KSU releases new diversity plan

David Yochum

Model covers all bases, will guide university efforts through 2010

Kent State’s new Strategic Diversity Plan will guide the school’s diversity efforts through 2010.

Shaped by the Strategic Diversity Planning Committee, the 12-page diversity plan explains Kent State’s new Diversity Model: a framework of diversity goals, diversity strategies and guidelines for diversity assessment.

The plan focuses on six key diversity concepts: participation, persistence, personal well-being, leadership commitment, diversity competency levels and a progress index.

Accompanying the new diversity plan is a Unit Level Diversity Activities reference document, described by President Lester Lefton as “the first comprehensive look at Kent State diversity at a unit-by-unit level.”

The 80-page document provides detailed demographic data about nearly every campus, college, department and non-academic unit at the university.

Steve Michael, vice provost of diversity, said the document is “anything and everything” to do with Kent State diversity, highlighting that it provides the names of university unit leaders, as well as data from 2000 and 2005 that faculty and administration will use as reference points to measure diversity.

While the Unit Level Diversity Activities document is the first of its kind, the new Strategic Diversity Plan replaces a less comprehensive plan released in 2000.

“Our diversity plan has a set of strategic, overall goals and specific benchmarks,” Lefton explained. “Each year we should make progress on those goals, and part of my role is to monitor the progress. Leaders will report to me what they are going to do.”

Michael said the previous plan “did what it could,” but lacked a model that could cover all bases.

“If you don’t have a model, you leave something out,” Michael said. “The first diversity plan talked more about recruiting minority people, but that’s just one element. We need to recruit, but also retain and improve the diversity curriculum.”

The plan’s effect on students

Michael said there will be no new diversity requirements, but diversity courses are in the process of being reviewed by University Requirements Curriculum Committee because some “may not be doing their job.”

“A good institution must continue to review and answer the questions, ‘Is this effective? Should it be changed or discontinued?'” he said. “The outcome of the review could be that some of the courses should be revamped or eliminated.”

Referring to the diversity plan’s goal to increase the number of underrepresented students, Michael said the university will strive to create “critical mass” and eliminate situations where there may only be one minority in a classroom. He also mentioned plans for developing family friendly policies and more ways to include people with disabilities at campus events.

“An example would be at guest speakers, having someone signing for the hearing impaired,” Michael said.

The plan’s effect on faculty and staff

Under the new diversity plan, the university will establish a campus-wide system of accountability for diversity that includes:

• Making executive officers, deans, directors and chairs responsible for the diversity progress of their unit. Diversity advisory committees could be formed to create plans and help achieve the unit’s desired outcomes.

• Conducting an annual staff review with more concrete ways to measure advancement and growth within respective divisions or the university.

• Measuring the progress of each diversity theme and making it public.

• Adopting rewards and recognition for achieving exceptional diversity progress.

• Establishing a Center for Diversity Studies and Training.

Michael said more faculty diversity can be achieved by “casting a wide net” to recruit diverse individuals.

“Equally important is that once you’ve attracted a candidate, to make sure this is a supportive place they can thrive,” he added.

He also said the university will provide professional development for current faculty who “desire to improve their cross cultural understanding,” however, the professional development is “not a requirement at this stage.”

Ranking the plan

While Kent State did not hire consultants from outside the university to form the new diversity plan, Michael said the plan is shared with the national Chief Diversity Officers Association, and faculty members have described the plan as “one of the best.”

“Sometimes the university hires consultants, but many of the consultants I have trained myself, so it doesn’t make sense to go outside the university,” Michael said. “I teach strategy as a professor of planning — I know a good plan when I see one.”

One of the most important people implementing and measuring the progress of the diversity plan is Lefton, who will make a yearly report to the Board of Trustees that will show diversity progress.

To measure Kent State’s diversity on a national scale, Lefton said the university will compare its progress with similar residential state universities such as Purdue and Iowa State — not the nearby University of Akron.

“Akron attracts different people because it’s a metropolitan school,” Lefton said. “It would be like if you’re a high school basketball player, and you compare yourself to LeBron: You may feel small, but compared to other high school players you may feel tall — you have to compare diversity with schools that look and feel like yours.”

To Lefton, the term diversity includes different ideas, religions and sexual orientations, not just ethnicities.

“This campus is more diverse than most people think,” he said. “I wanted the diversity plan to be an aspirational statement as well as define goals. By 2010, we should have made measurable progress, but will we have gotten all the way? Probably not.”

Either way, Lefton is excited to lead diversity efforts.

“I have a big dream for this place,” he said. “I’m not interested in the status quo.”

The diversity plan will become official once approved by the Board of Trustees at its next meeting. To view or download the new diversity plan on the Web, search keyword “Diversity Plan” at [email protected].