Oct. 11, 2012

University commitment to diversity underscored by college/unit initiatives

At a "diversity retreat" Sept. 27, Cornell's senior leadership -- including the president, provost, deans, vice presidents and vice provosts -- shared the diversity initiatives that their colleges and units would pursue this academic year. These initiatives are posted as a PDF on the university's new diversity website so that the Cornell community can view the institution-wide planning effort.

They not only reflect the "big picture" of the university's commitment to diversity and inclusion but also detail the efforts that each college and major unit on campus will undertake to make that big picture a reality.

The diversity retreat was the culmination of months of work that began in February when President David Skorton announced a new framework for diversity efforts at Cornell outlined in the planning document, "Toward New Destinations." The document offers a menu of broad initiatives that support four principles:

University leaders were tasked with choosing five diversity initiatives annually from among those four principles, and tailoring them to their own strategic goals and business needs. They are accountable for their annual progress toward those goals. Many formed task forces of diversity representatives, comprising staff, students and faculty, to define their initiatives and develop ways to implement them.

As a result, more than 145 unit-specific action items, which formed the framework for the Sept. 27 meeting, were identified.

"A number of themes emerged," said Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education and co-chair, along with Lynette Chappell-Williams, associate vice president for inclusion and workforce diversity, of the University Diversity Council. "Many units proposed to develop pipelines of prospective students, faculty and staff, so that we have established opportunities for recruiting a diverse population. Several were developing specially designed inclusive internship programs."

The senior leadership also discussed initiatives designed to improve communications around diversity, within and beyond the individual colleges and units, especially plans for developing college and unit diversity Web pages to dovetail with the redesigned university diversity website, she said.

"Others will evaluate particular courses and programs to assess their inclusivity, including advising programs that support our diverse student population," Brown said.

Eleven colleges and units indicated that they intend to have their faculty and staff members complete the online "Respect at Cornell" program, which was launched last year.

"They all chose priorities that made sense to them, that would further their strategic educational mission or business needs as well as improve the climate of their organization," said Brown.

Perhaps most striking, Brown said, was the "big picture" that emerged from condensing the various initiatives into one document and discussing them as a whole.

"When you put it all together -- all of the initiatives, with all of the constituencies we are concerned about, from students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, vendors -- the project of diversity planning at Cornell is much greater than the sum of its parts," Brown said.

Chappell-Williams noted: "With the momentum that is being created with so many colleges and units addressing diversity and inclusion, I think there will be a real shift in the climate. We can recruit a diversity of faculty, staff and students, but unless we all work together to create a positive climate, we lose the effects of our recruitment. The greatest outcome would be to have every person at Cornell understand the role they have in advancing our diversity efforts."

"Putting the college and unit goals on the Web not only makes them visible and accessible to the members of the Cornell community, but it also announces publicly the university's engaged commitment to the many facets of diversity and inclusion," said Brown.