President Kaler's remarks at the Fifth Annual Equity and Diversity Breakfast

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thank you, Kris, and welcome all to one of the most important and inspiring days of the year here at the University of Minnesota. Thank you, Regent Maureen Ramirez, for being here today. Welcome, Senator Scott Dibble and Senator Kari Dziedzic, two great friends of the University—and re-elected friends! I’d like to offer a special greeting to one of the state’s great leaders of equity and diversity, and our regent emeritus, Dr. Josie Johnson. Thank you to all of the University’s senior leaders in attendance, including UMD Chancellor Lynn Black. And to our generous sponsors—Target, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Ernst & Young, Coca-Cola, TCF Bank, RBC Wealth Management, and the Minnesota Twins. Thank you for your support.

I want to offer a special thank you and warmest good luck wishes to our senior vice president for academic administration Robert Jones. Robert will be leaving us at year’s end to be president of the State University of New York at Albany.

Thank you, Robert, for your 34 years of exceptional service and contributions—locally and globally—to the University of Minnesota. Robert, you will be missed. And Professor Duchess Harris, our keynote speaker, welcome back to the U.

Let me report on what we’ve been doing the past year. We held a series of listening sessions on diversity with faculty, staff and students. Provost Karen Hanson, Dr. Jones, and I learned much. And we know that while we’ve made great progress, we also have much to do. We discussed challenges facing departments and colleges on all of our campuses in recruiting and retaining faculty of color.

Faculty shared strategies that had been successful in their departments. We need to extend the best practices that some departments have adopted to more departments. And we will.

From students, concern was expressed that diverse students often don’t feel welcome. Sometimes it is our campus climate, sometimes the curriculum, and sometimes they feel that they cannot openly discuss challenging issues, such as racism, in the classroom. We talked about how some students with disabilities feel there is a lack of support from some faculty. And when we met with staff, there was a sense that there is a lack of promotional opportunities for staff of color.

As for next steps, Kris Lockhart is sending today an email to Twin Cities faculty, students and staff, detailing the questions asked and the issues raised at the listening sessions. Kris will explain how the Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) will be working directly with academic leaders to support their strategic equity and diversity goals. And we will be creating new communications channels and vehicles to advance our equity and diversity strategy systemwide.

We have colleagues from all of our statewide campuses here today—Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester. Our equity and diversity work is essential on all of our campuses. And here on the Twin Cities campus, much of our equity and diversity work occurs in our colleges and schools. Kris Lockhart mentioned all of our senior leaders who are here, and they are leaders, too, in our equity and diversity efforts, and I thank them for their commitment.

Must we make more progress? Of course we must. But are we on the right track?

Are we thinking progressively and constantly about diversity? We are, because of the terrific work of our Office for Equity and Diversity, and other units on our campuses. A great example is UROC—our Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center—which continues its very active and powerful work with our community partners in North Minneapolis. We must define diversity as not only a driving force, but also as a necessary condition for excellence at this University.

Why are equity and diversity so critical to this University and this state at this time in history? Let me offer three words: last week’s election.

What we saw eight days ago was all about the changing demographics and changing ways of knowing of this great nation. It was about the power and energy of voters of color who refused to be marginalized. It was about young people and their hopes and aspirations for the future.

The vote totals for president revealed a new truth about diversity across the country. Any leader who fails to connect with the changing diversity of our nation will not succeed in today’s America. Locally, a majority of us let our voices be heard that marriage shouldn’t be restricted, or voting rights curtailed.

Last week was a wonderful lesson in democracy, demography, and diversity.

That’s why this University must educate the best and brightest of Minnesota’s future business, civic, cultural, and political leaders in an atmosphere that respects equity and diversity. That’s why we are all here today to celebrate equity and diversity in our communities.

Now as you know, a year ago, at this very event, I announced that I would keep the leader of our Office for Equity and Diversity at the vice president level.

More recently, I announced that the new vice president for OED will report directly to me.

It’s been a long and thorough search because we must have the right person for this important senior leadership position. As we conducted this search, we spoke to many people around the country. We were repeatedly told something we knew, but didn’t always celebrate: Our Office for Equity and Diversity is good. It’s exceptionally good. I am proud of our OED, and thankful for the hard work of its staff. We’re ahead of many other institutions in resources, programs, and commitment. Still, we will get better.

As for our new vice president, we are in the very final stages of selecting her.

We had two excellent candidates visit the Twin Cities campus recently, and I thank you all for your input. I was hoping to make an announcement today, but all I can say is: Soon, very soon.

Thank you all for sharing this special day celebrating equity and diversity at all of the campuses of the University of Minnesota.