May 092010
 
Authors: Matt Minich

Colorado has been diversifying for decades, but CSU has failed to keep pace.

Over the past decade, the state, along with the country as a whole, has looked less and less white, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The percentage of Colorado citizens who reported their race as “non-Hispanic white” decreased three and a half points between 2000 and 2008, dropping to 71 percent.

The percentage of non-white CSU undergraduate students has increased by just 1.8 points in those same years, just more than half the increase seen by the state as a whole.

To combat this growing disparity, CSU is following in the footsteps of its fellow Colorado schools and undergoing a complete overhaul of its approach to diversity.

In the last five years, CSU, the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Colorado system have all established new administrative positions commonly called chief diversity officers, or CDOs.

These officials have been fixtures in the corporate world for decades, but have appeared in Colorado’s higher education institutions only recently. At CSU, the new hire will work under the title of vice president of diversity.

The university’s intentions to restructure its diversity programs were first announced in fall 2009, shortly after the retirement of longtime Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Dana Hiatt.

Before Hiatt’s retirement, the OEOD served a dual purpose: it handled complaints about discrimination on campus and coordinated the university’s diversity efforts, which include outreach, recruitment and on-campus education.

“It’s my sense that the Office of Equal Opportunity & Diversity was functioning well under (Hiatt’s) leadership,” CSU President Tony Frank said in an e-mail to campus at the end of last semester. “But whenever someone leaves, an organization has to take stock of whether it is optimally positioned to deal with future challenges and opportunities.”

Rather than finding a replacement for Hiatt, university officials –– advised by a specially created “diversity task force” of faculty and administrators –– chose to split the office into two separate entities.

The Office of Equal Opportunity remains the administrative body responsible for addressing diversity-related complaints and ensuring that the university is in compliance with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. In a move that officials say will align the office more closely with those entities it works with on a day-to-day basis, the OEO no longer reports directly to the president, but instead works under the university’s Division of Operation.

CSU is currently searching for a replacement director of the OEO, and candidates from all across the nation will come to CSU in the coming weeks to vie for the position. The director of the OEO will perform duties not unlike those of Hiatt: receiving, investigating and processing complaints of discrimination on the campus and ensuring compliance with state and federal laws.

The most notable change in the university’s diversity policies will be seen when a search committee chooses the university’s first-ever vice president of diversity.

The salary for the position has not yet been decided, and the job description is still in the works, but $150,000 of university funds have been set aside for the position’s creation, said Vice President of Student Services Blanche Hughes.

Defending the creation of a new administrative position in a time when state-funded higher education in Colorado is facing devastating budget cuts, Hughes clarified that the new position will be half-time for three years, at which point its standing in the university budget will be re-evaluated.

“My hope is that in three years the university will be begging us to make this a full-time position,” she said.

Despite the efforts to reduce costs incurred by the new position, Hughes and Frank both conceded that it would increase university spending.

“I think we have some major work ahead of us for our university to be the face of the society we exist to serve,” Frank said, “and progress in some areas will likely involve expenditures.”

“You can’t stop doing everything because you don’t have any money,” Hughes said. “You have to have priorities, ideas for what you want in the future.”

Not going it alone

Positions similar to that of the Vice President of Diversity are not at all uncommon; in fact, they are a standard entity in most organizations in both the private and public sectors, said Sallye McKee, the vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement for the CU system.

Selected for the position after a national search in 2007, McKee is paid a salary of $167,000 each year, which she said is typical of CDO positions nationwide.

As vice chancellor, McKee oversees a plethora of smaller diversity-focused programs, including the Department of Pre-College Services, which focuses on recruiting minority students from high schools and middle schools around the country. According to her job description, she also coordinates diversity-centered events on campus and has a voice in the chancellor’s cabinet.

Anita Fleming- Rife has recently been chosen as the CDO for the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. As a new hire, Fleming-Rife is in the position not unlike that of CSU’s new vice president. Because the contracts have not been finalized, the university is unsure of her exact salary, but her job description is in line with those of other CDOs.

“Not only will I be responsible for community building, I will work collaboratively to connect, integrate and create synergy among diverse programs and important community initiatives across the campus and beyond,” she said in an e-mail.

*The face of the society the CDO serves
*
CSU consistently falls short when it comes to representing the diverse population of Colorado in its student body. In the fall of 2000, when more than a quarter of the state’s population was made up of minority citizens, only 11.1 percent of CSU students came from minority groups.

By 2008, this figure had risen to 12.9 percent, but still lagged far behind the 29 percent reported by the Census Bureau.
Now, in 2010, CSU’s diverse population still lags, at 13.6 percent of the entire student body.

“There’s always the problem of a rich pipeline,” McKee said, referring to a problem shared by all Colorado universities.

While a large portion of the Colorado population is made up of minorities, those minorities are less likely to graduate from high school than non-minorities and even less likely to go on to college.

In a 2007 analysis by the Colorado Department of Education, the high school graduation rates of most minority groups lagged behind those of whites.

Black, Hispanic and Native American students all had graduation rates that were at least 20 percentage points lower than those of whites, with less than two thirds of students from these groups graduating high school. Asian students were the only minority group that surpassed whites –– by just more than 1 percent.

Low graduation statistics reflect one of the main challenges for those hoping to create diverse campuses at schools like CSU, Hughes said. Currently, more than one third of Colorado high school students are minorities, but just more than one tenth of CSU students fall into this category.

Compared to other institutions in Colorado, CSU falls behind in terms of minority undergraduate enrollment. Adams State College, CSU-Pueblo and CU-Denver all had minority enrollment rates at or above 25 percent in 2007, according to information released by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. CSU, CU-Boulder and UNC all had percentages in the mid to low teens.

“It’s important to remember that diversity is a marathon, not a sprint,” McKee said.

As vice chancellor, she said she has begun to work on all aspects of minority access to universities but has used her positions to focus on minority enrollment and retention. She works closely with CU’s Dream program, which helps minority middle school and high school students graduate and get accepted to college.

“If we’re going to create an environment that reflects the nature of Colorado’s diverse population, we have to start reaching out,” she said.

News Editor Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 6:37 pm