The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one.
Kansas State President Kirk Schulz took that step by acknowledging he needed to deal more efficiently with campus diversity issues.
“During my time as president, I have not paid as much personal time as I need to address some of the issues of diversity that have been raised by our students, faculty and staff,” Schulz said.
This became very clear during an April forum held by the Black Student Union.
The organization invited Schulz, provost April Mason and Peter Dorhout, dean of the College of Arts and Science, to hear students and faculty members discuss the lack of black faculty and other issues.
Members also advocated on behalf of three black faculty members in the American Ethnic Studies program who were in danger of losing their jobs.
Those at the meeting described the mood in unpleasant words:
“Obviously, at the meeting in the spring, there were a lot of emotions,” Schulz said. “Students were concerned about the retention of several faculty members that they felt were very impactful to them in their lives.”
BSU president Marcus Briggs said he thought Schulz learned a lot from the meeting.
“Before the president walked into that meeting, I don’t think he had a real grasp on what was going on,” Briggs said.
Schulz heard them loud and clear, as it turned out.
Since that time, the university has retained those faculty members and hired a full-time director for American Ethnic Studies, which recently was upgraded to a department. Schulz said he spent more time with Myra Gordon, associate provost for diversity.
Gordon mentioned during the April forum that she couldn’t get an audience with the president.
Gordon said certain improvements in diversity can only take place through presidential leadership — and that Schulz has become more involved since the forum.
“Diversity can’t be a buzzword,” she said. “Diversity has to be in our DNA. Our long-term health and sustainability as a university depends on it.”
AMERICA IS in the midst of a demographic transformation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, non-Hispanic white Americans represented 63 percent of the country’s population in 2012.
The bureau is projecting that 2042 will be the last year of that group representing at least 50 percent of the population.
It is projected that people of color will represent 57.4 percent of the country by 2060.
Because of the shifting population, Gordon referred to diversity as a mandate for the university.
“I can’t believe there’s anything more compelling than the issue of diversity for the campus,” she said. “This is where we’re going to get our students.”
While K-State remains predominantly white—75.7 percent this fall—the rate of growth among those students is considerably slower than other student groups.
(Data has included on- and off-campus enrollments for the Manhattan and Salina campuses since fall 2004, but only Manhattan on-campus prior to that time.)
Since 2002, the white student population grew about 6 percent while the black students increased by 67.59 percent, Hispanic students increased by 186.54 percent and multiracial students increased by 357.75 percent.
WHITE STUDENTS represent about 41 percent of the university’s 5,962 student increase since 1989.
“Oh my good God, it is so just different than when I first got here,” Gordon said. “But there is always work to be done.”
The Higher Learning Commission, the university’s accrediting body, expressed concern in 2002 about the level of progress in diversity.
K-State didn’t have a diversity office at that time.
“You don’t want your accrediting body to identify any area of the university as weak,” said Gordon, who started shortly after the visit. “They identified that area clearly.”
When the commission returned in 2012, they identified the progress in diversity as “significant” and “most commendable.”
Nevertheless, there have been lingering issues with hiring diverse faculty - hence the BSU forum.
The BSU met further with Schulz and provost April Mason later in the spring to follow on dialogue from that forum.
Schulz came to a BSU meeting in October, which is the second time he attended a meeting - including the April forum.
“The fact that he showed up let us know we’re better off than we were years ago,” Briggs said.
Schulz called the October meeting a sharp contrast in tone.
“People were still concerned about things, but they felt we had made some progress on things we claimed in the spring,” he said.
Briggs said the recent activity helped him feel more comfortable as a student.
“It let me know that we, as students, have a say and a voice in what goes on here,” he said. “If we are adamant and concerned about something, we can bring it to light and make something happen.”
A DREAM deferred would be an appropriate way to describe the Multicultural Student Center.
The university has developed two five-year diversity strategic plans since Gordon came to K-State, each including the need for a center.
When a draft of the new diversity strategic plan is unveiled in January, it will also include the center.
Briggs said adding a Multicultural Student Center would strengthen the comfort level on campus - which could help recruit retain black faculty and students.
“Our retention is the lowest on campus,” Briggs said. “Same with black faculty.”
Currently, the Multicultural Student Organization office serves as the home base for every multicultural organization.
Briggs said there are often situations where a student might be the only person of color in the class.
“You’re constantly surrounded by a sea of whiteness all day,” he said. “You come here and it’s relieving. You have a sense of community. That’s kind of intangible, but it’s one of those things that’s invaluable.”
The problem is that the office isn’t very big, considering that 30-plus multicultural organizations at K-State share the room.
Briggs said multicultural organizations have neither the houses of their white Greek counterparts, nor the alumni resources to create a larger space.
Schulz said K-State is working on the latter with the KSU Foundation’s hiring of Damien Williams, development recruiter and talent manager, during the summer.
Williams’ job includes overseeing fundraising for diversity programs, which Schulz said hadn’t been done in the past.
Schulz said the university needs to move forward aggressively with the multicultural center, and an increased effort in diversity fundraising will help.
“We’ll see some positive numbers in donations and efforts in this regard that hasn’t been there certainly over the past five years,” he said.
Gordon said she remains hopeful about the center’s eventual presence on campus.
“I can’t believe there would be all of this activity, and it not lead to anything,” Gordon said.
THE CURRENT situation is much healthier but will take time and patience, officials said.
“Diversity on a campus that has been so overwhelmingly white for so long is a work in progress,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort, money and people involved in it.”
Briggs said he wants to see numbers and ideas on how to recruit and retain diverse faculty.
He said it is important to maintain a continued dialogue, suggesting that the previous lack of it caused the April forum’s tension.
“That was after eight months of work and research and contacting people and not getting responses,” he said.
Briggs said K-State is at a good place, figuring the university is about “three steps up the ten-step ladder” in terms of diversity.
He said the work that the BSU is doing now is for the benefit of future students.
“We’ll be long gone before any of this stuff really come to fruition,” Briggs said. “Knowing that there are people that will remain at K-State (who are) willing to see this dream go forward is a great reinsurance for us.”