Letter to the editor: Current diversity plan just another dead-end

Apr 21, 2015
The Badger Herald

“You’ve told us about the 18 initiatives and the 40 or so metrics in the diversity and inclusion implementation plan. What should I tell my colleagues about how to focus our individual and group efforts? Which five initiatives should we concentrate on?”

That is the essence of the question I heard posed by a department chairman at the first of the eight recently scheduled listening sessions on the new University of Wisconsin diversity framework.

The chief diversity officer’s response did not answer that question. The department chair did not press for an answer. Nobody else did either. Next question, please.

The new diversity implementation plan document is the product of intensive labors over the past few months by eight committees/groups composed of 112 individuals: 35 academic staff, 18 administrators, 18 classified staff, 14 undergraduates, 10 faculty, seven LTE (limited-term employee) administrators, four graduate students, three administrators-faculty, two community members and one LTE-faculty-administrator.

What began with a list of 70 initiatives was eventually pared down to 18 initiatives. These initiatives are to be implemented in phases, with some already underway and others to be started in the coming years.

What is sadly missing are connections to past and ongoing efforts to push forward on the goals of diversity. More attention is given to the cosmetics of the document, as evidenced in its too-clever title: “Affecting R.E.E.L. Change (Retain, Equip, Engage, Lead) for Diversity and Inclusion.”

What is the direct connection between the new report’s 18 initiatives and the May 2014 approved report of the Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee? That report, “Forward Together: A Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence,” listed 30 recommendations that would involve almost 80 campus units and approximately 175 “partnerships” to push forward its recommendations. If anything looked like an implement plan, this was it. But how these 30 recommendations and the 18 implementation initiatives are linked remains a mystery.

Then there are the between 50 to 60 long-established Minority and Disadvantaged Student programs. Every year the Office of Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer prepares a spreadsheet indicating the sources and dollar expenditures for each of these programs, the FTE (full-time equivalent) employee count, and the allocation of these resources to promote recruitment, retention and graduation of minority students. Again, how these programs are linked to the new implementation plan receives no attention.

Next is the “UW-Madison Strategic Diversity Update” (Draft 1.0 July 2013) prepared by former Chief Diversity Officer Damon Williams and circulated only days before he resigned. That 198-page report describes 181 “University Department/Organizational Program Initiatives” that are identified by an alphabet soup of acronyms. The content of this report, compiled by the CDO staff, described programs and initiatives “to provide the campus community with a broad look at the numerous activities taking place institutionally. It is truly impressive!” Impressive? Perhaps. But, again, what is the connection?

Despite the “absence” of a formally-adopted diversity plan in the five years following the end of Madison’s previous diversity plan, called Plan 2008, an open records request turned up some interesting information. It revealed that then-Chief Diversity Officer Williams, working quietly behind the scenes, with the support of then-Chancellor Biddy Martin and then-Provost Deluca but without informing the faculty, began implementing several key goals of the Inclusive Excellence Diversity plan that had been “endorsed” by the UW System Board of Regents in 2009.

So, what does the campus have to work with? The new 2015 implementation plan’s 18 initiatives and approximately 40 metrics, the 30 recommendations plus the many involvements and partnerships identified in the May 2014 Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee, the 181 programs and initiatives from the 2013 Strategic Update report, the more than 50 long-standing Minority and Disadvantaged (M&D) Student Programs, plus the uncounted Inclusive Excellence programs initiated beginning in 2009.

How do all of these efforts fit together? No hints can be found in any of these documents. It is as if each group that worked on these various plans felt, to use the old phrase, that they needed “to reinvent the wheel.” Unfortunately, the “wheels” don’t match. Despite a constant “spinning of the wheels,” there is little forward progress.

What are we left with? Five unrelated reports that would be the laughing stock if put forth by effective leaders in business and public agencies. That some legislators wonder about UW’s spending of taxpayer funds should come as no surprise.

Particularly embarrassing are the self-congratulatory statements found in these reports, for example, through implementing this new plan UW can become “a leader in the state and nation in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion through active participation of all constituents of the UW-Madison community.”

Let’s cut out the bragging about what could happen. Better to toot our horn after we have something substantial to show for it. Modesty is a much neglected virtue.

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