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Officials pledge to push increased diversity
December 15, 1997

With the approach of winter break, a busy time for many departments involved in faculty searches, top University officials have called for an ongoing commitment to diversity.

"Increasing the diversity of students, faculty and administrative staff is a high priority of mine, the chancellor and the Board of Trustees," says President Philip E. Austin.

After a successful year in recruiting a diverse group of new faculty, who joined the University this fall, the administration has urged department heads and search committees to continue to cast their net wide in the search for new faculty members.

Chancellor Mark Emmert says that increased diversity, one of the goals of the strategic plan, "matters greatly because the University of Connecticut first and foremost is a university for the citizens of Connecticut. The state is diverse and we should have a level of diversity in the organization that reflects that. We must ensure that the University is supportive of and welcoming to all citizens with academic ability and willingness to study. That means we need to have a student body, faculty and staff that reflect the diversity of the population."

Out of a group of 60 newly-hired full-time faculty this fall, 31 percent are members of racial or ethnic minorities, and 43 percent are women. Compared to the new hires in fall 1995, the total number of new faculty appointments increased by 11 percent but the number of new minority faculty appointments increased by 30 percent.

Emmert says this success was achieved "by making sure that everyone involved understood how serious the University's commitment to diversity is, by recruiting aggressively, and by making certain that all the schools, the deans, and the department heads were focused on having broad pools of candidates that were of the highest quality and also diverse. They, in turn, worked with the departments and the search committees."

The state's early retirement incentive, which resulted in 380 retirements, including 115 faculty, has opened a large number of hiring opportunities again this semester. Since September 1, the University has advertised 77 faculty positions and 136 other positions.

Emmert says he expects that recruiting a diverse group of new hires will be easier this year because "we have worked to convince everyone this is not something that's a fad or temporary. This is an integral part of what it means to be a great University."

One of the steps the University has taken to underscore the importance of diversity has been to include progress toward diversity among the measures used to assess the quality of programs and determine the allocation of resources.

Emmert says he urges the same approach with all searches, not only those for new faculty. At the senior administrative level, for example, he points to the recent hiring of two women deans, Kay Davidson in social work and Barbara Redman in nursing, and to the appointment of a woman, Susan Steele, as vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction. There are also searches now in progress for vice chancellor of student affairs, vice provost for multicultural affairs, and director of admissions, each of which, says Emmert, have produced a diverse pool of applicants.

Emmert says it is also important to take steps to ensure the retention of minorities and women.

"We must make sure we support them in all their endeavors. Frequently it happens, both with women and with people of color, that if they are the only one in the department, there's a tendency to place them on all the committees and add huge service loads. Also a large number of students migrate to them.

"We must make sure they're not overburdened and not give them extraneous or additional job functions," he says.

"Secondly, we must bring in more folks so we can build a critical mass of diverse faculty and students and make the environment more welcoming and supportive."

Irene Quong Conlon, director of the Office of Diversity and Equity, says orientation is important for new faculty, too."This gives them the opportunity to spend the day with each other, get to know administrators, and have a support group. It also is an opportunity to offer advice on how to get through bureaucracy, how to get research funding, and so on," she adds.

"We spend a lot of time recruiting. We also need to spend time and energy to retain our new hires," Quong Conlon says.

Emmert says the ongoing national debate on affirmative action has added some anxiety to the community."I hope the affirmative action debate in the end is one that shows a clear commitment to diversity and to building a diverse community," he says."The debate should be about the tools to accomplish the ends, not about whether or not those ends are valuable. The goal of diversity is essential and there can be a healthy debate, as long as we don't compromise the goal."

Quong Conlon says that affirmative action was not intended to take anything away from anyone."The intent was to ensure access."

She says many people think diversity and affirmative action require them to go out of their way."In fact, we're not asking anyone to do anything special a lot of the time," she says."We can do the things we normally do, but inject diversity into them. We must try to be more inclusive. That goes a long way."

Quong Conlon, the first Asian American member of the president's cabinet, says there are now more people of color on the University Senate and more students of color involved in the Undergraduate Student Government and The Daily Campus."That's really where we're trying to head."

She adds that "there's a good business reason for moving forward on this. If we talk about educating students for the global economy, ultimately - because of changing demographics - the people they'll be working with may not look exactly like themselves. Leaders need to be able to deal with different cultures."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu