Schlissel calls for ‘dialogue on diversity’ at UM

The Detroit News

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel has called for a campus-wide “dialogue on diversity,” saying he wants the issue to be “a major focus” during his tenure.

Schlissel, who took office as UM’s 14th president in July, told about 200 students, faculty, staff and administrators Monday he plans a series of short and long-term initiatives to tackle “the hardest problem and biggest challenge that we’re going to confront together,” according to remarks posted online by his office.

Schlissel said university officials have started creating a “strategic plan for diversity” and he has asked UM’s schools and colleges to develop plans as well. Later this semester, Schlissel said he and Provost Martha Pollack will convene a meeting of UM’s department chairs on diversity and inclusion, followed by a campus-wide summit this fall.

In the meantime, UM also is pursuing shorter-term efforts to encourage diversity, Schlissel said. They include partnering with Michigan school districts whose students are underrepresented at colleges and universities, identifying promising learners and providing college prep programs and financial aid information.

Schlissel said he plans to visit high schools throughout the state that serve underrepresented students.

UM also is upgrading its diversity Web page and planning new services for first-generation college students on campus.

The university’s human resources department has founded a task force to study hiring, promotion and workplace climate at UM and recommend changes, the president said.

“A key part of realizing our full potential when it comes to excellence is creating a campus climate that allows diversity to flourish — in all of its forms,” Schlissel said. “We cannot neglect any group in our work. Those of different races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, faiths, income levels, political perspectives, viewpoints and disabilities all must feel welcome.”

In his remarks, Schlissel discussed the state’s 2006 voter-approved ban on affirmative action in college admissions and hiring and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld the measure.

Since the ban took effect, the proportion of minority students at UM has dropped, sparking frustration among civil rights activists. In November, demonstrators demanding greater enrollment of African Americans shut down a Board of Regents meeting.

In his remarks, Schlissel mentioned a protest at another regents meeting in February 2014, where African American students sat in the front row with duct tape covering their mouths.

“They were expressing dissatisfaction over their voices not being heard, of feeling marginalized and excluded. But this was Michigan. Written on the tape were the words, ‘Go Blue,’ he recalled.

“Despite their concerns and issues, they wanted others to know that they love the university and were trying to make it better, not tear it down. I was proud.”

Watch Schlissel’s speech here.