President McRobbie on diversity and DEMA

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The enduring success of a great university, especially a great public institution such as Indiana University, is predicated in large part on its willingness to embrace diversity in the broadest sense.

For example, diversity of thought and the free and rigorous exchange of ideas lie at the very heart of scholarship and have been the hallmark of higher education since its earliest days.

Likewise, universities such as IU thrive in large part on their ability to offer students myriad academic and professional fields of study, which when integrated with a liberal arts education, arm tomorrow’s leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly complex world.

To deliver the most robust educational experience possible to our students, however, IU must continuously strive to be a place that welcomes students and faculty of diverse backgrounds, heritages and experiences to all our campuses.

I am proud to say IU has a legacy of leadership in diversity that traces back decades. In the late 1940s, for example, Hoosier legend Bill Garrett became the first African-American to play varsity basketball in the Big Ten, and IU football star George Taliaferro became the first African-American to be drafted to play in the National Football League. It was also during that period that IU President Herman B Wells gained recognition for his groundbreaking efforts to fully integrate IU and the city of Bloomington.

Today, IU enjoys one of the largest international student populations in the country, and the percentage of domestic minority students at nearly all our campuses is on par with or better than the same-age populations of their home regions.

Likewise, the percentage of under-represented domestic minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans) at IU Bloomington as a percentage of all non-international students has increased from 7.4 percent in 2005 to 10.8 percent in 2013 for undergraduates. For graduate students, under-represented minorities increased from 9.2 percent to 11.5 percent over the same period. The university is grateful to Dr. Ed Marshall for leadership during much of this period as vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs.

Despite these gains, however, the university must continue to do more to attract talented minority students to our campuses—especially in Bloomington and especially among African-American students. Identifying and addressing the obstacles that stand between many minority students and a college education is a complex challenge that can only be met if parents, communities, secondary educators and institutions such as IU work together.

Toward that end, I am extremely pleased with a number of recent developments at IU that demonstrate our ongoing commitment to improving the diversity of our student body. Dr. James Wimbush, a talented scholar and administrator who has served with distinction as dean of the University Graduate School for the past seven years, was named vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs (DEMA) in July and has hit the ground running.

James has brought to DEMA a renewed strategic focus centered on the areas of recruitment and retention (both student and faculty); improving the campus climate so minority students feel more welcome; and increasing our advocacy and outreach efforts around diversity.

To bolster that effort, we have added staff to DEMA and affiliated offices, including the selection of another talented scholar and administrator, Dr. Martin McCrory, as associate vice president for DEMA and vice provost for diversity at IU Bloomington to provide additional focus to our work on that campus.

Additionally, the university teamed with the IU Foundation last month to hire Joyce Rogers as a vice president in the foundation to lead diversity fundraising and outreach efforts for both institutions. Joyce came to IU after serving as vice president for development at Ivy Tech Community College and before that was a successful president and CEO of Indiana Black Expo.

Increasing graduate student diversity also is a point of emphasis for the university and DEMA. Attracting more minority students to our graduate programs is particularly important to IU because these programs are where future faculty members are cultivated.

IU is in a strong position to begin addressing this issue immediately due to James’ leadership role at the graduate school. To capitalize on this opportunity, the university has committed $1 million to a series of graduate student diversity initiatives aimed at both recruiting more minority students to IU’s graduate programs and then providing the additional academic and cultural support they need to be successful at IU.

The graduate student diversity initiative is the most tangible current example of our elevated commitment to student and faculty diversity, but DEMA also is moving ahead in a number of other ways on the Bloomington campus. For example, we have formed a committee to address undergraduate student recruitment challenges; are making changes to our strategic hiring and support program; and are increasing resources to the cultural centers on campus.

Embedded in all our diversity efforts is a steadfast commitment to open communications with all the stakeholders involved in this issue, and I look forward to sharing more details of our diversity work in the coming months. For now, though, I am extremely encouraged about the progress we are making in this area, which is of vital importance to the university.