Monday, May 28, 2007

Diversity at SIU - maybe their focus is on the wrong kind?

I was asked recently, why I was friends with a someone. I have to admit, that this friend and I don't really have that much in common. I'm a computer geek and he is a professor. He is well read in many areas, I'm only well read in computer business, science fiction and technology. But we both work out, both have kids at home, both have smart wives, and are both driven to succeed. In the end, the reason I'm friends with him, is that I respect his path through life and he has something to teach me. I don't think we have ever talked where he hasn't shown me a new way to look at something, that I didn't see before. I don't always agree, but I always learn. Hopefully, he sees some benefit to being my friend. It turns out that I have lots of friends like this, smart but different then I am.

When I look at SIU's diversity programs, they seem to center on bring black students and black professors into SIU. This is OK with me, but I'm not sure that it does what my friendship with the professors does for me, with is teach SIU something that it doesn't already know.

I found this interesting statistic that 50%+ of federal government hires are black and have been for sometime. If you think about this, doesn't the federal government directly compete with universities for the smartest black graduates? The same people who could go and suffer for 3 or 8 years to get a PhD, can go into the federal government with a masters degree (or even a bachelors) and have a better job. The same is true for Fortune 500, they are working hard to harvest as many good black students as possible. I wonder, if this is why there are less black PhD's then there should be? Are good black students being given much better opportunities in government and business then they are shown in academia? I can tell you we see practically no black people in startups on the West Coast in my years there, I wonder what they are doing instead?

But, even if you can get a large number of diverse professors (my apologies to our many foreign born and darker skinned professors, for some reason you don't count. You don't have the political clout I guess), they really don't offer that much diversity, they are just peas of the same professor pod. Maybe it is time to think about really diversifying SIU?

You guessed it, maybe it is time to figure out how SIU can reach outside of academia and get some new ideas from other areas of our society? Maybe SIU should bring in some teaching ideas from the high schools? Maybe SIU should demand the professors get out of their silos and talk to professors in different disciplines (one of the continuing themes of comments in this space from professors, is they know nothing about what his happening outside of their departments) inside and outside of SIU? Maybe SIU should start reaching out into the communities of Southern Illinois and start trying to understand and help outside of the moat? Maybe SIU should find some business people to give money and let those business people have a lot of control over something, just to see what SIU can learn? Maybe the employees of SIU should read some management books ("Good to Great" anyone? I know that Glenn Poshard has read it)?

Now before you get your panties in a bunch and start to comment in ignorance, what do the best universities in the USA do? All of these things, is what they do. Granted, the employees of SIU would have to stretch to do this and that is exactly why many choose to work at SIU, so they never had to stretch.

SIU seems to be doing fine recruiting black students, but could do better. Since SIU has many brown skinned professors and there are no black professors to hire, maybe it is time to turn the diversity program from skin color to something productive? Maybe it is time to learn something new or do something new, from outside the academic environment?

We know the SIU management will never do it and many professors would fight it, but it would greatly improve the university.

Your comments are welcome.


Kyle Raccio said...

Peter, you are right. Diversity is based too much upon what your skin color is like. We need to start thinking about performance, too. I do, however, think that the University has taken some steps in the right direction.

I guess the biggest example is the GLBT resource center is there to help attract gay students to a safe campus. If the former chancellor had this way, this program would not even have been in the making.

SIU prided itself on its diversity long before gay domestic partners were allowed equal housing rights as married couples, and they based it on one statistic: that they had more black people than Western and Eastern Illinois Universities. Big woop. That means nothing.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I agree with you Kyle about GLBT, there is clearly something to learn from having a few gay friends. I recommend it. After checking a few times, many readers will be surprised that they don't have cooties. :) A good example of why our former Chancellor was a poor performer.

Give SIU some credit, historically (1950's, 1960's and even the 1970's) SIU has been one of the best places for a black person to go to college. There is a long history of SIU being an open university for people of all races. Just because all universities are chasing the black students now, that SIU welcomed without getting credit in the past, doesn't mean that SIU doesn't have a proud tradition in that regard.

It is a good sign to me that black students are no longer limited to the all black colleges and SIU, and are now mixing it up everywhere now. It shows that equal rights and racial quotas were a good thing.

cynical prof said...

I agree, Peter, but "diversity" is pretty much all about identity politics. The administration and the professors are only interested in promoting ethnic minorities, women, and to a lesser extent, gays. If you look at Fernando TreviƱo's publication record, it looks as if the new chancellor's only interest is latinos. And didn't he say something about "under-represented minorities?" I don't think he meant evangelicals, political conservatives, or management types.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I think we can all agree that diversity, as applied to Illinois politics, is pretty bogus. I was hoping to point out (once again) that SIU could do better, without working very hard.

Kyle Raccio said...


What problems do evangelicals, political conservatives, and "management types" face on campus?

I'm sure you aren't called a bad name when you're walking down the street because of what you look like or if you're feminine or masculine.

The religious right just settled a major lawsuit with SIU, and my tax money is going to be funding the Christian Student organization that is perfectly allowed to discriminate in leadership positions.

Sorry, but if anything, the groups you mentioned have not just equal rights, but special rights on campus. Stop complaining for nothing.

Jonathan said...

Amen, brother!

On your point about blacks heading into the public sector: There is a large literature on this point. The argument is that racial preferences didn't create a _net_ increase in black opportunities, rather it shifted blacks to the public sector (including government contractors). My own research on racial preferences found intense competition for qualified black professionals from the 1960s onward.

As you note, the problem is that it has become a new ghetto. 4% of all Ph.Ds go to African Americans but they are huddled in fields like education, social work, etc. -- all public-oriented.

On SIUC competing for skin color diversity: I have a black colleague from graduate school who was showered with tenure-track offers. She took a job at SIUE because it was the closest to the big city. Hell, if I had that many offers, I'd be at SIUE rather than SIUC too! (We're all part of the same system, right?). LOL.

Milton said...

Why can't we just leave racial, gender, sexual orientation questions off applications (and perhaps even names). Then, when the student arrives at siu, have the RA's (or bursar) take a second survey with these questions.

To borrow from politics:
I don't care if there's a "D" or "R" after your name so long as there is a "Q" for qualified.

James said...

Diversity is one of the few areas that the University can say that it's a real leader in. The history the University has in this area allows them to brag about it. The school needs to brag as much as they can now. The competition has more tangible features and benefits like brand new buildings etc. Diversity is a benefit however it's a lot harder to communicate and market to potential students. SIU needs to work on it's message and stick to its guns on being a leader on practical education, hand's on experience, diversity, and the overall attractiveness of the surrounding area (Shawnee etc).