Academic Excellence Cannot Exist Without DiversityJanuary 21, 1999 |
by Black Issues
Academic Excellence Cannot Exist Without Diversity
No matter how you look at it, managing racial diversity is difficult. Achieving such diversity in the first place requires diligent commitment. But managing it once you have attained a population mix is when the real work begins. And believing that all of this can be accomplished while also maintaining high academic standards is a concept too few in higher education embrace. In fact, too many in higher education have foolishly convinced themselves that academic excellence can exist without diversity.
In the cover story for this edition, Black Issues visits the University of South Carolina, a public institution which, by most accounts, is at the threshold of a new era. The school recently launched a $300 million capital campaign, and it has nearly $100 million in research grants. These development activities, together with efforts to reconfigure the school’s academic units to emphasize research, are part of a strategy the university hopes will earn it membership in the prestigious American Association of Universities (AAU). Achieving these goals has been no easy feat.
With everything going so well, I suspect the last thing anyone expected was for certain members of the faculty to begin complaining. Several Black faculty members fled the campus, claiming that they weren’t being treated fairly.
Black Issues contributor Bill Robinson paints a detailed portrait of the goings-on at USC (see page 18), and while the nuances are specific to that campus, instances of diversity efforts colliding with initiatives designed to enhance academic excellence are not uncommon.
Working in a racially diverse workplace requires skills and management practices that are neither required nor valued in places where the population is racially homogeneous. In higher education, this delicate process requires maintaining a sensitivity to — and an intolerance of — inequities in work load, salary, tenure awards, and promotions. Course development, the distribution of research dollars, and faculty recruitment are other areas where inequities can emerge. Senior administrators who are perceived as turning a deaf ear to the grievances of those who feel slighted only invite bigger problems. And the costs, as USC is learning, can be great.
Given what we know about population trends, it is becoming increasingly essential for diversity and high academic standards to coexist on campus. Institutions that understand this, like Stanford, Harvard, and Swarthmore, take diversity seriously. They know that only when all parties — not just faculty and administrators of color — value and are held accountable for diversity, and when it is viewed as integral to the pursuit of academic excellence, can this harmonious coexistence be realized.
Cheryl D. Fields
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