Maryland says collaboration, not merger, best solution to end higher education discrimination

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Maryland officials call a proposal to merge a commuter institution with a HBCU a "far-reaching, risky scheme," arguing instead that joint degree programs can better end decades of racial inequity among the state's public colleges.

Latest developments in campus racial protests and responses to those protests

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1,000 complaints to U.S. Education Department in seven years; Brown releases $100 million plan to promote inclusiveness; Occidental sit-in ends after six days.

Protests and controversies over race proliferate on campuses

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Princeton agrees to consider changing role of Woodrow Wilson name on campus; white student union surfaces (online) at Illinois; black ministers want Kean president to quit; Smith students exclude journalists; Towson president signs list of demands; and more.

Black students criticize racism protests organized by white students

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Demonstrations against racism at two universities were canceled after black students complained about the rallies being organized without their involvement.

Cambridge Drops Video With Controversial Historian

The University of Cambridge has dropped a fund-raising video because many objected to its inclusions of David Starkey, a noted historian of Tudor England whose comments on modern society have been criticized as racist by many, The Telegraph reported. An open letter to the university said that including Starkey made many other alumni uncomfortable about being featured in the video or contributing to the fund-raising campaign. Cambridge officials said that they always planned to take down the video, but did so early because of concerns they were hearing. Starkey told the Telegraph: “I was asked to contribute by the university, which I love, and to which I owe a profound debt. In due course, the university will decide what is right, proper and expedient. I shall be happy to accept that decision."

As campus protests continue, Princeton becomes flashpoint with debate over Woodrow Wilson

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Princeton becomes flash point in campus protests as students demand end to links to Woodrow Wilson. The same day, institution ends the use of "master" to describe leaders of residential colleges.

Yale President Vows New Efforts to Promote Diversity

Yale President Peter Salovey announced Tuesday that the university will undertake a series of new efforts to promote an inclusive environment on campus. Among the steps he outlined: adding faculty positions on underrepresented groups and doubling the budgets for campus cultural centers that focus on various groups. He also pledged that he, "along with the vice presidents, deans, provosts and other members of the administration, will receive training on recognizing and combating racism and other forms of discrimination in the academy."

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Protests at Still More Campuses

Protests over race and diversity continued to spread Monday, with actions at numerous campuses:

  • At Occidental College, students took over parts of an administration building to demand the creation of a black studies major and the hiring of more minority faculty members, The Los Angeles Times reported.
  • At Iowa State University, students and faculty members held a rally to support black students at the University of Missouri, and to draw attention to their concerns about experiencing racism on campus, The Ames Tribune reported.
  • At Niagara University, students walked out of classes to hold a rally on issues of racism and inequality, The Niagara Gazette reported.
  • At the University of South Carolina, about 150 students walked out of class and held a protest to demand that the university do more to promote diversity, The State reported.
  • In Boston, students from 17 colleges held a march against racial injustices, blocking traffic at some points in their protest, Boston.com reported.
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U of York Apologizes for Statement on 'Men's Day'

The University of York, in Britain, has apologized for a press release announcing that it would celebrate "International Men's Day" this week. Many critics said that the university's support for the day suggested a lack of awareness of the many inequities facing women in academe. The university's apology said that "the main focus of gender equality work should continue to be on the inequalities faced by women, and in particular the underrepresentation of women in the professoriate and senior management."

Role boards play in the racial debates on campuses (essay)

The long-simmering tensions related to race, ethnicity, inclusion and diversity in higher education have reached the boiling point nationally. The headlines regarding protests and demands, not only by students but also by faculty and staff members, at Claremont McKenna College, Ithaca College, the University of Missouri, Yale University and elsewhere have put such issues firmly on the agendas of boards of trustees everywhere, if they were not there already.

And those recent controversies probably have added a sense of urgency to the conversations. While some boards have been giving these matters some attention for some time, we have now reached a tipping point where all boards must step up to partner in leadership with the president.

Regardless of trustees’ personal or political views on affirmative action and other policies, boards have an important role to play in their fiduciary as well as strategic roles with respect to race and inclusion at their institutions and within the state systems that they govern. The following are some specific steps that boards should consider. They should:

Ask for numbers and climate data. Boards should request meaningful data related to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic diversity; discuss the data and trends over the past three to five years; and understand the implications of what they learn.

Beyond the data on enrollment, retention and graduation rates by race and ethnicity, Pell eligibility, and gender, boards should ask for more granular data to identify meaningful trends. In what degree programs are students of different races and ethnicities enrolling? How well are different demographics of students progressing across these various degree programs?

For instance, are white students succeeding in STEM at different rates than minority students? Does a higher percentage of minority students leave after junior year as compared to other types of students? Or do those students not return as sophomores at different rates than majority students? What about admissions and yield patterns by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status?

Another type of data to collect relates to campus climate, which differs from asking for information that the institution already has. The methodologies often include surveys, focus groups and interviews. Climate studies may be a significant undertaking, yet they can yield keen insights because they allow personal stories to emerge. They help leaders understand the actual experience of students, faculty and staff in ways that numbers alone cannot.

