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College of Arts and Sciences


Dean's Blog

The Case for Diversity

 August 13, 2014

By: Mary Anne Fitzpatrick

Recently, university leaders in our state met to discuss a response to new National Science Foundation regulations on grants and grant management.   A key component of the new regulations is diversity.  During the course of the meeting, the College of Arts and Sciences was recognized by the convening officer for its demonstrated commitment to hiring a diverse faculty.  Our current practices make us even more competitive for research support from NSF.   I was gratified that the college’s efforts were recognized, but our policy springs from one basic assumption, that is:  

Diversity is integral to our academic excellence.

There has been a flurry of rulings from the Supreme Court in the past few months about the role of diversity in higher education.   Analyzing the various rulings, prohibitions, and controversies surrounding some of these decisions I leave to our university legal team and my outstanding Law School colleagues, but as an educator and a scholar who spent my career studying human communication, I fundamentally believe that we must have a diverse faculty, staff, and student body.  And, we have to maintain a welcoming culture.

A diverse faculty, staff, and student body –bringing together people of different races, ethnicities, gender orientations and physical disabilities — is vital to a first class and relevant education for all students.   Within our classrooms, playing fields, and seminar rooms, we need to develop the ability to work with and communicate with those whose experiences, backgrounds, and approaches to solving problems differ, often radically, from ours.  Communicating with those who do not share our frames of reference allows us to reflect on our own values and to articulate those values.  If we create a climate where students spend their undergraduate years with individuals who come from the same background, the same religion, and the same political affiliations, we deprive students of the ability to work in a multicultural and diverse world.   As we encounter those from different backgrounds, we develop not only our empathy and our imaginative abilities but also prepare for leadership in the twenty-first century.  

We are developing leadership skills in our students, and this requires students to have the experiences needed to understand other cultures and the ability to engage in civil discourse about differing viewpoints and beliefs.   As educators, we need to teach students how to build bridges and not walls.  Creating a diverse and inclusive climate on campus is vital to that effort.

 Read Previous Posts By Dean Fitzpatrick.