Advising, Support, and Cultural Programs
More problematic than the constant challenge of recruitment and retention of students is the quality of advising, support, and cultural programs that build a quality campus life. Many people, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the campus have worked to develop programs to support minority students in their academic and personal lives, as well as build cultural centers and activities that benefit the entire campus community and promote the engaged student experience that every study finds critical to student success. While these programs have had considerable success, in recent years the campus has experienced a crisis of confidence in the effectiveness and efficacy of the entire institutional support structure that affects the life of minority students. The voices that speak to this crisis range from the insistent and angry, to the quiet and personal. The voices represent people of every racial, ethnic, and cultural group, and while the conversation may appear polarized between majority and minority communities, such is not the case. Both majority and minority individuals have opinions and concerns that cross all divisions on the campus—faculty, student, staff, minority, and majority. Some voices are louder than others, some more definitive in their expression of causes and effects, but all reflect a profound campus concern that the system we have in place to support minority students and create a diverse and effective campus are not performing as well as we expect.
The solutions proposed are as disparate as the voices. Some see a better time in the past to which we might return, some see the current structure as potentially effective if managed correctly, and others believe that neither the past nor the present provide a good model, and believe that a new perspective is required to accelerate the improvements everyone agrees we need. These improvements can take many forms. They can involve reorganization of campus offices to consolidate or disperse functions, increased investment in key programs, and many other measures designed to achieve a better campus. Probably some combination of measures will be required. The campus conversation on this topic requires a moment of reflection leading to change, an opportunity to focus on the purpose and goals we expect to achieve and to design the best method, using the best experience of our colleagues around the country with similar challenges, and making the essential investments required. The campus has no doubt that doing the right things will require some new investment, but to make that investment effectively we will need some guidance and help.
Charting the Future
To that end, the Chancellor, Provost, and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs have established Commission on Campus Diversity with strong national leadership to provide an opportunity to understand our challenges better and to design a strategy to implement the many improvements everyone recognizes are necessary. The commission, appointed by the Chancellor, the Provost, and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, will begin meeting November 13, 2004, and will provide the campus with its guidance by early in the Spring semester. In response to its recommendations, which the campus will post on the UMass Amherst website, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs will implement a plan to address the issues following the advice of the Commission. The Chancellor, Provost, and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs will provide the resources required to implement the Vice Chancellor’s plan to address the critical issues as identified by the Commission.
The Commission, as outlined in it charge, will meet with campus and other constituencies as needed. It will receive whatever communications members of our campus community choose to provide it, and it will have the full support of the institution for data, information, or other needs. The campus will provide the Commission with a complete inventory of all offices, activities, programs, and personnel that directly or indirectly affect the recruitment, retention, and experience of our students.
The Commission on Campus Diversity has the following membership:
This campus is in the Commission’s debt for its willingness to participate in the challenge we have set for ourselves. This campus’s success depends on its ability to find solutions to its challenges, to seek ways of focusing its efforts on those solutions, and to focus on the future, the only part of human life we can change.