Ensure a comprehensive diversity plan. In addition to the need to understand current and emerging issues, boards should ensure that the institution has an intentional plan to encourage campus diversity and equity for students, faculty and staff. Such questions include: Is the plan appropriate? Does it address the right elements? Is it consistent with other institutional goals and priorities, such as those outlined in the strategic plan? Are the milestones and metrics sensible? How realistic is the timeline? Does it clarify who is responsible for what?

Hold the president accountable. A primary responsibility of boards is to ensure progress on institutional milestones and goals, and they do this by holding the president accountable. In turn, the board should be assured that the president is holding his or her staff and the faculty accountable for progress, as well. By being explicit about their expectations, the board sends an important signal that it too cares about equity in a sustained and systematic manner.

That said, any new goals must work in concert with other presidential priorities. Unrealistic goals and a constantly changing set of priorities do little to advance the institution or provide an effective North Star for progress.

Support the president. When the institution faces difficult and challenging issues -- as those involving race, diversity and inclusivity frequently are -- a board will also often need to counsel and support the president. Many presidents have and will come under fire for lack of perceived progress on objectives related to diversity and equity. While some deserve the criticisms they receive, others are and have been working diligently on this agenda.

Given the sense of frustration on many campuses, the way forward is often unclear, with no road map. There are no simple, proven strategies or silver-bullet solutions. If progress on diversity were easy, higher education -- and the nation -- would be farther along on these lasting challenges.

Acknowledge complexity. Change in the academy can be difficult and seem slow, much to the frustration of some trustees. The complex and often contentious issues of diversity and inclusion are adaptive challenges, not technical problems with quick fixes or clear answers. In fact, treating these issues as technical problems in order to apply a tried solution may only exacerbate them.

Instead, boards must work with the president, staff, faculty and students to examine the issues, acknowledge the complexity of views of multiple stakeholders, think critically about them, define what can be done and take steps forward -- in some cases boldly, and in others more incrementally.

Make sure a campus protest plan is in place. Headline-grabbing protests have occurred at a handful of campuses and are likely to unfold at others. It is impossible to say which institutions might face significant protests. Boards should help ensure that their campuses are prepared for possible protests and know their role if such protests emerge. Intentional conversations with campus leaders can help articulate a strategy and minimize any risks to people, property and reputations.

Develop a media strategy specifically for the board. An effective approach includes clarifying questions with the board such as: Who speaks for the board? Who crafts the talking points? What do rank-and-file board members say or not say if they are approached by the media?

Any communication strategies also need to attend to social media. How are the institution and the board monitoring it? What are the means of communication that the board should pursue or try to minimize? What are the priority outlets where the board and institution should focus their attention? How agile can such media strategies be if the platforms shift, from, say, Twitter to Instagram?

Discuss lessons learned from other industries, fields or sectors. Many trustees are highly effective leaders in their own industries and fields. They may have lessons and insights to share from outside of higher education that can help campus leaders.

For instance, many corporations and nonprofit organizations have made tremendous strides related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Others may have lessons to share from failed efforts that can also be illuminating. Boards should not shy away from serving as counselors when they have insights to share.

At the same time, savvy boards know that not all ideas from corporate or other settings transfer smoothly into higher education. Discovering what applies well or not can only happen through a candid dialogue between the board and the administration.

Look in the mirror. Most boards themselves have a lot of work to do regarding their own diversity. According to the most recent survey of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, the racial and ethnic diversity of boards has not increased significantly over many years. Thus, boards should consider the ways in which issues of diversity, inclusion, voice, power and perspective play out in their own boardrooms.

Key questions to ask include: How diverse is the board? To what extent does it mirror the campus or larger community? What are the experiences of minority board members? Do they feel their voices matter consistently? How well has the board retained minority members? Do they hold positions of board leadership?

Such conversations can be difficult to frame and hold, much like what is occurring on college campuses -- yet they are essential for the board to have. People on the campus must know the board is as serious about addressing such issues within itself as it is within the institution.

Build the campus culture by design, not default. Values matter greatly in the academy. In their dialogues with key stakeholders, boards should always think about the campus culture they want to build and the values they hold most dear and want to perpetuate. Those values should be pervasive throughout the campus -- so embedded in the culture (part of the ethos of the place) that they define all interactions and are defended at all costs. Boards should spend time learning how students experience the climate and culture, what shapes the student experience, and whether that differs across diverse groups and individuals.

Listen to students, faculty and staff. Trustees often are most comfortable in a problem-solving mode. But what may better serve their institutions is simply to be able to listen and empathize with students, withholding immediate judgment. Boards must remember that the heart of the matter is about students, their experience and their success. Moving too fast to solutions without understanding the nuance of the issues may provide a short-term sense of progress but create more significant challenges in the future. Building bridges between the board and students and other groups on the campus may be more important now than it has been in the last decade.

In sum, the challenges of race/ethnicity and equity are longstanding in the academy. Ten years ago, the American Council on Education released a report aimed at new presidents about leadership strategies for campus diversity, Leadership Strategies for Advancing Campus Diversity. The insights still resonate today, because unfortunately the challenges remain even if the stakes are higher now. In addition to the work of administrators, faculty and staff, board members have the potential to add value in creating a campus culture that is truly open, welcoming, respectful, diverse and inclusive.

Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy. Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower Inc., a board governance consulting firm.

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