Maryland's Kirwan: If diversity isn't a priority at your institution, get a new president

Dive Brief:

  • Calling the need for presidents to focus acutely on diversity “almost self-preservation,” University of Maryland System Brit Kirwan suggested to an audience at the annual American Council on Education meeting Sunday in Washington that any president who doesn’t buy into the imperative for diversity in enrollment and hiring should be removed.
  • In order for diversity initiatives to be successful, agreed the panel of higher education leaders, there must be top-down buy-in into their importance, and individuals must be held accountable for their actions toward the end of achieving greater diversity on campus.
  • Savannah State University President Cheryl Dozier Davenport cautioned, however, against the idea of simply recruiting students and faculty to campus without making appropriate changes to the culture of the institution to welcome and support those students and staff once they arrive. “If your global mission is real, you’ve got to be ready to receive them,” she said. University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher agreed, saying, “once you recruit them, you’ve got to have an environment for them to thrive.”

Dive Insight:

Many who have spent decades in higher education lament the fact that many of the questions and concerns that consumed leaders 40 and 50 years ago are still a topic of conversation on campus. Crutcher said that when he started in academia roughly 40 years ago, he would have certainly bet there’d be no need for African-American or women’s history courses by 2000. “I thought that scholarship would have been infused across the curriculum” by the turn of the century. And while some would say the conversation has shifted from one of access to one of inclusion, few would argue that higher education is still struggling to make way for all of the students entering in.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland President Tuajuanda Jordan said for a long time, marginalized populations were taught to be quiet and not disrupt the status quo, but the current climate has empowered people to “act up” and the climate on campuses is “mirroring what we see in the country overall,” which has “brought certain things to the forefront” about just how little the climate on campuses has changed in the last 50 or more years.

“The critical issue is inclusive pedagogy — how do you teach in such a way that you are including everyone in the classroom and in the lecture,” Crutcher said. Kirwan said that “no enterprise on the planet does a poorer job of professional development than higher education,” and while many corporations offer training on inclusion and tolerance, the same is not true for higher education.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed