Opening UT's Doors
Sunday, May 22, 2005
The appointment of a vice provost to promote diversity at the University of Texas at Austin signals a more aggressive — and welcome — approach to integrating faculty, the student body and academic programs.
Gregory Vincent's appointment as the provost for inclusion and cross-cultural effectiveness was announced last week and should be recognized as a serious step toward making UT reflect today's Texas population. Years of efforts to diversify UT's campus have produced mixed results: The number of Hispanic students has increased, but their numbers still don't represent the percentage of the state's growing Latino population. African American enrollment remains embarrassingly low more than 50 years after the end of legal segregation. The number of Asian students has increased dramatically, far exceeding their proportion in the population; UT faculty is more diverse, but relatively few of its tenured staff are Hispanic or African American.
The new vice provost isn't a magician who can instantly undo a century of policies and culture that produced an environment many minorities find unwelcoming — if not hostile. But the administration's commitment to the effort is reflected in Vincent's title and is underlined by the salary it carries: $170,000 a year.
Preparation for Texas' future begins now. Minorities are rapidly becoming the state's majority population. Therefore, a commitment to diversity isn't a politically correct administrative decoration but a serious economic tool. Economic experts have repeatedly warned that household incomes for all Texans will drop if we fail to graduate from college tens of thousands more Hispanics and African Americans in the next decade. As the state's largest, and arguably best, university, UT has a significant role in charting that future.
In establishing the post, UT is following a road other universities are traveling. Last week, Harvard University unveiled an ambitious $50 million initiative to recruit and promote women and underrepresented minorities on its faculty. A few years ago, Texas A&M University in College Station created a similar post to help boost diversity.
A logical place for Vincent to start is with student and faculty recruitment. About 1,700 of UT's more than 50,000 students are African American; and Hispanic students of all races total just 6,727. Those figures show there is plenty to do.