A new report evaluating diversity, inclusion and equity efforts at MU observed progress in recent years but acknowledged further steps and transparent leadership were needed to fully heal the campus’ divides.
The report, “Leading After a Racial Crisis: Weaving a Campus Tapestry of Diversity and Inclusion,” is the second from the American Council of Education examining how MU’s on-campus efforts have evolved since 2015 student protests about racism. The protests resulted in the resignations of the top leaders at MU and the University of Missouri System.
The first report was published in 2018 after MU invited the council to come to campus and provide an outside perspective.
MU’s “capacity” to effectively respond to issues of diversity, inclusion and equity was rated as solidly “moderate,” according to the report, up from “low” at the “height of the crisis” in 2015. Researchers’ evaluation of campus in February 2019 found confidence in leadership, a strategic approach and learning opportunities for the campus community resulted in a higher evaluation.
“We have been pleased to see the progress that the ACE researchers found, and we’re taking note of the areas where they are suggesting further improvement,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said. “We, like other universities around the country, recognize that there is more work to be done to achieve our goals in inclusive excellence.”
MU is planning a virtual town hall in July in which “President Choi and other MU leaders will provide details of the university’s progress and challenges over the last several years” and review the report’s findings, Basi said.
Notable among MU’s steps in recent years is the implementation of the Inclusion Excellence Framework, aimed at creating a more equitable campus through a variety of dimensions. The campus adopted the framework in June 2017.
That framework frequently impacts the work done within administrative units, but its priority on the micro level depends on the unit, said MU Faculty Council chair Clark Peters.
“With any big initiative, it takes awhile to get down to the ground level, where students and faculty are going to feel that the promise will be realized,” Peters said. “Different units have made more progress than others.”
However, there is still work to be done building trust with people of color and bridging together fragmented campus perspectives, according to the report. Race, access to information, time on campus, decentralized structure and differing priorities all remain as challenges to a shared vision, the report said. Among those differing priorities was the disparity between improving campus climate for students and improving it for faculty.
“The campus prioritized improving the racial climate for students as its first priority,” the report stated. “Far less attention has been focused on faculty climate. While the campus is hiring more faculty of color, there has been little attention to, for example, curriculum or pedagogy.”
Peters acknowledged he could understand that perception but said, “That tension is always going to be there,” regardless of which groups take priority.
MU stakeholders were also divided on how baked into the campus structure efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion had to be, according to the report. Some expressed concern that campus efforts would be “surface-level” and would dissipate over time rather than result in “culture change.”
Researchers led by Adrianna Kezar of the University of Southern California and Sharon Fries-Britt of the University of Maryland identified a “weaver-leader” model as a goal for MU leadership. The model relies on constant communication and relationship building to create shared expectations throughout campus, according to the report.
Those at MU who participated in the report praised former UM Chief Diversity Officer and MU Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Kevin McDonald and former Director of Administration and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Emily Love as examples of effective communicators.
McDonald and Love both left their positions at MU in July 2019, as McDonald accepted a similar position at the University of Virginia and Love enrolled in MU’s law program. MU hired Maurice Gipson, an administrator from Arkansas State University, to be the next vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity last week.
The report also encouraged leaders to communicate proactively, invite campus stakeholders to relevant meetings and publicly recognize steps and initiatives on campus.
Those suggestions come as MU leadership is under fire from students and alumni alike after deciding not to remove a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson.
In its conclusion, the report emphasizes the importance of building trust and being attentive to emotions as MU walks the path of recovery.
“To overcome racist and exclusionary culture embedded in our campuses,” the report said, “leaders must be willing to stay the course and regularly engage with the community to ensure that they have a pulse of the campus and the needs at every stage.”
The stage MU faces now is one of uncertainty, dealing with the pandemic and its resulting budget cuts. But Peters said he had been told inclusion, diversity and equity would remain a priority by campus leadership, including Interim MU Chancellor Mun Choi and Provost Latha Ramchand.
“They’re admirably strident in reinforcing that this is not going to be set aside,” Peters said. “We’re not going to slow progress even as we deal with this crisis.”