This past year the university’s Senate Assembly renamed the Committee for a Multicultural University (CMU) to the Committee for an Inclusive University (CIU). More specifically, CIU was asked to identify and assess the effectiveness of university policies, procedures and services supporting inclusion for faculty members in their faculty roles. This assessment invited a wide range of methods from conducting surveys to compiling reports that shed light on inclusion. From its work CIU was asked to identify concerns, best practices, and make recommendations that would delineate common values supportive of a healthy, innovative, inclusive research university.
CIU members found it to be an interesting albeit ambitious charge but necessary as evidenced by the recent (April 15) vote in Senate Assembly to support a resolution forwarded by the Senate Assembly’s Committee on University Values and championed by member, John Carson. This recent resolution was designed to promote specific efforts to improve the diverse composition of our student body. A few years back, former CMU Chair Rex Holland drew attention to concerning trends in under-represented minority faculty particularly in units that saw a serious decline in the diverse range of faculty of color representation. In both cases, attention was brought to the university community about an apparent loss of momentum to sustain and perhaps improve our commitment to a diverse learning environment.
As CIU chair, I thought about the road I traveled as an under-represented minority faculty member here at the University of Michigan. I am deeply humbled by this great university, the caliber of its administration and exceptional faculty. I know that the sustenance is in our creative energy, insatiable curiosity, and ability to engage in systematic scholarship that builds on new knowledge. The incentive structure fully supports these qualities but not without transformative consequences. Successful faculty at the University of Michigan seek (and thrive in an incentive structure that rewards) being expert and authoritative. I recently heard a speaker refer to us as “elite.” In annual reviews faculty convey the image of being autonomous and productive. And herein rests a concern about goals of diversity and inclusion. In our individual efforts we rely on our uniqueness and maintain an epistemic privilege that may be thoughtful of others but not necessarily inclusive of the thoughts of others. It would be comparable to the way I differentiate being an expert and demonstrating expertise. The expert knows what he or she knows; expertise is the process of knowing and an invitation to learn with others.
A former doctoral student of mine, Dr. Roxanna Duntley-Matos, characterized the way we often move forward in promoting change without challenging structural barriers as “transformative complicity.” She might argue that we maintain a world-class image and perhaps reflect our value on diversity yet “get around” the barriers and obstructions that are proving to be impediments to a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion. Indeed, we should ponder for a long moment about how compatible our goals of diversity and inclusion are (and the way we go about developing and sustaining them) in relationship to the value placed on being an expert and authoritative or elite. Are we “getting around” diversity and inclusion, while remaining exclusive?
This year CIU was uniquely challenged to undertake an exploration into uncovering processes and mechanisms that either support or pose barriers and obstacles to diversity and inclusion. While we spent much of our time in awe of the agenda, we did engage in very important discussions about the definitions of inclusion and diversity, and how a focus on inclusion might move us forward in our commitment to diversity.
So what do we mean by diversity? In CIU we resolved that diversity is complex but definable. It refers to differences in race, color, national origin, age, SES, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight or veteran status. We discussed the intersectionality of these identities beyond individual stereotyped social identity categories. We included in our definition the disparate experiences and visions our differences bring to the academy. We acknowledged our different ways of acquiring, generating, cultivating, communicating and expressing knowledge. Consistent with the Senate Assembly’s recent resolution to support diversity in student composition, we believe that successful inclusion must make explicit the many ways in which diversity is woven into the fabric of every academic unit and the university, beyond the student body.
And what do we mean by inclusion? CIU members agree that inclusion refers to active, intentional, and ongoing efforts to invite, admit, engage with, represent, affirm and integrate all diverse members and their interests (e.g., scientific, creative, social and cultural) into knowledge development activities, curricula, co-curricular activities and service within the university and broader communities. In our framing of diversity and inclusion we are not so much valuing the expert as much as expertise. We find room to accept and embrace imperfections, value a sense of wonderment and curiosity, patience, and scholarship that encourages collaboration and shared learning.
In my own scholarship I’ve grown fond of the concept of cultural humility. In it, we bring ourselves to the academic table recognizing and critically assessing our own strengths and limitations. A cultural humility perspective advocates for an openness to differences and encourages us to accept our roles as both teacher and learner. Through cultural humility we appreciate the transcendence of cultural differences as they extend beyond the limits of our unique understanding. The academic enterprise, from this perspective, becomes committed to life-long learning that is inclusive; appreciating the fact that we know ourselves (both strengths and limitations), we appreciate others (and their differences) separate from ourselves, and admit that what we know is not all that is to be known. Evidence of inclusion and diversity from a cultural humility perspective will occur when we demonstrate a commitment to knowledge as an intentional process of engagement with differences and shared learning.
Admittedly, I am from the School of Social Work and greater emphasis is placed on “social” aspects of knowledge development. As faculty in a professional school, we are held to an accreditation standard that requires us to demonstrate our commitment to diversity in both our implicit and explicit curricula. Our accrediting body requires that we as professional educators, rightly so, make our efforts relevant to our increasingly diverse society — locally, state-wide, regionally, nationally and globally. This perspective fits nicely with the university’s mission to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.
Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is at the core of our ability to engage in 21st century challenges and relevant scholarship as we see the landscape of our society rapidly changing. We ought to consider the ways in which we are held accountable as an institution to our mission and commitment to diversity and inclusion. We must learn from each other about what we do well, and critically examine the extent to which our complicity contributes to reminders in the form of Senate Assembly resolutions about who we are and what we represent (and with whom we represent). It is certainly the goal of CIU to explore this aspect and we look forward to the continued pursuit of our charge.
The Faculty Perspectives page is an outlet for faculty expression provided by the Senate Assembly. Prospective contributors are invited to contact the Faculty Perspectives Page Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Essays are the opinion of the author. The chair this year is Annette Haines. Submissions are accepted in electronic form and are subject to review by the committee. Essay lengths are restricted to one full printed page in The University Record, or about 1,500 words.
Mark Newman, Paul Dirac Collegiate Professor of Physics, on the science of networks: “We study how social networks are important in the spread of ideas, fads, fashion, rumors, news, disease, and more.”
The Ann Arbor Summer Festival returns with Top of the Park Rackham stage shows and films, beginning at 7 p.m. June 14 at Ingalls Mall.