Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Part 1 Penn State Law: 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. Among the challenges identified by Penn State in its project of enhancing diversity touches on communication--both to stakeholders nd 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.

This post starts with Penn State Law.

The Table of Contents may be accessed HERE.

 Penn State Law is one of two law schools operated by Penn State University on its University Park campus. The other, the Dickinson Law School, in Carlisle, PA will be considered in a later post.

Diversity appears two "clicks" down from the unit home page.  It may be accessed as a sub-part of the web pages devoted to "Student Life"  and can be accessed as one of a number of choices that include: Student Ethics & Professionalism; Student Organizations;and Student Services Team. It consists of one page with a short description and a number of links as follows:

What does diversity mean here?

Choosing Penn State Law means you will meet bright and accomplished people from all walks of life. You will share classes with LL.M. students from around the world, all of whom are attorneys in their home countries. You will learn from outstanding professors who focus their careers on civil rights, nuclear disarmament, equality, and diplomacy. You will have the opportunity to work on causes and movements that interest you—some of which you may not even be aware of yet—and in one of our nine in-house legal clinics.
Penn State Law is home to a variety of student organizations such as the Black Law Students Association, the Latino/a Law Students Association, Minority Law Students Association, Jewish Legal Society, J. Reuben Clark Law Society, Military Law Caucus, OutLaw, and Women’s Law Caucus.
Penn State University has been
  • Ranked 12th in the nation for its international student enrollment (6,075 in University Park and 6,621 University-wide) by the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors Project in 2013
  • Selected as a recipient of the 2013 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award, given to 56 colleges and universities that have exceptional strategies and programs to help achieve diversity and inclusion across campus
  • Recognized with consistently high LGBT-friendly campus ratings by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization conducting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender-friendly Campus Climate Index  
Related Resources:

From this page one can access information about a new program at Penn State Law, it minority mentor program, including a welcome messageNews and Events section about the minority mentor program, and more detailed information about the Minority Mentor Program

There is an additional reference to diversity on the Alumni web page, which describes the Law School Alumni Association's Diversity Committee:
Diversity — assists in promoting the diversity initiatives of the Law School, designed to foster understanding and acceptance of differences in thought, background, age, life experience, gender, race, abilities, religion, sexual orientation, and culture.
Penn State Law lists the following as its priorities:
  • promote scholarly and teaching excellence;
  • expand career opportunities for students and graduates;
  • enhance the investment value of legal education;
  • expand the school’s relevance and reach on the campus of the world-class Penn State University; and
  • build new partnerships to expand our programs and enrich our students.
And the "Priorities" page includes a link to the Penn State Law 2015-2020 strategic plan, which if clicked leads to a pdf document produced in April 2015 which is organized around the priorities thus listed. In that document, "Diversity of background and experience" is listed as a valued foundational principle--one that focuses on viewpoint diversity (Strategic Plan p. 4).

The posted Strategic Plan also references a Supporting Strategy 2.3 which in turn references geographic diversity (Strategic Plan page  8). That later part of the Strategic Plan lists a number of concepts that "amplify" the values of the unit.  Among those are "Diversity" (Pages 11-12 of the Strategic Plan). Also included are the values of "Integrity and Professionalism," and "Sustainability."

The two pages devoted to diversity start with a quotation from the University's Framework to Foster Diversity.  Paralleling that quotation, it declares that diversity is "a core value of Penn State Law, and we recognize that diversity in our student body, faculty and staff enriches the educational and work environment of our school." (Strategic Plan, p. 11).  Having thus contextualized and rationalized the role of diversity it then describes the role of a "Diversity Committee" as the vehicle through which faculty and staff "help review" what are described generally as "matters of diversity at our school." (Ibid.). For the prior year, the Strategic Plan continues, that meant  engaging in a consideration of the Framework's seven challenges.  It describes its charge touching on the examination of "scholarship and recruitment practices, reviews academic support programs, and undertakes various improvements to other programs" (Ibid., p. 12), states that the Committee has already instituted "some of these recommendations" (Ibid), and lists only the institution of the minority mentor program described on the "diversity" devoted page of the unit's web site.

