SURVEY: Majority of college presidents say racial climate a growing priority

In the wake of student protests that have toppled administrators across the country, a number of college and university presidents say they have become more interested in implementing diversity initiatives.

Seeking to determine how higher education leaders are reacting to the phenomenon that has brought down so many of their colleagues, the American Council of Education (ACE) conducted an online poll of 567 college and university presidents in January, soliciting feedback not only on their general attitudes toward diversity issues, but also regarding the specific initiatives they are pursuing.

“Black Lives Matter. In addition to crystalizing [sic] a movement, these three words encapsulate well the current state of race relations in the United States,” the authors of the soon-to-be-released survey remark in a preview of their findings. “Similar to demonstrations in the 1960s—perhaps the last time higher education has seen student activism at the current scale—students have targeted their messages toward campus leaders; namely, college and university presidents and other senior administrators.”

That strategy appears to have produced results, particularly among presidents at four-year institutions, a majority (55 percent) of whom reported that “racial climate” is a higher priority now than it was three years ago, compared to just one percent who rate it a lower priority.

The same group also asserted overwhelmingly that “recent high-profile events” have stimulated racial dialogue on campus, with 75 percent claiming such dialogue has increased either overall or among certain groups, while the remainder reported no noticeable change.

“The national issues have manifested at my campus as a genuine focus on eliminating the disparity in student academic achievement by ethnicity and on being more proactive in diversifying the faculty,” one president explained.

More specifically, ACE identified a number of common actions that presidents have taken in response to student concerns about racial climate, revealing that while financially-quantifiable efforts have predominated thus far, many presidents are looking to make more abstract changes, as well.

Within the last five years, more than 60 percent of presidents reported devoting additional resources to racial diversity initiatives, minority student support services, and cultural competency training for students and/or employees, while 76 percent claimed to have engaged in various “initiatives to increase diversity among students, faculty, and/or staff.”

In contrast, barely more than half (51 percent) said they had made a “public acknowledgement of issues related to racial climate on campus,” and even fewer admitted to revising policies (47 percent) or curriculum (33 percent).

Presidents are also not timid about using the curriculum to promote diversity; curricular revisions topped the list of “forthcoming actions,” with 19 percent of presidents planning to take them up in the near future.

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