believe that commitment is there. Diversity is an expressed desire of the chairman of the Board of Trustees, (Roger Gelfenbien). It is an expressed desire of President (Philip) Austin and other administrators. The commitment from an enrollment management standpoint can be seen in the numbers. Now we need to lay out a plan to get where we should be in five years, in admissions and among faculty and staff, then lay out systematic guidelines to get there," Taylor says.

Austin underscored Taylor's point and emphasized that there is much work to be done.

"The University's goal is to be reflective of the heterogeneous state we serve," says Austin. "This means not only that we continue to strengthen our efforts to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff, but that we expend great effort to maintain a climate where people from all backgrounds feel at home."

Taylor, a professor of sociology, former director of the Institute for African-American Studies and former president of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), was appointed to the multicultural post in July 1999. It wasn't until April last year, however, that he began the job "in earnest," he says, because in the meantime he was chosen to head the search committee for a new chancellor. John Petersen was selected for the job after several months of intensive work.

During the past three years, as enrollment has increased steadily, the number of minority freshmen has skyrocketed - a 51 percent increase since 1998 - bringing the campus-wide enrollment of people of color to 1,994, or 16.2 percent of the student population. There are 599 people of color on UConn's workforce, or 14.4 percent.

But the numbers don't faze Taylor. "This effort is not about numbers. It's not about percentages. It's about us doing a better job, about finding a systematic way of creating more opportunities for underrepresented people," he says. "And it's about support structures, too. Universities that have done well create a critical mass of comfort, and they (minority students and staff) recruit others. That's a hoped-for outcome we will aspire to." The comfort level is also important for retention.

The goal of the task force, Taylor says, will be to map a way to get there.

"Within the next five years, I hope we'll be far better than we are now. If we aren't, then we ought to do something else," he adds.

"Improving the minority representation on the campus, and improving the climate along with it, will be labor-intensive, a lot of work. But we have to begin somewhere, begin with a plan and then hold people accountable to make it happen," Taylor says.

The plan, he adds, "will tell us all we need to know about what has to be done. Then all we have to do is get on with it."

Richard Veilleux

The members of the Diversity Action Plan Committee are:
Ron Taylor, vice provost, multicultural affairs (co-chair)
Ross MacKinnon, dean, liberal arts and sciences (co-chair)
Cynthia Adams, associate dean, allied health
Alexinia Baldwin, professor, curriculum & instruction
Robert Bee, professor, anthropology, & advisor to Native American students
John Bennett, director, The Academic Experience
Arnold Dashefsky, director, Center for Judaic Studies
Pouran Faghri, associate professor, allied health
Karla Fox, associate vice chancellor, university affairs
James Henkel, associate vice provost, research & graduate education
Peggy Jablonski, interim associate vice chancellor, student affairs
JoAnn Lewis, director, counseling services
Peter Luh, director, Booth Research Center
Maria Martinez, director, Center for Academic Programs
Ken Neubeck, associate professor, sociology
Dave Palmer, associate professor, management, & moderator, Univ. Senate
Angela Rola, director, Asian American Cultural Center
Bandana Purkayastha, assistant professor, sociology
Robert Stephens, director, Institute for African American Studies
one graduate student (to be named)
one undergraduate (to be named)