President Kim Schatzel presented on Tuesday, March 14 during a joint session of the American Council on Education (ACE) and the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE), speaking on "Campus Leaders Creating Healthy Campus Climates."
It is my pleasure to be here this morning and to join this distinguished panel to discuss a topic that every single campus across America—and many, many across the globe—grapples with in their classrooms, their conference rooms, their university senates, as well as their boardrooms.
And I am not just talking about diversity. We are all talking, in a very deliberate way, about inclusion as well.
This is a very significant refocus.
Not too long ago, diversity was the priority, the focal construct, which most universities were talking about, their leadership teams were emphasizing, and their boards were ruminating on.
Indeed, almost 15 years ago, when I was the dean of the college of business at the University of Michigan Dearborn, the university was defending the use of affirmative action in its admissions policies before the Supreme Court.
During that time, the university mounted a rigorous and evidence-based argument about the value of diversity in our classrooms and on our campuses.
At that moment in time, we were arguing whether there was value in educational diversity, how much value, and what permissible ways existed to achieve greater levels of diversity.
Even though the debate about what is permissible continues, we have come a very long way in our commitment to diversity within the higher education sector.
Today, on the vast majority of our campuses, our students and our faculty consider a diverse classroom and campus as a given, an essential component of a baccalaureate degree education as well as a high quality university experience.
My institution, Towson University, recently concluded a market research study that makes this quite clear. Students not only see the value of a richly diverse environment, they expect it.
The prospective undergraduate students we surveyed saw our campus diversity as among the most highly valued attributes of Towson University and the diversity of a campus was a leading determinant in their selection of a university to attend.
Back in 2003, the University of Michigan argued that the best possible education is one in which diverse viewpoints provide a fuller, more multi-dimensional experience for all students.
This year at Towson, we had an enrollment of over 22,000 students, with 40 percent of our freshman class identifying as students of color. Over the past 5 years that percentage has increased by over 15% percent.
Diversity has become a hallmark of Towson University and reinforces Towson University’s unique value within the state of Maryland as one of the most diverse campuses in our state.
This is also critical to the positioning of Towson to the next generation of prospective high school students. Especially as minorities become the demographic majority within Maryland as well as the United States.
In Maryland, research provides that currently 52% of high school graduates are students of color. That percentage can be expected to increase to over 63% in the next 15 years.
Thus, enrollments on campuses that are already diverse will be biased upwards by this demographic trend.
In short, what is essential for social justice, an imperative for a high quality university education? Diversity. Diversity also favorably and significantly impacts the business models of universities and that impact will only continue to grow.
Of course, since 2003 what constitutes diversity has expanded as well.
On my own campus, race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and levels of ableness are the usual identities and demographics that comprise our thinking about diversity.
However, in just the past few weeks and months, immigration status and political party affinity or ideology have also become important concepts associated with the sense-making my campus community continues to make about diversity.
In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article entitled “Diversity Won’t Stick without Inclusion” a hypothesis was offered that I found quite interesting. That is, the authors stated, inclusion is actually the precursor to diversity.
Today, as our campuses aspire to more robust levels of diversity across a greater expanse of identities, ideologies and demographics, we will need to look critically not just at recruitment, but how we can build a truly inclusive environment where all our community members can thrive and reach their fullest potential.
Although the authors of the HBR article were writing about corporate organizations, I believe many of their findings are applicable in higher education as well.
The authors posit that, to create sustained diversity, institutions first need inclusive leaders and leadership teams who are open to a wide variety of ideas and viewpoints.
Simply put, to sustain diversity, institutions must be authentic in their support and strong encouragement of all individuals—especially those from marginalized groups.
To speak up, to be listened to, and to have their opinions, ideas, expertise and experiences be validated and sought after as part of the institution’s problem solving and policy formation.
Institutions of higher education need to walk the talk and it starts with senior leadership.
We have done things at Towson—taken tangible steps, as I term it—to relentlessly advance thriving diversity and inclusion on our campus and in our community.
Two years ago there were no African Americans on the President’s Cabinet—our Vice Presidents. I came to Towson University in January 2016 and changing the composition of my senior leadership team—the cabinet of the president—was a personal priority for me.
I made it clear that this priority resulted from my deepest beliefs and values but was also greatly informed from a 60 day listening tour I conducted when I first arrived on campus.
In my first campus-wide address in April of 2016—three months after I arrived as the new president—I shared with my campus that as I spoke to dozens and dozens of our faculty staff and students in small meetings or larger town halls.
I learned from members of our community that at various times and not infrequently, they did not feel welcomed on our campus due to their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or levels of ableness.
I shared stories of trans or nonbinary students expressing the hurt and struggle they experienced over and over regarding pronouns and names not aligned with their gender identity.
I shared that 15 % of college age adults have a measurable hearing loss, yet the use of sign language and captioning at university events was considered optional at Towson University.
