Letter to the editor: New campus Diversity Plan is deeply flawed

May 1, 2014

The Badger Herald

What is the meaning of “diversity” and “Inclusive Excellence” in the new Diversity Plan that will be voted on at next Monday’s Faculty Senate meeting?

This plan offers a radically different and much expanded definition of “diversity.” It reads:

Individual differences in personality, learning styles, and life experiences, and group or social differences that may manifest through personality, learning styles, life experiences, and group or social differences. Our definition of diversity also incorporates differences of race and ethnicity; sex; gender and gender identity or expression; sexual orientation; country of origin; language; physical and intellectual ability; emotional health; socio-economic status; and affiliations that are based on cultural, political, religious or other identities THAT CAN BE ENGAGED IN THE SERVICE OF LEARNING.

[The capitalized words come from the Board of Regents definition of diversity in its Inclusive Excellence Framework.]

This definition goes far beyond the long-standing focus on racial or ethnic groups, and it raises several critical questions:

What is the rationale for this greatly expanded definition of diversity, and what are its positive and negative implications (academic, administrative and legal) for University of Wisconsin faculty, staff and students? This new definition would seem to require that students be identified by each and every one of these differences. If so, how would this be done? Would students be willing to disclose their “identities?”

Why does the plan fail to explain how these “differences” “can be engaged in the service of learning?” The words “engaged” and “in the service” are mysterious. What do they mean? Does the plan give any suggestions about proven ways of doing this?

Understanding the meaning of the Inclusive Excellence is also difficult because relatively little attention is given to the details of this concept. It was created by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and then adopted by the Board of Regents with little or no faculty input. Is Inclusive Excellence an appropriate “framework” for a major teaching and research university such as UW?

There are additional problems. The new plan gives no hints about what has been learned from previous diversity plans – among them Plan 2008. Nor does it give any indication of how that learning is incorporated into the new Diversity Plan. This is not surprising because campus officials have been reluctant to undertake rigorous evaluations of campus diversity programs.

Another is the failure to give any significant attention to the “pipeline problem.” This refers to the small number of academically well-prepared targeted minority high school graduates from Wisconsin’s public high schools, as well as the small national pipeline of new targeted minority Ph.D.s. The importance of this long-standing problem receives, at most, passing attention.

Implementing this new and much broadened Diversity Plan is going to require additional resources. No information is provided on either the plan’s budgetary costs, or the additional time commitment of faculty and staff in trying to implement the plan’s 28 recommendations.

Even if the budgetary and human resources are available, the feasibility of successfully implementing this plan is highly uncertain. Despite the expenditure of millions of dollars for Plan 2008 and the subsequent five years of Madison’s Inclusive Excellence diversity plan, the results are widely recognized as disappointing.

When the Faculty Senate convenes next Monday, we can only hope that faculty senators ask tough questions rather than taking the easy way out by quickly voting their approval of a deeply flawed new Diversity Plan.

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