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  April 8, 2002

Diversity Plan Puts Forward
Wide-Ranging Goals
By Richard Veilleux

The Diversity Action Committee has released a wide-ranging proposal that, during the next 10 years, will increase the diversity of students, faculty, and staff, incorporate multiculturalism into the curriculum, implement dozens of proposals to make UConn a more welcoming place for people with different backgrounds - and hold specific departments accountable for getting it all done.

The plan, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees April 16, is ambitious and will require an infusion of funding, much of which is projected to come from state sources, corporate and organizational partnerships, and fund raising.

The proposal primarily targets recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce, student body, and administration. To do that, the proposal sets more than a dozen goals, and offers more than 120 recommendations to help achieve those goals. It calls for the addition of more than three dozen faculty and staff from underrepresented populations, as well as more scholarships and grants, program enhancements, and new programming directed at improving the campus climate for minorities.

If implemented, the proposal promises to change the behavior of people who attend, teach, or work at the University's six campuses, its health center, and schools of law and social work, and provide an environment in which people of color and other underrepresented populations can feel more welcome and comfortable.

Incremental Change
Although some of the recommendations could be implemented immediately, others will take years to establish and certify as completed. At each step, however, new reporting mechanisms will help officials track the progress of all the proposal's recommendations.

"If it's done right, there will be incremental change and, at each step, we'll know how far we've come," says Ronald Taylor, vice provost for multicultural affairs. "The community has a right to expect those things."

The report is the product of more than a year of work by a 27-member committee, co-chaired by Taylor and Ross MacKinnon, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The committee included administrators, directors, faculty, staff , a graduate student and an undergraduate. The proposal reflects input from all those constituencies.

"It is certainly a comprehensive effort. It's very impressive in its degree of detail, touching all the bases in the University community," says Willena Price, director of the African American Cultural Center. "Clearly, a lot of thought went into it, and I think the committee did a wonderful job. I'm seeing new and refreshing ideas each time I read it."

The committee was appointed by President Philip E. Austin and Chancellor John D. Petersen in January 2001, at the behest of the Board of Trustees. The group began meeting in late February 2001, and completed the draft proposal last month.

"It's a living document," says Taylor. "Over time, with experience, some things may be modified, others will be dropped, more may be added.

"But," he says, "what is important is that it enables this office (multicultural affairs) to have a document - walking papers, so to speak - that shapes what we will do first, second, third, and so on."

It also defines which other offices are responsible for carrying out each of the recommendations.

"We wanted to be clear, to put down on paper, who does what, so there is no question of where responsibility for individual effort rests. What people have often needed is guidance. Well, now we have a document that says 'Here. If you want a more comfortable environment for underrepresented populations, this is what you can do,'" says Taylor. "There is no longer any excuse. These recommendations include some of the best ideas that exist from around the country."

Refining the Plan
Since completing the draft proposal, Taylor and Cindy Adams, associate vice provost for multicultural affairs, have been meeting with all segments of the UConn community, including faculty groups, graduate and undergraduate student leaders, faculty and professional staff union leaders, cultural center directors, other directors, and deans. Visits also have been made to the UConn Health Center, and the School of Law will be visited soon.

The draft also was sent to faculty and staff.

After considering input from these groups and the Board of Trustees, the document will be fine-tuned.

"The consensus of the executive board was that it is an impressive set of goals and objectives," says Edward Marth, executive director of the AAUP. "The funding may be a challenge, but it may be more expensive for the University not to do these things."

During the next few months, Taylor says, a committee will determine, in consultation with the administration, the plan's priorities, and a small implementation committee also will be created to work with individual departments charged with carrying out various aspects of the proposal, and to help them with their efforts.

MacKinnon, the dean and co-chair of the committee, says creating a climate at a rural university that can attract and retain faculty, staff and students from underrepresented groups is a very complicated issue.

"There are a lot of items listed in this report, and I hope the message it conveys to the community is that this is a really important set of issues," he says. "It is vital that the community buys into this because, ultimately, we're dealing with changing attitudes and behaviors."

A major piece of the proposal - requiring all students to pass at least two courses that focus on multiculturalism - took a first step to becoming reality March 25 when the University Senate voted nearly unanimously to add a diversity content area to the new set of general education requirements the group has been debating for months. Much remains to be done before the Senate casts a final vote on the overall requirements, including the diversity piece, but its inclusion was a major success for Taylor and the University.

"This is the single strongest action the University has ever taken regarding multiculturalism in the curriculum," says Gary English, head of the dramatic arts department and chair of the Senate's curricula and courses committee. "It's significant, because one of the reasons we're changing the general education requirements is to reduce the number of [required] content areas. So to add a new content area [the diversity requirement] with nearly unanimous support indicates the Senate seriously believes we need to do something to commit to diversity and multiculturalism in general education."

An amendment to the Senate motion ties the requirement to the president's policy on non-discrimination, ensuring that it will cover the spectrum of diverse populations on campus, including people of different ethnic backgrounds, gender, religious beliefs or the disabled.

Taylor takes the approval as another positive sign that the University is ready to embrace a broad effort to transform UConn's commitment to multiculturalism.

Making a Difference
"I believe this plan will work. If my barometer is correct, there are a great many people out there waiting for this to happen," says Taylor. "The Board of Trustees is engaged. The president and chancellor are committed to and behind the effort. And I also think that, this time, especially after 9-11, people are more sensitive to the need to diversify. People are beginning to have a broader, less ethnocentric, outlook.

"I'm optimistic that, this time, we can really make a difference."

Copies of the report can be obtained by calling the Office of Multicultural Affairs at (860) 486-5848.

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