Sunday, January 10, 2016

Introduction: The Public Face of Diversity--The Example of Penn State

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Diversity has become an important element of operations at the American University.  It has become a priority for governance at most research universities.

At Penn State diversity has been embedded at the core of the strategic planning of the university on both pragmatic (demographics) and normative (morals) grounds:
Building diversity at Penn State isn’t just good for business and environmental richness -- it’s a moral imperative, said President Eric Barron today (March 20) during an in-depth review of the demographics and 2020 census projections for Pennsylvania and the United States.

“It’s our obligation as a public institution of higher education to teach the people in our communities, in our state, in the nation, and increasingly at Penn State, students from around the world,” Barron said in his address to the Board of Trustees.

Diversity/demographics is one of six topics declared by Barron as major talking points of his presidency. Barron presented numerous slides worth of data describing demographic projections for 2020, University-wide demographics for students and faculty/staff as of fall 2014, and snapshots of the demographics in 20 statewide recruitment areas.
 Barron said he sees three imperatives: moral, educational and business. The University has a duty to teach all people, a diverse campus is a richer learning environment, and a welcoming and inclusive campus responding to changing demographics is crucial in attracting students.
“At many universities, diversity is an assigned responsibility,” he said, “when in fact, we won’t be successful unless it is everybody’s job.”

Penn State’s diversity will need to grow if the University is to mirror the racial makeup of Pennsylvania and beyond, according to Barron. (Barron stresses demographics', diversity’s importance in future of Penn State, Penn State News, March 20, 2015)
Among the challenges identified by Penn State in its project of enhancing diversity touches on communication--both to stakeholders and the wider community (see, e.g., here). is  This post and those that follow will consider the public face of Penn State's diversity efforts.  It will look at the way that Penn State's units have embedded diversity in their communications by looking at diversity on the web sites of Penn State's units.  The purpose is simple--the way a university projects itself provides a good means of understanding how the university sees itself.  In light of the President's commitment, it would be useful to examine the way that diversity appears throughout Penn State.  This post provides a short introduction to the character of that public face from the top of the administrative hierarchy.  In the posts that follow, we will consider how each of Penn State's units projects its own image of its engagement with diversity in light of official and public face of diversity at Penn State. 

The object is not just to get a sense of the collective self projection of this important issue an an important an influential university.  It also serves to see the extent to which diversity can be administered in a coherent manner throughout a large and complex institution.  Do all units approach the issue the same way? Do all units share the same approaches to diversity as the central administration suggests they should?  What are the variations in approaches?  These and other related questions will be posed and considered.  Comments, suggestions, and additional insights are welcome as we work through the theory and practice of diversity at major institutions.


Penn State Law 

The Penn State Strategic Plan for 2009-14, Priorities for Excellence: The Penn State Strategic Plan 2009-10 through 2013-14 gave substantial priority to a cluster of three goals which were bound together in that Plan--access, affordability and diversity: Goal 4: Maintain Access, Affordability and Enhance Diversity. The Strategic goals for diversity were framed in Goal 4.5 (Build on the Framework to Foster Diversity), which is set out below.  It's most interesting contribution, perhaps, from an institutional perspective, was the announcement of a commitment to the construction of a "new planning framework for diversity is being launched for 2010 through 2015 that will roughly parallel the University strategic plan. A separate diversity planning process remains necessary to continue to highlight our responsibilities as a university to lead in efforts to create a more multicultural environment for the future. "(Ibid.). That planning process was to be built around the university's "A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State, a major five-year planning process that holds academic and administrative units accountable for making progress in achieving greater diversity." (Ibid).

The Framework to Foster Diversity 2010-2015 is built around 7 challenges:  
Campus Climate and Intergroup Relations
Challenge 1: Developing a Shared and Inclusive Understanding of Diversity
Challenge 2: Creating a Welcoming Campus Climate

Representation (Access and Success)
Challenge 3: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Student Body
Challenge 4: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce

Education and Scholarship
Challenge 5: Developing a Curriculum That Fosters United States and International Cultural Competencies

Institutional Viability and Vitality
Challenge 6: Diversifying University Leadership and Management
Challenge 7: Coordinating Organizational Change to Support Our Diversity Goals
Penn State has been very public in following the progress of its units as they work toward meeting the challenges, and somewhat transparent in assessment (see here).  

Because of the very public nature of Penn State's laudable efforts at fostering diversity, I thought it might be useful to see how each of Penn State's units, as well as the central administration, have constructed a public face to diversity efforts.  I am particularly interested to see how the principal public face of the university, its web pages, embed both the challenges at the heart of the Framework to Foster Diversity, and unit progress toward meeting the objectives of the challenges. 

Tghe objectives of this exploration are fairly straightforward:

1.  To get a better picture of how each of Penn State's units speak publicly about diversity wiothin their own operations, culture, and work.

2.  To get a sense of the variations among the ubnits with respect to approaches to diversity.

3.  To get a sense of the extent of deviation among the units to approaches to diversity (especially with respect to those aspects of diversity most valued--at least in its public expression on line) from that expressed by central administration authorities through the Framework to Foster Diversity.

4.  To consider the effects of these deviations from the perspective of institutional cohesion, policy implementation and control.  It also provides a useful measure of the extent to which presidential objectives are translated, eventually, into the working cultures of units at the operational level--sometimes far removed from the executive suite. 

5.  To consider the effects of the findings on the broader issues of diversity in the American university using Penn State as an example.

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