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Originally published Friday, May 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Diversity proposal roils university

An early draft of a five-year "diversity plan" for the University of Oregon has drawn a firestorm of criticism from faculty, prompting administrators...

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — An early draft of a five-year "diversity plan" for the University of Oregon has drawn a firestorm of criticism from faculty, prompting administrators to distance themselves from the proposal.

The draft plan, billed as a "long-term vision for diversity," called for the university to hire up to 40 faculty members by 2012 to teach courses in a "cluster" of diversity-related topics, including race, gender, gay and disability studies.

Under the plan, academic departments that hew closely to the university's diversity goals when hiring would be given "priority in the funding of new positions."

The plan also would mandate that faculty up for promotions or tenure be evaluated on their "cultural competency" — the ability to successfully work with people from all cultural backgrounds. Traditionally, research, publications and teaching have been the key elements of a tenure review.

The draft plan suggests that the university set aside more funding for hundreds of new "diversity-building scholarships" for minority undergraduates over the next five years, as well as new fellowships for graduate students aimed at those from "under-represented" backgrounds.

A key goal, the draft plan continues, is to double the number of black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students attending the university in the next five years.

Under the plan, student curriculum requirements could also change, possibly with the inclusion of a "gender and sexuality requirement."

"Many people were upset with the content in different ways; the plan was sort of an Orwellian, totalitarian plan," said Michael Kellman, a chemistry professor at the university.

Sources at the university said the draft plan drew immediate condemnation from department heads across the campus, some of whom had little or no knowledge of the proposal before it was posted on the university's Web site.

University officials declined to comment directly on the plan, which was overseen by Dr. Gregory Vincent, the university's vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, who last week announced his departure for a similar post at the University of Texas, Austin.

But in a letter to members of the faculty senate's diversity committee, University President Dave Frohnmayer acknowledged public concerns with the plan.

"We need to step back from specific details, to be mindful of alternative viewpoints, and to develop a sense of urgency in recognizing the problems we face," Frohnmayer wrote. "I also emphasized the need ... to engage faculty, staff and students who believe they have not properly been involved in this dialogue."

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For years, Oregon's flagship public campus has struggled to attract diverse faculty members and students.

The dust-up over the plan is the latest in a series of race-related incidents to roil the campus. Earlier this month, 150 people rallied to protest alleged racial discrimination and harassment at the school's highly ranked College of Education.

Last week, a senior at the university filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over the school's policy of reserving 10 slots of selected math and English courses for minority students, in an attempt to increased individual attention from faculty.

Chicora Martin, the university's director of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender education and support services, was part of the work group that put the plan together. She said the controversy provoked by the plan's first draft has created a welcome chance to talk about the current state of diversity on campus.

"We want to make a welcoming campus around issues of diversity," she said. "I think you need to have a plan for that."

A key concern about the draft plan has been worries over how to pay for the new recommendations, including plans to bulk up the administration's diversity staff, said John Nicols, a professor of history and classics at the university.

"There's considerable concern," he said. "If there is no new money available, it would have to be taken from existing sources."

The draft plan does not identify any new sources of funding for the programs and expansions it proposes.

Robin Holmes, director of the university's Counseling and Testing Center, said the draft's authors were not "given direction to come up with funding sources."

"We wrote this as an aspirational document; we received directions to think boldly," Holmes said. "How would we effect the aspirations in this document? That's what we need to sit down in the next year and figure out."

Additionally, Nicols and Kellman both said that faculty members were concerned about the possibility that faculty would need to demonstrate "cultural competence" before receiving tenure.

"This would have made [cultural competence] a huge issue for everyone, in their whole career — promotion, tenure, merit raises — most people felt inappropriately," Kellman said. "No one knows what cultural competency is supposed to be. It's an ill-defined concept that is empty of meaning."

Holmes said the cultural-competence portion of the plan does need further refinement, and called the faculty's concerns "legitimate." But the ideal of being respectful of other cultures underpins the entire proposal, she said.

Changes to the plan may surface soon, beginning with a new executive committee on diversity, which Frohnmayer has asked to "move with dispatch to suggest ideas for continuing this dialogue to a successful and timely conclusion."

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