Don M. Randel, President
Richard P. Saller, Provost
The University over the past years has made some clear strides toward our goal of a more diverse community. After a year’s work by the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues (PIMI), this is the right moment to restate and explain our goals and to reaffirm as a priority of this administration the goal of far more progress along the lines stated in PIMI’s report. The character of our university will be powerfully shaped by our successes or failures.
A commitment to diversity has profoundly shaped the course of research and education at the University throughout its history. From its beginning, the University was open to women as well as men. The first black woman to earn a doctorate in the United States, Georgiana Simpson, earned that distinction in 1921 at the University of Chicago. One of the first black tenured faculty members at a major non–historically black university was the University of Chicago’s Professor Allison Davis. The University’s refusal to set quotas made it accessible to Jews in the mid-twentieth century when other elite institutions practiced discrimination. Our intellectual preeminence across a variety of disciplines has derived from the commitment and the ability of our scholars to engage, understand, and, when appropriate, ameliorate the myriad differences that constitute the human condition. We celebrate our proud tradition of inclusion even as we acknowledge the need for marked improvement.
The most difficult challenge facing a premier research institution such as ours is to attract and retain those faculty at the forefront of research, a growing number of whom are faculty of color. We are happy to report that, over the past two decades, the proportion of faculty of color at the University of Chicago has increased by 50 percent; and yet it is still unacceptably low. Recruitment of underrepresented minority faculty will succeed in the competitive environment only if the President, Provost, Deans, and department chairs together with their faculty display a serious commitment to improvement. The University will continue to provide the resources necessary to appoint faculty of color, but a focused effort is needed to identify, attract, and retain them. Some departments have developed effective practices, and those will be shared with all units. Moreover, the University has the responsibility as a leading educator of graduate students to enlarge the faculty pipeline through the recruitment and training of minority doctoral students. In addition to making resources available to support these students, we will devote more concentrated attention to their recruitment and retention through the Office of Minority Student Affairs.
To increase the diversity of our faculty along the dimensions of race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin is more than just a moral good—though it is certainly that. It has a clear impact on research across a broad spectrum of disciplines from art history, music, literature, and religion, through the social sciences to the biological sciences. Of course, it is not essential for a researcher to be a member in order to study the culture of a particular group or its social experiences. But it is an undeniable empirical fact that what a researcher takes to be a significant problem for investigation is deeply influenced by her or his experiences. A more diverse faculty and graduate student body will certainly expand the range of research undertaken at this University, and we all will be correspondingly intellectually enriched.
The cross-disciplinary tradition of research at the University presents a special opportunity with regard to diversity issues. The Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture has developed a mission to move beyond the conventional black/white dichotomy to understand how our diverse society has come to be divided into particular categories and how those categories are related and structured; the center aims further to understand how race affects other social spheres such as gender relations. Recognition of the impact of race on our lives grounds a major new research center in the Divisions of the Biological and Social Sciences and the School of Social Service Administration: the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research has as its first project research on group differences in the experience of breast cancer between black women in the United States and West Africa and white women. The research will move from the social to the molecular in order to understand why black women suffer from more aggressive and lethal forms of breast cancer than women from other racial groups. It is no accident that the principal investigators are black and white women—a researcher’s own experience often guides his or her identification of important research questions.
The composition of our student body— undergraduate and graduate—deeply influences the educational experience that students receive at Chicago, as was argued in the amicus brief cosigned by the University and other leading institutions in the cases brought against the University of Michigan.
Students are both recipients and providers of the learning that takes place at universities, and [universities] have a vital interest in what students bring to the task of educating each other. . . . Diversity helps students confront perspectives other than their own and thus to think more vigorously and imaginatively; it helps students learn to relate better to persons from different backgrounds; it helps students become better citizens. The educational benefits of student diversity include the discovery that there is a broad range of viewpoint and experience within any given minority community—as well as learning that certain imagined differences at times turn out to be only skin deep.
On the basis of both research and personal experience, we believe that classes of students from diverse backgrounds, taught by faculty of varied backgrounds, will be richer and better educational experiences. The quality of exchange depends not only on the intelligence and talent of individual students but also on the experiences and values they bring to the table. Homogeneity perpetuates unchallenged assumptions— the very antithesis of what the University stands for. In addition, effective education entails the ability to communicate with those of different backgrounds. To take one simple and obvious example, in order to take accurate case histories from patients, our medical students need to be trained to communicate with people who speak different dialects and start from different cultural assumptions.
