Campus creates commission on campus diversity

By Ed Blaguszewski

A special 22-member Commission on Campus Diversity has been created to assess and reframe the university’s commitment to building a racially and ethnically diverse community. The commission will convene at the request of its chair on Nov. 13, with a target date of Feb. 1 for presentation of specific recommendations.

Details of the commission were announced Oct. 15 by Chancellor John V. Lombardi, Provost Charlena Seymour and Michael Gargano, vice chancellrof ro Student Affairs and Campus Life.

“UMass Amherst has an exceptional history of efforts to enhance diversity and improve campus services that support special populations of students, faculty and staff,” said. “However, most of us are seriously concerned about the effectiveness of our current approach. There is no doubt that doing the right things will require some new investment, but to make that investment effectively we need some expert guidance. 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, using the best experience of our colleagues around the country who face similar challenges.”

The commission will be chaired by Orlando L. Taylor, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. It includes diverse representation from the UMass Amherst community and nine accomplished professionals drawn from leading institutions. The commission will submit its report to Lombardi, Seymour and Gargano.

“This is a very distinguished group, and we are most grateful for their willingness to assess our programs, review our achievements, and identify our opportunities for improvement,” Seymour said. “We charge the commission to present a specific set of recommendations, campus guidelines, organizational structures, and funding models as it finds appropriate. We welcome guidance that will allow everyone on this campus to ensure the quality of our students’ learning experience from successful matriculation to graduation. In Massachusetts, and throughout the country, the population is becoming increasingly diverse, and we must succeed in this critical effort to make UMass a welcoming place that offers exceptional educational opportunities to all students.”

Taylor, chair of the commission, said, “The goal of achieving and enhancing diversity is one of the most challenging and compelling imperatives in American higher education—and one that every university must address in a thoughtful way. It is widely recognized within many segments of our society that our entire nation benefits from diversity within our university student bodies, faculties, curriculum and research programs.

“The University of Massachusetts Amherst is to be congratulated for implementing this bold initiative to examine its current programs, policies and practices that are designed to create a campus culture that maintains and celebrates a diverse educational community. The selection of the distinguished individuals to address this issue from both inside and outside the university assures that the results of this effort will take full advantage of the history and legacy of diversity efforts at UMass Amherst, while considering simultaneously the best practices that have emerged from across the country in recent years.”

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life, led by Gargano, will coordinate the university’s work with the commission. “Our charge to the commission includes a commitment to provide whatever assistance, resources, information and access to people and groups it requires,” Gargano said. “We know the faculty, staff, students and larger UMass Amherst community will eagerly provide the commission with their perspectives. The campus stands ready to provide any information, budget data, or analysis that the commission will find useful, including a full inventory of programs, offices, support staff throughout the campus’ academic departments, student services organization, and other administrative offices.”

“These issues are of great urgency for our campus and its communities,” Lombardi said, “and we expect to proceed to implement commission recommendations beginning in the second semester of this academic year and carrying forward over the summer into the new academic year.”

The commission, Gargano said, will want full and open access to the campus community, and to provide that accessibility, in addition to the open meetings scheduled at the commission’s request, a specific e-mail address has been created for campus correspondence with commission members: CampusDiversity@umass.edu.

Official documents associated with the commission’s work, as well as the commission’s eventual recommendations and findings, will be posted at www.umass.edu/CampusDiversity