News

Strategic Plan proposes measures to improve campus diversity

In a Strategic Plan that focuses largely on innovation, the diversity section is one section attempting to refocus Macalester’s practices. As the Strategic Planning Committee considered the current state of Macalester, they decided that campus diversity was a topic that needed an intentional focus.

The diversity section of the plan encourages Macalester to make measurable strides in increasing the diversity of the faculty and introducing changes to the admissions and hiring processes that will promote diversity.

Changes to admissions

Two of the five proposals in the section deal with increasing the diversity of the student body. Both focus on attracting attention from a more diverse group of prospective students.

The first suggestion encourages Macalester to use the resources of outside sources in their admissions and recruiting process. The plan specifically mentions partnering with Posse and QuestBridge.

Posse and QuestBridge are two organizations that seek out low-income students, or qualified students that otherwise would not be able apply to four-year colleges, in order to remedy disadvanatges in the application process. QuestBridge connects students with partnering colleges to make them more accessible. Posse connects a group of students to colleges and provides them with full-ride scholarships for their four years.

Besides becoming a member of recruiting foundations like Posse and QuestBridge, the plan also encourages Macalester to drop the requirement of standardized test scores as part of the college’s application. In their writing of the diversity section, the Strategic Planning Committee explained that they feel standardized tests unfairly favor students from high-income families and do not provide “predictive power” for student success.

Greater faculty diversity

While the student diversity tactics focus on drawing more diverse students in the future, the propositions for increasing faculty diversity center on intentionally creating an environment that accounts for diversity among the faculty. Faculty diversification, according to the plan, would come from two proposed structural changes to the faculty and a review of the hiring process.

The first change would be the establishment of three to five tenure-track positions for faculty that would increase the college’s diversity. Provost Kathy Murray explained that potential faculty would be chosen through “targeted searches” by current faculty.

“Faculty in a particular department would ‘target’ a colleague who could add to the diversity of the faculty and work to get that person to join our community,” Murray said in an email.

The second structural change would be the conversion of two Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD) Fellows positions into tenure-track positions that would strengthen Macalester’s faculty and curriculum diversity.

Murray said that this conversion, if approved with the rest of the strategic plan, would not result in the early dismissal of any current Fellows.

“The CFD Fellows have two-year appointments at Macalester. We would allow anyone currently in one of those appointments to finish,” Murray said.

The two positions at Macalester are currently filled by history professor Katrina Phillips and American studies professor Juliana Hu Pegues.

The structural changes to the faculty positions would also bring financial changes. The plan describes how the conversion of the CFD positions would create a “very modest increase in cost.” To make diversity conversions cost-neutral, the plan proposed using the endowed Berg and Wallin Fellowship to hire diverse faculty as well.

Murray explained that proposed tactics were born out of the realization that the current norm in hiring and faculty management practices was not creating the diverse faculty environment Macalester wanted.

“We have made progress in diversifying our faculty, but not nearly enough,” Murray said. “We have followed what many people nationally would describe as ‘best practices’ in terms of our faculty search processes, but they have not led to the results we would have liked to see. The committee recognized that we would need to do something quite different in order to make progress.”

While in some ways the diversity section was clear on the changes it calls for, there is still an uncertainty among even the Committee members about what the application of these proposed changes would look like.

Chris MacDonald-Dennis, the Dean of Multicultural Life and a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, said that the outcome of the section depends partially on the discussions that come after it is approved.

“I am not sure how these diversity standards will be met,” MacDonald-Dennis said. “I am assuming that once the plan has been fully accepted, we will reconvene as a group and figure out how to do that. I do feel very strongly, however, that we have to come up with standards and measures along the way so that we are held accountable to meeting them. If we do not have concrete steps, it is too easy to lose the good thinking that has been put into the strategic plan.”

MacDonald-Dennis said that part of the difficulty when responding to an issue like diversity is that it is so complex. However, he said that he feels that complexity is something Macalester is willing to tackle.

“I think diversity is so multi-faceted that I honestly cannot say how we are doing in this area,” MacDonald-Dennis said. “One of the things I love about Mac, though, is that I know we will [engage different groups more]. We do not settle here.”

Students propose stronger solutions

A continuing consideration of the proposed diversity measures, like MacDonald-Dennis suggests, may help critics of the diversity section find common ground with the Strategic Planning Committee. As the current plan stands, there are several students and alumni who feel that the tactics still fall short of promoting true diversity at Macalester.

In the September 19 edition of The Mac Weekly, Abaki Beck ’15, elisa lee ’15, Erica Lee ’15, Sara Saltman ’15, Isabel Ruelas ’15 and Emma Stout ’15 published their proposed rewrite of the diversity section of the Strategic Plan, which contained 14 additional propositions for achieving diversity at Macalester.

While some of the propositions reformed the original tactics, the rewrite also included requiring Allies Project training for new faculty, the introduction of classroom inclusivity guidelines, and hard deadlines for meeting goals the original plan proposed.

Beck said the rewrite was born out of the group’s pre-existing concerns with diversity, especially faculty diversity, at Macalester, as well as their disappointment with the “vagueness” of the diversity section.

“I just thought it was pretty bad, honestly. I mean, I was glad that it was in there, like pat you on the back for that. But other than that, just writing the words diversity doesn’t mean anything to me,” Beck said. “We were just displeased about how vague it was and how not action-oriented it was.”

Beck said she finds this vagueness is the problem with Macalester’s current treatment of diversity.

“Historically at Macalester there’s been a lot more support services for like Black students, Native American students, Puerto Rican students, specific groups of students. Whereas now, I feel like it’s just this idea where ‘everyone’s welcome’ and I don’t think we’ve quite reached that point where we … can just have stuff that’s for everybody,” Beck said.

Bringing awareness to specific cultural differences that develop through things like race is one of the goals of Beck and her peers’ rewrite of the strategic plan. Their proposition for classroom inclusivity guidelines deals with giving faculty and students the vocabulary they need to respect these differences.

“I think most professors care about students and want students to be supported, but just don’t really know how to talk about difficult things. If a student says something that offends another student, how do they deal with that situation? Which student do they support in that situation? So I feel like a lot of the stuff around classroom inclusivity, from my perspective, is just giving people the vocabulary to address situations that are currently occurring in classrooms,” Beck said.

While the group also originally proposed definite deadlines, they have since reformed their suggestions so that they focus more on ongoing faculty development.

“Our goal is actually to develop a separate set of workshops specifically aimed at faculty, that they can participate in at the Jan Serie Center or at new faculty orientation or at department meetings. So we’re going to be working on developing that with DML and hopefully different departments on campus as well,” Beck said.

Above all else, Beck stressed that what was important was a continuing conversation about diversity.

“For us, writing this was more of a way to start conversation about these issues,” Beck said. “I think the Strategic Plan isn’t necessarily our concern with just the document itself, but our concern with where the college sees itself going in the next 10 years,” Beck said.

October 31, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *