Diversity

The Council on Academic Personnel reminds colleagues to reflect on UCLA's fundamental purpose--to build and create community.

           Reviewing the range of ways that dossiers to CAP and their internal and external reviewers sometimes wave the banners of “diversity” reminds one of the blind men reporting on what an elephant looks like.

           For some diversity refers to an emphasis on recruiting, engaging and supporting students from underrepresented communities. For others it means forefronting in their classrooms issues that are of special importance to minority communities. There are those who use it to cite their efforts in making sure that UCLA develops a fairer representation in its faculty profile of members from minority groups, whether identified by gender, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation. Still others raise the importance of the candidate’s research as it pertains to special needs or issues related to marginalized communities beyond campus. And so on.   Each reporter understandably misses the whole creature, how it looks and behaves and wants to move forward.     

Sometimes a faculty member will stiffen when it comes to our abiding concerns about maintaining a diversity-friendly campus, citing the barriers placed to any initiatives or advisories in that direction by 1996’s California State Proposition 209, and the apparent contradiction between those concerns and Prop 209’s insistence that California “not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment” to any group “in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

        On the other hand we do have such documents as the University-wide, official 2010 statement which unequivocally supports “diversity and equal opportunity” both in so far as research and creative activities are concerned and in removing barriers to the recruitment, retention and advancement “ of students from “historically excluded” or “underrepresented “ populations, and UCLA’s own 2011 “Principles of Community” statement which commits our campus to “inclusiveness,” a valuing of “differences,”  our lack of tolerance for acts of discrimination based on any range of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other characteristics, and our determination to resolve conflicts stemming from “biases in our communities.” Also relevant is a provision in the Academic Personnel Manual, APM 210-1(d), which emphasizes that “Teaching, research, professional and public servicer contributions that promote diversity and equal opportunity are to be encouraged and given recognition in the evaluation of the candidate’s qualifications.” 

         But rather than anticipating every possible objection and then suggesting how diversity concerns might still be addressed without violating Prop. 209 provisos, we prefer to remind faculty members of the differences between the letter and the spirit of any advisory.  

         We ask our colleagues to reflect on the fundamental purpose of UCLA’s concerns with building and maintaining community. We request that they resurrect the basic human values that underlie our university’s commitments to diversity. For without infractions of rules or forbidden references to affirmative action or group preferences, there remain ample ways that faculty can make our campus a welcoming environment for often underrepresented or marginalized groups or individuals.

         Every one of our units, departments or individual courses should be examined to see if it provides ample guidance, mentoring, accommodations and same standards to the full range of its faculty and students. Every instructor can make sure that course assignments, especially when they engage awareness of the wider Los Angeles community, fully explore its diversity and make their findings available to others.  As APM 210-1(d) goes on to say, “These contributions to diversity and equal opportunity can take a variety of forms including efforts to advance equitable access to education, public service that addresses the needs of California’s diverse population, or research in a scholar’s area of expertise that highlights inequalities.”

         Adhering to the spirit of any law calls for basic human empathy, the sort of creative imagination associated with good teaching and independent thinking out of any box. It simply asks that each of us look around to notice any person or group who is not being treated fairly, whether that be in terms of inclusion, representation, opinion-making or otherwise.  And when we have doubts about whether an initiative is “legal” and if and how we should act on it to enhance diversity and community, it asks that we seek advice. We can do this with chairs, colleagues, an appointed diversity representative in our department or the Office of Diversity and Faculty Development at 313r Murphy Hall.

          Enhancing diversity and community at UCLA does, however, mean each of us must act creatively, whether that means keeping our campus safe and inviting,  developing educational and social situations that make all manner of students and faculty feel at home, or designing curricula and syllabi that reflect the full range of today’s social and global realities from which many of our students come and with which all of them must deal.

         Are all new or junior faculty equally and constructively mentored? Is health information made available in multiple languages? Are laboratories welcoming atmospheres for men and women alike? Despite what is written, who is actually being excluded in any staff, student or faculty association or informal situation on campus? Are the needs and desires of the elderly addressed? Have disability concerns been attended to?  And so forth – there is no knee-jerk checklist here, there is only the application of human thought, will and compassion as the occasion demands. When conducted with sincerity, imagination and a sense of purpose, actions that address the basic human issues that fall under the “diversity” umbrella almost always bear fruit – and always find their relevant place in CAP dossiers.   Faculty who are submitting dossiers in personnel actions should highlight their contributions to diversity issues in their research, teaching or service activities so that CAP can recognize these contributions in its evaluation of the candidate's file.