Office of the President

 

Holloway Hall

Letter from the President:

Diversity and Inclusiveness on the SU Campus

Salisbury University has received a number of plaudits in recent years. We are celebrated among the top 10 best regional public universities in the North by U.S. News & World Report and among the top 331 universities in the nation by The Princeton Review. These accolades are based upon the efforts of faculty, staff and students over the past two decades. In order to build upon the recognition the University has received in the past, as SU's eighth president I ask that you join me in taking this institution to its next level of greatness.

In order to do so, we must embrace change to better serve the needs of our students and the citizens of our state. There is one area where we must make rapid progress, and it will be the subject of today's column. It is the issue of campus diversity. Salisbury University is clearly "diversity-challenged," especially when we consider the racial and ethnic population profile of both the Eastern Shore and the entire State of Maryland. We have a history of being a "white" school and, indeed, we are the least racially diverse of the traditionally white institutions within the University System of Maryland. This past fall, our freshman class included only 36 African-American students (and only 70 non-white students) out of 856 new enrollees. Only 19 (or 6.9 percent) of our full-time teaching faculty are minority. Beyond these stark statistics, local community leaders, SU employees, and past and present students report that SU has much work to do to become a campus that truly welcomes diverse peoples and ideas.

The goal of diversity is not only a concern of this campus but of all institutions that comprise the University System of Maryland. USM staff have recently devised a statistical "diversity indicator" (DI) that estimates the probability that any two randomly selected members of a campus student population would be from a different racial or ethnic group. At one end, a campus where every student is of the same racial or ethnic group would have a probability or diversity indicator (DI) of zero; and, at the other end, where every student is of a different racial or ethnic group - a theoretical possibility, I guess - the probability would be one.

Here are the diversity indicator estimates for USM institutions, using fall 1998 data of standard federally-defined racial/ethnic categories:

Diversity Indicator

UMUC 0.56

UMES 0.33

UMBC 0.51

TU 0.27

UMCP 0.51

FSU 0.22

UMB 0.46

SU 0.21

UB 0.45

CSC 0.07

BSU 0.35

 

Total USM 0.51

You can see that SU ranks second from the bottom, and these numbers include the students who enroll in SU courses through collaborative programs with UMES.

Given that on a regional and national basis SU is viewed quite positively and that we receive many more student applications than we can possibly accept, why should we be concerned with increasing inclusiveness and the diversity of our students, faculty and staff? What is in it for us? Besides the obvious answer that this is the "right thing to do," we would be remiss in not acknowledging and responding to the changing demographic profile of our state. Diversity across the SU community is important in order for us to fulfill our primary mission: to provide a quality education.

In an article written by Drs. Jeffrey Milem of UMCP and Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University for the American Council of Education ("The Benefits of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education" in the 17th annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education, 49(3), February 14, 2000), the authors lay out four overarching reasons why the goal of diversity is part and parcel with the objectives of a solid undergraduate education. First, diversity enhances the educational experience by bringing first-hand exposure to beliefs, perspectives and experiences that are different from our own and from those with whom we have grown up. Second, diversity furthers personal growth through the increased opportunity to question stereotyped beliefs and to think critically on critical social issues independent of previously-held assumptions. Third, diversity promotes the experience of working with others of different backgrounds--a skill that is crucial and expected today in our pluralistic work world. And, finally, diversity offers the opportunity for all citizens to become educated and use their talents and abilities as productive citizens and as community and family members.

While "diversity" has been a buzzword on this campus for a number of years, we must begin to make real progress. In order to move ahead as we seek to make ours a more inclusive campus, I am pleased to announce the following:

  1. I have allocated $76,000 to Admissions for implementation of the Partnerships for Success program. This program has the goal of recruiting a more diverse incoming class of freshmen and transfers and will be in place in time to make a difference in our Fall 2001 enrollments. Jointly proposed by Jane DanŽ and the Admissions staff and the Committee on Multi-Ethnic Concerns, and endorsed by the Faculty Senate, the Partnerships for Success Program is designed to establish an affiliation between SU and a high school or community college program that identifies potential college students who may need additional guidance and support during the college search, admission and enrollment processes. Partnerships for Success will waive application or acceptance fees, when appropriate; guarantee qualified candidates who enroll at SU a minimum scholarship of $1,000 per year for up to four years (students receiving this scholarship are eligible for additional need-based or merit-based financial aid); and provide student and faculty mentors to enhance social and academic support.