This emphasis was not just intended as symbol or a signal from a new president. I was using my own leadership and my own leadership team as a platform to talk about our commitment to advance inclusion and diversity in every decision we make and every action we take.
Today—14 months after my arrival on campus as Towson University’s president—4 of the 13 members of my cabinet, or 31%, are African American and 3 of Towson University’s 8 Vice-Presidents, or 38%, are African-American, as well.
Additionally, we just appointed Towson University’s inaugural Vice President for Inclusion and Institutional Equity—the first such leadership position on any of the University System of Maryland’s campuses—to work with us to do this great work.
Also, we have strongly embraced the students’ voices and involvement in our policy making and our problem-solving.
For example, as part of a list of demands presented to and endorsed by Towson University administration in November of 2015, two areas of great concern and complaint on our campus were identified for immediate overhaul: our hate/bias reporting & management policies and our policy regarding on-campus event security.
As you recall I arrived on campus in late January of 2016, just a few months after the demands had been presented and agreed to.
However I soon learned the tensions had not dissipated, the work was progressing slowly—often on the sides of desks of some very well-meaning people—and our campus was looking for resolution, not more talk.
I spoke publicly that I was not satisfied with the progress that had been made regarding those two policies—in fact in a campus-wide email—I described our progress as unacceptable.
I formed a committee of faculty staff and students, including many of those that self-identified as activist voices on our campus. I had that committee work throughout last summer—providing funding for their summer work—to complete the new policies regarding hate/bias and on-campus event security.
Those new policies were in effect this past fall when students returned to campus.
Additionally we created a micro-site that provided a listing of all the demands from Nov. 2015 and committed that the progress on those demands would be reported in December, May, and September of each year. Transparency and accountability are now a central part of the administration’s commitments.
But these are just a few steps to relentlessly advance thriving diversity and inclusion at Towson in every decision we make and every action we take.
In my mind, an essential element of inclusion is to also ensure each and every member of our community has an equal opportunity to thrive. On my campus, we have worked very hard to eliminate the achievement gap in minority student graduation rates.
Towson University’s overall and racial minority graduation rates exceed the average those of institutions within our Carnegie Classification as well as public institutions listed in the Top 15 rankings in the most recent U.S. New and World Report for our region.
We are also very proud that our African-American male student-athletes are leaders in the nation in graduation rates for NCAA Division I schools.
If we are to foster a community where diversity “sticks” and defines us, the hard work of inclusion has to be our focus.
Inclusion results when our students thrive and learn to support others to thrive as well.
In a global economy—where attracting retaining and developing talent is the key to any organization’s success—Towson University students who graduate knowing how to thrive and knowing how to support others to thrive inclusively will be better prepared to lead and so will be competitively advantaged as they enter the world of work or graduate education. It is that simple.
As I have shared … the domain of diversity and inclusion—already a highly complex and multi-faceted social phenomena—is rapidly expanding and changing.
It is imperative on all our campuses and in all our communities:
All of us are empowered to do this these things in our respective roles on our campuses.
As a president and senior leader, however it is my responsibility and challenge to
ensure we are communicating and fairly representing these imperatives, values and
vision with multiple constituencies and stakeholders—each with their own perspectives
This includes the Regents, Advisory Board Members, Donors and Alumni, Legislative Leaders, Business and Community partners, the Media, Parents, Faculty, Staff---and our most active listeners, our very own students.
This communication must be transparent, thoughtful, thorough—with many weighing in—and most important, very very timely.
At TU, our senior leadership team members meet with and communicate directly with groups to answer questions, provide clarity, discuss concerns, and work on solutions very very quickly, to head off frustration before it may arise.
We constantly remind ourselves that in the world of social media, 24-hours of silence from an administration is not a pause to convene and consider, but can be construed as a lack of concern and a lack of responsiveness by our community.
We try to always over communicate, even if that communication is that we are assessing the situation and will provide an update in 72 hours.
Silence in these circumstances is definitely not golden.
Because of our unwavering commitment to transparency collaboration and responsiveness, I believe we, as administration indeed have a more supportive and productive relationship with our campus community. But as with any positive and healthy relationship, we work at it each and every day.
In closing, we will only have free speech and open inquiry if we can learn to listen to other points of view, and if people feel they can speak up without being marginalized or shouted down.
Often today various political and societal backdrops have made this even more challenging.
Divisiveness seems increasingly to be the currency of the day, and free speech continues to be at the center of campus debates, among all stakeholders.
Towson University has a space in the center of campus called Freedom Square.
I think it is an especially apt metaphor for today’s discussion.
Freedom Square is a space to encourage critical thinking and debate and the free expression of ideas.
Freedom Square is an ideal for our community—and our students have quickly learned this past year that it not a place simply constructed for them, but a place for all members of our community.
It is a community place where we consider issues of diversity and inclusion.
How to make our campuses truly reflect the principles of Freedom Square, and to ensure everyone is included, is the great work that is ahead of all of us.