American universities may fear legal and political challenges to their campus diversity programs, but the programs can—and must—be built in legally sustainable ways, according to a new handbook from AAAS and the Association of American Universities.
The guide offers “replicable, effective, and lawful” practices for increasing student and faculty diversity. It also builds a compelling case for vigorously developing diversity in the science and technology fields as a national asset.
“The kind of diversity that we need for the nation in science and technology fields is not necessarily one that aligns with one political perspective,” said Jamie Lewis Keith, vice president and general counsel at the University of Florida and co-author of the handbook. “It’s something that industry leaders, and universities and government leaders all recognize as being critical because we need the best intellectual resources the country has to offer.”
Jamie Lewis Keith
Researchers suggest that national security and economic strength depend on a diverse science and technology workforce. A diverse S&T community, they note, can use its broad spectrum of experience to solve scientific problems creatively and can develop products and services for an increasingly multicultural and global economy. But racial and ethnic minorities, women, and persons with disabilities hold only one-fourth of these critical jobs in the United States.
In a 28 April teleconference announcing the new handbook, former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley praised the guide as a way to “ensure that we are tapping all the talent and resources that we have at our hands to meet the nation’s needs.”
The handbook grew out of two workshops organized in 2008 and 2009 by AAAS and AAU, and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the U.S. National Science Foundation. At the workshops, top university counsels, provosts, and other administrators discussed ways to pursue greater campus diversity in the wake of two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The 2003 decisions, which addressed law school and undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan, changed the legal landscape for university diversity programs, the experts agreed.
In the Michigan law school case, the court agreed that universities could consider the overall educational benefits of a diverse student body in their admissions process. But in the undergraduate case, the court ruled that the university gave too much weight to race in its admissions process, rather than considering race as one factor among many in a more individualized selection process.
Universities need guidance as they navigate this legal terrain, said Daryl Chubin, director of AAAS’ Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity, in an interview last year. “We’re giving them an alternative to the default position, which is, if you are threatened with a suit, you back away from the program under scrutiny.”
With the help of an extensive appendix outlining key legal opinions, the handbook “provides examples of field-tested tools for diversifying faculties and student bodies,” Chubin said during the teleconference.
The tools expand the notion of diversity beyond race or gender, said Keith, by considering factors such as socioeconomic status and a person’s success in working with and fostering participation by people from a broad range of backgrounds.
With this new focus, she said, campus administrators can build diversity by recruiting people “who have either scaled barriers themselves or broken down barriers for others.”
Universities should take a closer look at how they recruit, promote and retain minority and women students and faculty, said Shirley Malcom, head of AAAS’s Education and Human Resources programs. “One of the most successful strategies has been paying attention,” she said, “actually collecting the data, and being attentive to what is going on inside one’s own institution.”
Each university’s diversity program will be different, she said, “and they’re supposed to be different because they are all responding to different context, to different problems, to different kinds of circumstances, and to different disciplines.”
Most universities are “very comfortable” with the idea that grant money and publications are the “coin of the realm” when it comes to measuring the quality of their faculty, said Ted Williams, an associate vice president in the office of diversity and equal opportunity for the University of South Florida.
The handbook could encourage universities to add diversity measures to their faculty evaluations, said Williams. “We must elevate the concept of diversity and inclusion to that same level of appreciation if we are to serve as bastions of quality education for our ever-diversifying nation.”
The handbook’s authors urged universities to monitor the outcome of their programs, “so that the legal case that might ultimately need to be made for operating a program or operating it in a particular way is not based on anecdotes alone,” said Chubin. “Data really do matter here.”
Robert Burgoyne, a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski LLP., served as co-author and project counsel for the handbook. At the teleconference, he said that with respect to employment, universities should heed a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that New Haven, Connecticut, could not throw out the results of a fire department exam when the results did not lead to promotions for minority firefighters.
“Once you’ve set your process in place…to recruit minority and women candidates,” said Burgoyne, “you shouldn’t change the process at the tail end in order to address issues where you’re concerned about how your initial efforts have played out.”
The courts have been “modestly quiet” on the issue of campus diversity since the Michigan decisions, said Arthur Coleman of EducationCounsel LLC. He noted that several groups are instead seeking limits on diversity programs through state referenda or similar ballot measures.
“I think we’re in a period of reflection and refinement post-Michigan,” said Coleman, a co-editor and project counsel of the handbook. “You see relatively less focus in the courts, but you’re now in the court of public opinion.”
Download the handbook, “Navigating a Complex Landscape to Foster Greater Faculty and Student Diversity in Higher Education.”
Listen to a 2009 interview with Daryl Chubin about the law and practice of diversity in major research colleges and universities.
Learn more about the AAAS Center for Advancing Science & Engineering Capacity.