Editorial: Students pay high price for UM diversity goals

The Detroit News

When Mark Schlissel became president of the University of Michigan in 2014, one of his first goals was to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus. As part of a five-year strategic plan, UM now has at least 76 employees dedicated to diversity efforts.

That kind of investment, funded in large part by tuition and taxpayers, demands big results. And while the university points to an uptick in minority students, it’s hard to justify the administrative growth. 

Total salary, including benefits, for UM diversity employees amounts to $10.6 million, and that doesn’t take into account overhead, travel or outreach costs. This sum is the equivalent of full in-state tuition for about 700 students.

Students walk through the Diag in front of the Hatcher Graduate Library on the campus of the University of Michigan campus in June. Somebody spray-painted the Block M at the University of Michigan Diag over the weekend, one week before the annual UM-MSU football game.

Forming a bureaucracy to encourage diversity by means other than affirmative action exemplifies the trend of bloated university administrations which makes going to college more costly for students.

In 2003, there were no UM employees with diversity titles. The next year, 15 employees were added with that title. Now it’s 76. 

Yet black students still remain at just 5 percent of the student population; Hispanic students are 6 percent. 

After the passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative in 2006, public institutions, including universities, can no longer discriminate based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. That means universities are banned from using affirmative action in their admissions policies. Nor can they offer race or gender-based aid.

So universities are turning to other options. 

Of the 76 full-time diversity bureaucrats at UM, 28 diversity officers make more than $100,000 annually — far more than an assistant professor in the humanities at UM. Robert Sellers, chief diversity officer and vice provost for equity and inclusion, alone brings in an annual salary of roughly $407,000.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says that though diversity may be in a job title, many of these employees have other responsibilities.

The university says the program has achieved its desired results among the undergraduate population. The number of white students attending fell by 400 students between 2012 and 2013 and the 10 percent growth in undergraduate population since 2010 has included a slightly larger percentage of minority students.

Fitzgerald says the university is “developing a pipeline for underrepresented groups” through its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Mark Perry, professor of finance and business economics at the University of Michigan-Flint, says administrative bloat is hurting higher education.

Perry used Department of Education data to find that between 1976 and 2011, the number of U.S. college students increased by 91 percent, while the number of full-time college administrators increased by 139 percent, compared to an increase in the number of full-time faculty of only 76 percent.

And while universities focus on a diverse student body, the percentage of minority UM faculty actually fell between 2013 and 2017.

It is a fine goal to make campuses more diverse and inclusive. But beefing up the college bureaucracy is not the best way to get there.