Schlissel: UM needs plan to increase campus diversity

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel says he will ask his 19 deans to come up with plans to diversify their departments as part of a measurable effort to make the campus more diverse.

And that diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity, he said.

"The reason why it's so darn important — beyond the question of being fair to all the citizens that we serve here as a public university — is we cannot be academically excellent without being diverse," Schlissel told The Detroit News in an interview Friday. "So much of the learning that goes on here comes with engaging one another."

Schlissel said he plans to develop a strategy aimed at re-energizing the university's efforts to diversify the student body, faculty and the staff.

Part of that strategy will include asking the university's deans next month to come up with diversity plans. A baseline will be established to measure the current state of each college.

"Just as we review deans each year based on the standing of their graduate program and success of the publications of their faculty, we'll review the schools based on their ability to achieve their diversity goals," Schlissel said.

Other strategies to diversify UM will include identifying talented students, convincing them to apply and assuring them that they can afford to attend UM, regardless of family income, and succeed.

The efforts will include recruiting students who are diverse socioeconomically, politically, geographically, religiously and more.

Schlissel said he wants to "build a campus where there is a feeling of inclusiveness, where students feel as though their ideas are valued and valued equally."

"I want to build a campus that is characterized by a respect for civil discourse where people really can have difficult conversation and disagree with one another, but can do so respectfully and can learn from one another," he said.

Schlissel, who became UM president in mid-2014, also wants "a campus that is safe and, to me, that means working hard to diminish issues of sexual assault and issues of the overuse of alcohol."

His efforts come as students and activists upset with the state of diversity on campus shut down a UM regents meeting in November. Meanwhile, the university can no longer use affirmative action in admissions following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld a voter-approved ban on considering race in college admissions.

Schlissel said he hopes "to build a campus community where in and outside the classroom education benefits come from people who bring different life experiences and points of view to the table."

Besides increasing diversity, Schlissel said his goals include leveraging the university's broad research capacity to address social problems. He also talked about the challenges of navigating a changing of the guard in UM's Athletic Department after the departure of former athletic director Dave Brandon and the firing of football coach Brady Hoke.

Schlissel, who repeatedly has said that academics are UM's primary mission, said athletics create part of the bond that people hold onto long after they've graduated.

"People who have been here develop a love and a passion for the place, and I think part of what connects people to the place and keeps them connected is athletics," Schlissel said. "So while I would stand by the notion that it is not part of our mission, it is certainly part of the culture."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com