The strategic plan then speaks to recruiting and retaining "a diverse student body) (Ibid) which is implemented through recruiting strategies and the availability of student organizations. Diversity is also "reflected" (Ibid) in a graduate program that attracts foreigners who "share the classroom and the law school experience" with U.S. students, which the Strategic Plan states enhances diversity of background, experience and perspective (Ibid.).

Beyond students, the Strategic Plan includes a sentence expressing the hope of diversifying "the workforce" through the "hiring process" (Ibid).  No specifics are offered nor is any history of past efforts described.

From the public face of Penn State Law's self reflection of its engagement with diversity what might a casual reader come away with, especially in light of the seven challenges for institutional progress on diversity described in the Framework to Foster Diversity?  It may be useful to consider this in light of each challenge:

Campus Climate and Intergroup Relations
Challenge 1: Developing a Shared and Inclusive Understanding of Diversity
It is not clear how this challenge has been embedded in the unit's public communication.  There are inferences, certainly, that can be inferred from those web pages devoted to diversity, and even more inferred were one to read the multi-page strategic plan in search of issues of diversity at the unit. But it is not entirely clear how the unit communicates the way it develops this shared and inclusive understanding. Perhaps that is a function of the Diversity Committee, whose members remain anonymous and which does not appear to have a communications outlet of its own.  Perhaps that is the role of the unit diversity officer, whose identification is not linked on the "diversity pages"  and shares
Challenge 2: Creating a Welcoming Campus Climate 
One can infer the efforts at creating a welcoming climate through the various programs highlighted on the web page.  One can infer that diversity is welcomed through the declarations of the web pages, the support of student groups, through the new minority mentor program, and through the mostly unspecified work of the diversity committee. One can also infer the welcome from the emphasis on diversity markers in the recounting of the history of the unit (eg here). Beyond that the unit ties its welcoming culture to that of the university generally.

Representation (Access and Success)
Challenge 3: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Student Body 
It is clear that much of the work of diversity at the unit is focused on student diversity, including diversity of viewpoint and geographic diversity--both of which are given prominence in the shared information.
Challenge 4: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce 
There is one sentence in the public materials expressing hope that such a goal may be obtained by one imagines a diligent effort.  But beyond that there is no information available.  It is possible to look through the pictures of faculty and staff to the extent these are made available to help make inferences on this score.  But beyond that this appears to be a matter internal to the administrative machinery of the unit.

Education and Scholarship
Challenge 5: Developing a Curriculum That Fosters United States and International Cultural Competencies 
While this is a topic that is better focused on undergraduate education , it does have some bearing on legal education.  While there are no references to diversity and diversity issues within the curriculum, it is possible to surmise some diversity enhancing effects through the work of some of the clinical programs.  On the other hand the units "learning outcomes" make no mention of diversity related goals (e.g. here). It is likely that issues of diversity are touched on to some extent in the courses offered, depending on the skills and inclinations of faculty, but that is hard to determine from the web site and a Race, Racism, and American Law Seminar is listed as part of the elective curriculum.

Institutional Viability and Vitality
Challenge 6: Diversifying University Leadership and Management 
There were no references to any efforts to diversify leadership and management.  Beyond the reference to a diversity committee, there were none to administrative staff whose tasks included responsibility for diversity.  If there is a diversity officer in the unit it was difficult to find reference on the web site.  And indeed the web page entitled staff directory did not include any reference to any individual associated with the words (diversity" or "minority".  From the public face of the unit it is not clear whether or ehat efforts are undertaken to meet this challenge.  On the other hand, the web site includes pictures of individuals which might permit one to surmise that there is some sensitivity to this issue--but that is conjecture.
Challenge 7: Coordinating Organizational Change to Support Our Diversity Goals
From the website one can infer that such coordination is undertaken through the diversity committee described in the materials made available.  Beyond that it is not clear what efforts have been undertaken.
Taken together, and to the outside observer, the unit appears focused on efforts to enhance student diversity.  That is undertaken through programs of mentoring, of recruitment and of mixing with foreigners. There are strong statements of commitment made. And there is a sense that diversity includes geographic and viewpoint elements. And the unit makes some effort to report news that may touch on diversity, which can be searched on its public site (e.g. here).  Beyond that there is little transparency.

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