    The Partnerships for Success program and other recruitment initiatives will be much more likely to succeed if we view them as collaborative projects to which we can all make some contribution. I ask academic departments to work with Admissions and the Committee on Multi-Ethnic Concerns to help make our efforts in this area more effective.

  2. Over a year ago, the Multi-Ethnic Concerns Committee and several student groups advocated increasing the number of support staff in Student Affairs. We may successfully recruit students to SU, but we must be ready to back up recruitment with assistance in the transition to college and retention through graduation. Accordingly, the position of Minority Student Achievement Specialist has recently been created, and, following an internal search, Leon Burks was selected as the successful candidate for the position. Leon brings a wealth of experience from his previous work with students in Admissions and his more recent service as campus Affirmative Action officer.

    In the area of retention too, it is important that our work be collaborative and coordinated. Hence, I am asking Vice President of Student Affairs Carol Williamson and her staff to spearhead collaboration with our Advising Coordinators and Academic Counselors to ensure that we are prepared to meet the needs of a more diverse student population.

  3. I am reconfiguring the current position of Special Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action. We will soon begin a national search for the position of Special Assistant to the President for Diversity Initiatives/Affirmative Action. This position will serve as the coordinator of information on efforts to enhance the diversity of the SU community and to promote the ideals of tolerance, inclusiveness and celebration of the differences in cultures and lifestyles.

  4. In order to improve relations with the larger community, I am initiating a series of meetings with African-American and Hispanic leaders of the Greater Salisbury community. I held a luncheon just last week attended by over 15 members of the local community to solicit their opinions and ideas on how SU can become a more inclusive campus. One individual related that in 1964 he was denied admission solely on the basis of the color of his skin. No wonder the perception persists that SU has not been welcoming to non-whites. We must break down existing barriers and improve community relations. The message should now be clear: The "welcome mat" is out!

  5. It is estimated that 10 percent of the region's population is Hispanic, representing about 45,000 individuals. Few educational opportunities are directed toward this growing sector of our community. We already have a very successful English as a Second Language (ESOL) program on the SU campus, but more must be done. Accordingly, we will begin to consider ways to better meet the needs of the Hispanic community. I have already had preliminary conversations with President Hoy of Wor-Wic Community College, and he and I hope that our institutions together will develop proposals to make college more accessible to our region's Hispanics. We are considering an initiative that might be called "HOLA," Hispanics' Opportunities for Learning Assistance. These efforts are in the very earliest planning stages.

  6. For many years, the Lower Eastern Shore was somewhat geographically isolated from the rest of the world; indeed, the rest of Maryland. Since the opening of the Bay Bridge in 1952, things have changed, but we still lag well behind other top flight universities where globalization is concerned. We have students who come to SU from other nations and we have study abroad opportunities for SU students, but our efforts can be better coordinated. Different campus groups and committees for years have noted the need to focus our efforts. Because of budget constraints, we have handled these activities out of the Admissions Office. In order to provide academic direction, vision and better coordination for all international education activities on our campus, we will commence the search for a full-time Director of International Education to be filled by July 1, 2001.

  7. For some 20 years, the SU-UMES collaborative agreement has allowed students at both campuses to share programs, facilities, and resources. This special collaboration between a traditionally white campus and an Historically Black Institution (HBI) has been recognized as a national model and has received the prestigious Theodore M. Hesburgh Award. Under the leadership of Nelson E. Townsend, Salisbury University, in conjunction with UMES, will renew its efforts to strengthen opportunities for academic and social exchange.

    I know this letter has not addressed many important issues such as the challenges in enhancing the diversity among faculty and staff, gay and lesbian issues, the needs of the disabled, and broadening the global awareness and sensitivity of everyone within our community. What needs to happen on this campus is no less than a transformation in terms of inclusiveness, campus climate and dialogue within our SU community. With that change will come a greater awareness of ourselves as human beings within a complex and ever-changing world. We will celebrate the traditions and strong academic reputation of Salisbury University while extending our success to better serve the citizens of the Eastern Shore, of Maryland, and ourselves.

    In my efforts to clarify and specify my commitment to diversity at Salisbury University, I have been ably assisted by the Multi-Ethnic Concerns Committee; University System of Maryland administrative advisors; members of the University Forum, Faculty and Staff Senates; and by individual faculty, staff and students at SU who have taken the time to talk with me or email me their concerns and their suggestions. But have I heard from you? Let me know your ideas and, please, find your own personal avenue to be a part of this diversity effort.

Thank you.
Janet Dudley-Eshbach
President
February 2001