UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT
AND STATE AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Why Diversity is an Academic
and Institutional Strategic Priority
for the University of Vermont
“Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.” W.E.B. DeBois
The University of Vermont holds that diversity and academic excellence are inseparable. An excellent university, particularly one that is a public land grant, needs to actively seek to provide access to all students who can excel at the institution, without respect to their backgrounds and circumstances, including, among other differences, those of race, color, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national and ethnic origin, socio-economic status, cultural and/or geographic background, religious belief, age, and disability. There is, moreover, a compelling national interest in a higher education sector rich in diversity and opportunity, and a clear state interest in making the educational benefits of this diversity and opportunity accessible to all.
The nation’s economic success depends upon global networks and markets, and our future security and prosperity require us to be a respected partner from a diverse range of cultures, countries, and communities across the globe. Research and scholarship are increasingly international and co-operative enterprises today that require not only cultural awareness, but a skill set for working collaboratively as part of diverse teams. Many of the most pressing problems our graduates will face in their lifetimes are regional or global in nature, including war and terrorism, disease, poverty, global warming, and an intense competition for diminishing resources. An education grounded in diverse perspectives will better enable our graduates to confront and successfully resolve these problems. Likewise, the social, economic and political challenges of our increasingly diverse state and nation require leaders that are well educated in, and respectful of, the nature and complexities of diversity and differences.
The compelling interest of public universities in creating and supporting diversity was cited in the majority decision of the U. S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, decided June 23, 2003:
“the Court endorses Justice Powell’s view that student body diversity is a compelling state interest in the context of university admissions.”
Our mission as a public research university is to educate students and to create and disseminate knowledge. Consequently, we must strive to educate our students about the world that they live in and help them acquire the information and skills they need for successful and productive lives. It is not possible to accomplish this without the strong presence of three critical things. The first is maintaining a safe and respectful climate for all members of our University community. The second is achieving diversity among the university community of faculty, staff and students. The third is providing a curriculum that teaches critical thinking and engages learners of different multicultural perspectives across our various programs and disciplines.
We must recognize, however, that diversity goes well beyond curriculum. In 1852, Cardinal Newman, in seeking to explain the effectiveness of British universities in forming successful students, said:
"When a multitude of young men [add, of course, "young women" for the modern public university], keen, open-hearted, and observant, as young men are, come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn from one another, even if there be no one to teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each, and they gain for themselves fresh matter of thought, and distinct principles for judging and acting day by day. Such teaching," Cardinal Newman adds, "is necessary for our social being, and it is secured by a large school or a college . . . for the pupils come from very different places, and with widely different notions."
Thus Cardinal Newman recognized that much student learning comes from personal and group interactions inside and outside the classroom and that those interactions need to be enriched by a diversity of experiences, opinions and views. Many of the most able and gifted students actively seek such a diversity of people and ideas. Without this type of multicultural experience and the depth of understanding and the skills it helps develop, our students will lack a very significant dimension of educational preparation as they leave to pursue their chosen careers and take their place as leaders in a state, a nation and a world that are increasingly diverse.
It is also clear that academic excellence goals cannot be met without a diverse professoriate. A diverse faculty is necessary not only for the variety of ideas and experiences that it brings to the creation of a truly excellent curriculum but also for the intellectual and social vibrancy that marks a vital academic community. Likewise, diversity among our staff enhances the safe and respectful climate that is essential to achieving the University’s educational goals and the greatest possible range of cultural skills sets to serve our communities.
For these reasons, therefore, a diverse UVM community is a compelling institutional interest that is indispensable to achieving our goal of academic excellence. If we are unsuccessful, the academic quality of the institution will be compromised, we will become less competitive for the best students, staff and faculty, and we will find ourselves increasingly isolated from the ever more diverse world in which our graduates will live and work.
Adopted by the Board of Trustees: November 13, 2004.
Revised and Adopted by the Board: February 2009.
Last modified April 21 2009 08:53 AM