The University of Chicago has a responsibility as a member of a tiny group of the most elite institutions of higher education to extend our opportunities beyond the wealthy majority. Today, the underrepresented include not only African Americans and Latinos but also all Americans with incomes below the median. In this respect, Chicago does better than most of its peers in recruiting from less well-off families, but more resources need to be made available to provide more aid for more of these students. Although the numbers for minority admissions have improved to the point that last year’s matriculating College class had 16 percent African Americans and Hispanics and 14 percent Asian Americans, our ambition is to have a more representative body of students at all levels. To that end, our Collegiate Scholars Program is designed in part to enlarge the pool of applicants by enrolling sixty Chicago Public Schools students each year in summer classes on campus throughout their high school years.
The staff of the University plays a large role in shaping the University’s image and how the missions are accomplished. While the staff is already quite diverse, improvements can be made. Although the current population of employees reflects the diversity of the census groups with which we are compared for purposes of Affirmative Action reporting, it is not representative of the population of our community. We will strive to make it more so. In particular, the University will continue to make a concerted effort to locate and recruit strong minority candidates for higher-level, managerial positions.
Beyond the academic sphere, the University must recognize our responsibility as a large institution in a racially and economically diverse community on the South Side of Chicago. It is both right and in our interests that we develop better relationships that treat the community as partners rather than strangers to be kept at a distance, as Danielle Allen has argued in Talking to Strangers. How should we do this? It is essential to start from the basic principle of respect for differences and self-awareness of our own comparative advantages and limitations. The University is bringing its special expertise in education to bear through the Center for Urban School Improvement and its charter school in North Kenwood/Oakland. Research done at the University has demonstrably improved educational outcomes for children in those neighborhoods, and their success will make their lives and the South Side in general a better community. Contributions to the community through education are among the many ways that our students become linked to the surrounding neighborhoods through the University Community Service Center.
The University’s Pritzker School of Medicine and Hospitals take on a huge responsibility for the quality of life in our neighborhood, providing more than $50 million per year in care for those who cannot afford to pay. They sponsor outreach programs to improve the health in neighborhoods on the South Side, and the new Comer Children’s Hospital promises to provide state-of-the-art pediatric care, especially for those nearby.
Furthermore, the communities around our university also have knowledge resources that can contribute to the University’s core mission. Residents have information about the history of the South Side of Chicago, about Chicago politics, about many aspects of music and the arts, about religion and theology, and about a wide array of socioeconomic experiences. Both the University and the community will profit from enhanced and mutual intellectual exchange.
Finally, the history of the University over the last century shows that its fate is directly affected by the prosperity of the surrounding communities. The University will benefit by paying attention to diversity in wielding its enormous economic power in order to improve the prospects of our neighbors. As part of the University’s recent $500-million capital construction program, well over 30 percent of all of our spending to date, or $120 million, has been spent with minority vendors. This builds the economic base of our city and minority communities. We have worked with our vendors to create over fifty apprentice positions for young people on campus construction projects. Partnering with community groups, we have created new economic opportunities in the neighborhoods around the University.
Over the past year, a group of faculty, administrators, and students have been reviewing the University’s present situation and formulating recommendations to improve diversity. Their report summarizes the rationale for their mission in the following words:
We recall the Norton Report and its conviction that diversity is essential to the mission of the University of Chicago in order to remark that the existence of PIMI [the Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues] stands both as a testament to the progress the University has made over the past two decades in addressing minority issues and as an admonishment that much work remains yet to be done if the University is to fulfill its broader mission. A commitment to diversity is not merely or even primarily a matter of public relations. The production and the testing of knowledge for the benefit of all demand intellectual and social restlessness. We must be willing to ask whether or not our visions of the true and good are shared or contradicted by those whom we deem different from us. We must be willing to hear from a variety of sources to determine if our research agendas and priorities suffer from unintended biases rather than reflect a proper estimation of the state of knowledge in our respective fields. We must understand that we do not exist outside of the society we study but that we act within it and upon it, and that part of our responsibility as an institution for reflection and research is to be aware of and to assess how what we do affects the world around us. All of these activities and responsibilities presume diversity as a necessary condition of their fulfillment To fail to ensure social and intellectual diversity at the University of Chicago is to fail to realize our educational and research missions in a fundamental way.
The report offers a number of recommendations to which we are committed. In the wake of the Norton Report, the University made some progress; we now need to raise our aspirations, to monitor our improvements, and to confront our shortcomings. Our higher aspirations will be met only with the focused effort of the whole campus community.