Proposals to require students to take a course related to diversity have been controversial on many campuses. But the University of California at Los Angeles has had one of the longest debates on the topic, with multiple votes (going in different directions), dating to 2004.
But Friday evening, results of an apparently definitive vote of the entire faculty were released. And the 916 to 487 vote clears the way for the requirement to start with the class that enters U.C.L.A.'s main undergraduate college in the fall of 2017.
Both the outcome and the lopsidedness of the vote were wins for supporters of the diversity requirement. Faculty in U.C.L.A. College (which enrolls the vast majority of undergraduates) voted down the idea in 2004 and 2012. Last year, the faculty of U.C.L.A. College voted by a narrow margin -- 332 to 303 -- to approve the requirement. But opponents filed a petition to force a vote of the faculty of all university divisions, and many thought that the professional schools' professors (as well as emeritus professors, who were entitled to vote) might be more dubious of the idea than were the current U.C.L.A. College faculty. But the proposal ended up being approved by a much larger margin.
Chancellor Gene Block, who actively endorsed the proposal, issued a statement after the results were announced. “A diversity-focused course requirement has been a longstanding priority for me because of its clear value to our students, so I am very pleased with the campuswide faculty vote approving the proposal,” Block said.
Under the requirement, students will be required to earn at least a C in a course that "substantially addresses racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, religious or other types of diversity." Currently more than 200 courses, in a range of disciplines, qualify, and more courses are expected to be created over time.
By some measures, U.C.L.A. is among the most diverse of top public research universities. More than 30 percent of undergraduates receive Pell Grants, a very high percentage for a highly competitive college. Among undergraduates, 34.8 percent are Asian, 27.8 percent are white, 18 percent are Latino and 3.8 percent are black. (The remainder includes small numbers of Native American students, students whose race/ethnicity are not known and the 11.8 percent of students who come from outside the United States.) In recent years, Latino enrollment has increased, but the figures for Latino and black enrollment lag significantly behind those groups' share of the state population, which is 38.4 percent for Latinos and 6.6 percent for blacks. California voters have barred public universities from considering race or ethnicity in admissions.
Many minority students at U.C.L.A. have complained that, even with white students as a minority, widespread stereotypes discourage minority students, especially the small numbers of black students.
The arguments put forth by faculty and student groups have been both philosophical (about whether students need the requirement) and practical (with critics saying that undergraduates already complain of too many requirements, and that another one could make it more difficult to graduate). The new requirement does not add to the total number of credits required for an undergraduate degree. Some proponents of yes on the most recent vote also argued -- irrespective of one's views on diversity courses -- that the matter should be decided by the U.C.L.A. College faculty, not the university faculty, for the same reasons that curricular changes in the law or medical school are not typically subject to votes of the entire faculty.
The U.C.L.A. Academic Senate prepared a summary of the pro and con arguments made by faculty members.
The opening paragraph of the pro summary: "Globalization in the workplace and society demands that graduates of U.C.L.A. be effective in understanding issues surrounding diversity, value the impacts of diversity in their environments and develop the cultural competency to interact in these increasingly diverse work and social environments. There are frequent examples of the lack of understanding and appreciation of ‘difference’ from the national news, and the U.C.L.A. community continues to experience a spectrum of negative behaviors both among undergraduates… and faculty…. In the U.C. campus climate survey, 10 percent of the U.C.L.A. respondents were found to be 'uncomfortable or very uncomfortable' with the climate for diversity in their work environment, and 24 percent expressed that they had 'personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile behavior.'"
The opening paragraph of the con summary: "With approximately 90 percent of our undergraduate students identifying with at least one diversity identity group, many students may take the diversity course most aligned with their identity, and are then less likely to learn about perspectives different than their own. This possibility is even greater since the report of the Diversity Initiative Implementation Committee has indicated that many courses focus on one identity group. Rather than exposing students to perspectives of other groups that differ from their own, the diversity course may give the students an opportunity to stay in their own identity group, a 'ghettoization' effect."