College president says inclusivity more important than diversity, tuition costs

The President of the College of St. Scholastica (CSS) says he will devote the final year of his tenure to promoting inclusivity, arguing that diversity is more important than tuition costs or adapting to new technology.

“I believe that the most significant challenge facing our school today is not affordability or government regulation or the impact of technology,” Larry Goodwin writes in the Fall edition of St. Scholastica Magazine. “It is becoming a more diverse and inclusive community of leaders where everybody can succeed.”

Goodwin asserted that the pursuit of “inclusive excellence” will occupy the focus of his 18th and final year as president of CSS, clarifying that “this does not mean that everyone deserves an ‘A’,” but rather that “college success rates should reflect differences in ability or effort, not differences in income, race, or ethnicity.”

With the increasing diversity of the U.S. population—he notes that half of America’s high school students are projected to be non-white by 2027—Goodwin says the nation’s current failure to effectively educate those students is not just “a moral problem,” but also “represents an economic threat” due to increasing demand for high-skilled labor.

He also described this year’s focus on “inclusive excellence” as a continuation of the efforts the school has undertaken in recent years to improve diversity, first by increasing recruitment of “diverse faculty, staff, and students,” and more recently by establishing “cultural fluency” orientation and training programs.

Going forward, Goodwin identifies three main steps that he believes CSS must take to follow through on its diversity commitment.

“First, we need to find our blind spots and correct them,” he states, explaining that while “students may feel out of place or disadvantaged because of overt acts of prejudice or racism,” they can also “feel marginalized just because they are not part of the in-group.”

Goodwin claims that systems built by the majority, such as higher education, tend to benefit members of the majority, “while those in the minority do not share in the privileges,” and posits that those with “privilege” need to work harder to recognize their advantages and alter institutional policies to ensure that all groups succeed equally.

“Second, we need to change the assumption that academic excellence means treating everybody the same,” he continues. “We will not realize equality of access and opportunity by treating all students as though they are the same, because they are not the same.”

He does concede that all students will eventually have to “meet the standards,” but says that “first we need to get them on a level playing field,” which he suggests could be accomplished with policies like affirmative action.

“Finally, we need to change our expectations,” Goodwin says, explaining that labels such as “disadvantaged” and “at risk” instill negative expectations in students. “We need really to believe in our students—more, perhaps, than they believe in themselves.”

Goodwin elaborated on those sentiments further in his Faculty-Staff 2015 Institute Address, outlining, for instance, how he came to embrace “inclusive excellence” as his administrative mandate.

“I've had a successful academic career, and I am proud of my accomplishments,” he said. “But I've also come to understand that being white, male, and over six feet tall are not incidental to my success.”

Citing a sociological term called the “Matthew effect” that describes a condition in which “the rich get richer at a rate that makes the poor get relatively poorer,” Goodwin indicated that this was analogous to the current situation in higher education.

He then asked the audience to imagine a situation in which a group of people were expected to look over a fence. Since the taller people would already be able to see over the fence but the shorter people would not, he reasoned that “we ought to provide [the shorter people] boxes to stand on.”

Bringing the analogy back to higher learning, he told the faculty and staff that “If all students are to have a realistic chance at success, some students will need educational boxes so that they can see over the fence.”

(h/t: Red Alert Politics)

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