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Diversity, equity, inclusion: UM task force issues recommendations for improvement

University of Missouri students protest a series of racist incidents on the Columbia campus in this photo from Nov. 9, 2015.
Bram Sable-Smith | KBIA
University of Missouri students protest a series of racist incidents on the Columbia campus in this photo from Nov. 9, 2015.

The University of Missouri should emphasize diversity in its recruitment, train professors in the importance of diversity in their courses and increase outreach to improve diversity among faculty and staff, a systemwide task force recommended on Wednesday.

Those proposals were among priority items included in the task force’s report. It was responding to a comprehensive audit of diversity, equity and inclusion practices at the university conducted by the consulting firm IBIS.

The task force on diversity, equity and inclusion was named by the university in November 2015 as part of the reaction to the racial unrest on the Columbia campus that led to the departure of system President Tim Wolfe and R. Bowen Loftin as chancellor at Mizzou.

It included representatives from all four of the university’s campuses, plus the system office and university extension. In its 21-page report, it said the school’s willingness to evaluate its efforts in diversity reflects “leadership and courage.”

It also noted that the problems that surfaced at Mizzou last year are not unique to higher education.

University of Missouri students protest a series of racist incidents on the Columbia campus on Nov. 9, 2015.
Credit Bram Sable-Smith | KBIA
University of Missouri students protest a series of racist incidents on the Columbia campus on Nov. 9, 2015.

“Dissatisfaction around the unrealized fulfillment of these three concepts is not a contemporary phenomenon,” the report said. “Universities and society have historically struggled with diversity, equity and inclusion reducing these qualities to discussions of race and gender alone while ignoring other important identities such as class, religion or sexual orientation, to name just a few.”

The report added:

“The university must create an environment where each constituent is not just welcomed, but able to thrive and succeed. By acknowledging the multiple identities of our constituents, the university will be giving voice or recognizing the value therein of each member of the community. By creating a plan of action or recommendations that can be measured, constituents will be able to hold the university accountable and in turn the university can track its own progress in and across these areas.”

The chair of the task force, Mizzou associate dean S. David Mitchell, called the recommendations “a strategy to address gaps in what is provided to our students, faculty and staff in terms of diversity and inclusion when benchmarked against best practices in comparable higher education institutions. This is another milestone in the effort to make our campuses more inclusive, welcoming and respectful for everyone in our university system.”

In his response to the report, interim system President Michael Middleton said he supports the recommendations.

“We have made significant, tangible progress on the initiatives established one year ago by the board of curators,” said Middleton. He was named to the interim position a few days after Wolfe’s resignation; a permanent president for the university, Mun Choi, takes office March 1.

“Today’s release of the audit and recommendations for the university based on the audit’s findings, represent another important step forward. I also am, and shall continue to be, heartened in seeing and sharing the success stories that rise out of our joined efforts to create the university we imagine.”

Specific recommendations

Introducing the recommendations, the task force report noted that the audit of diversity, equity and inclusion at the system level and on the university’s campuses is just the first step.

“The university can no longer simply measure its efforts with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion solely based upon compliance,” it said. “The university must achieve more than just competence in these areas. It has to strive for excellence as it does in its academic, athletic, health care, and other programs.

“To assess whether the university has achieved excellence in this area, it is necessary to provide a common language for discussion and a lens through which the university can view diversity, equity and inclusion.”

And, it added, support from the top, moral and otherwise, will be crucial for the recommendations to become reality.

“It is not enough for the System to create initiatives with the expectation of campus implementation without a consideration of funding support,” the task force said. “Far too often, campuses have been asked to expend limited resources on newly proposed initiatives while maintaining the quality and effectiveness of existing programs. And yet, campuses must also continue to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The recommendations are divided into sections, according to each campus and division of the university. For the St. Louis campus, they include:

  • conducting a pay equity audit
  • supporting diversifying the administration
  • reviewing student recruitment and retention practices
  • reviewing general education and cultural diversity requirements
  • reviewing freshmen orientation through a diversity lens
  • expanding the Chancellor’s Cultural Diversity Council
  • conducting exit surveys for students, faculty and staff

Priorities for the system include:

  • expanding recruitment beyond traditional networks
  • developing a process to seek candidates to ensure a diverse pool of applicants
  • supporting creation of inclusive courses and curriculum
  • requiring unconscious bias training for participants of hiring teams

The panel concluded that improved performance in these areas has to be a priority for everyone at the university.

“While the Task Force has provided input at this stage,” its report said, “the larger responsibility for the university’s effort around diversity, equity, and inclusion are not the sole responsibility of the Task Force. It is a collective effort to which each member of our university has a responsibility.”

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Dale Singer on Twitter: @dalesinger

Copyright 2016 St. Louis Public Radio

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.