Promoting diversity on campus

November 14, 2001

Nick Marinello
Phone: 865-5714

While available data shows that Tulane compares generally favorably with peer institutions in terms of ethnic and gender diversity and equity, there is still room for improvement, say co-chairs of a universitywide diversity task force. Co-chairs Wendy Brown-Scott, professor of law, and Mary Bitner Anderson, professor of cellular and structural biology, were selected by President Scott Cowen to lead an effort to research, analyze and make recommendations to promote campus diversity. The 15-person task force is the result of a request by the University Senate Affirmative Action Committee to address diversity issues cited in Tulane’s strategic plan. “One of the objectives of the strategic plan is to create an environment of inclusiveness and increase the diversity of the university at the staff and faculty level,” says Brown-Scott. Brown, whose scholarship has focused on race issues, primarily dealing with school desegregation, says she has seen Tulane’s responsiveness to diversity issues go “back and forth” since her arrival in 1989. She points to efforts in the early 1990s by then senior vice president Ron Mason to “open opportunities in some schools” for minority faculty, but adds “not all schools were as successful as the law school” which, she says, “has consistently made the effort to create a climate that is diversity friendly.” Anderson, who has been at Tulane for 23 years, says she has acquired “insight to what is going on” in terms of gender diversity and equity. “It’s improving,” she says, “but, like everything else, there is always room for more improvement.” Anderson says there is a “glass ceiling” that exists not only at Tulane, but nationally, for the promotion of women faculty in medical schools. While women are recruited for junior faculty positions, she says, “they rarely make it to the full professor level.” Anderson and Brown-Scott believe retention, as well as promotion, are concerns for ethnic groups and women. Brown-Scott says,  “Retention is an issue we are looking at, both at staff and faculty levels. Your recruitment effort may be successful, but if the climate is not comfortable that will affect retention.” Both Brown-Scott and Anderson say they have looked over data from peer universities regarding diversity. “In relation to peer institutions, we are ahead in some areas,” says Brown-Scott. “I would say we are pretty much on par with our peer institutions.” A thorough review by the committee is pending, however. “We will look at the data and compare it to our peer universities and determine how we rank with our gender and ethic issues against these other institutions,” says Anderson. Peer universities include Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Washington University. The committee has three charges, say the co-chairs. The first will be to review all data concerning the state of Tulane’s diversity. Currently the group is focusing on staff issues and will begin reviewing faculty issues in the spring. Anderson says that while certain patterns seem to be emerging, she does not want to draw any conclusions at this time but wait until after a more complete review of the data. The committee will look a the diversity and equity within each category of employment, taking into consideration gender issues. “We expect a higher proportion of men in the skilled craftsman categories and a high proportion of women in the secretarial categories,” she says. “But within each category there should be equal pay for minorities, women and men.” The second charge to the committee is to conduct a survey to assess the institutional perceptions on diversity and inclusiveness. Implementation of the survey has not been decided upon, but may include distributed forms and focus groups. The third item for the task force is to deliver a report with recommendations to Cowen and the University Senate. Brown-Scott is optimistic that a mandate from both the president and the senate will give the report extra clout. “Our hope is that the recommendations we make will be taken seriously,” says Brown-Scott. “We don’t want to just produce a report but an action plan that the university will look at implementing. We are very serious.” The committee is currently meeting on a monthly basis and expects to have the final report ready by next fall. A similar effort to promote student diversity will follow.

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