CU diversity survey: Does university live up to its goals?

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As part of what's termed their "guiding principles," the Regents serving the University of Colorado call on the institution to "respect diversity in all of its forms, including diversity of political, geographic, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives."

Is CU accomplishing these goals? Critics have long argued that it falls short, and data's not available to refute them. So yesterday, the regents authorized a survey to find out. Look below to get more details, including a power-point presentation and more.

According to a statement made under the names of members James Geddes and Sue Sharkey, CU's Board of Regents can only determine if it's meeting its diversity standard "by seeking data to determine whether all members of the university community are respected and valued, including whether faculty members and students believe they are free to express their political beliefs and philosophies."

Likewise, the board needs to take a similar approach in order "to determine whether students believe they are receiving academic instruction that exposes them to diverse political philosophies and theories."

These assertions sparked "a spirited debate," says CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly). "I think it was about a three-hour discussion and it was very interesting, and surprisingly lighthearted given the gravity of the subject. I thought there was a great exchange between members of the board and those who testified both in person and by phone -- a healthy exercise in civil discourse that modeled the sort of debate and discussion a lot of people have talked about as being necessary in higher education."

At the end of the conversation, the regents approved the survey, with members Steve Bosley, Glen Gallegos, Irene Griego, Kyle Hybl, Stephen Ludwig and Joseph Neguse joining Sharkey and Geddes; regent Michael Carrigan abstained. Here's the list of formal resolutions:

RESOLVED the Regents of the University of Colorado call for an objective and non-partisan evaluation by a professional, external survey company to assess the efficacy by which the University of Colorado campuses have implemented the principle that they "respect diversity in all of its forms, including diversity of political, geographic, cultural, intellectual, and philosophical perspectives" as well as diversity based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status; and

RESOLVED this survey shall collect and analyze data on the extent to which competing ideas, perspectives, and claims of truth are presented and the extent to which members of the university community feel safe and supported in exploring and articulating their beliefs and viewpoints; and

RESOLVED the Regents of the University of Colorado direct the President of the University of Colorado to commission a request for proposal by which qualified, non-partisan firms may compete for the opportunity to conduct this survey; and

RESOLVED the chair and vice-chair of the Board of Regents of appoint a search committee, with appropriate faculty representation, to review the proposals and select the firm that will conduct the survey; and

RESOLVED the Regents of the University of Colorado direct a Request for Proposals (RFP) process be conducted with the RFP responses to be received by the board at the September meeting.

CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano "certainly supports diversity, including intellectual diversity," says Hilliard. "He's been on the record about that from day one. He wants a vigorous exchange of all views in the classroom and on campus, and he reaffirmed that yesterday. So we'll be working with the board to carry out the survey -- and the chancellor is also supportive of the concept of adding political viewpoints to the categories of nondiscrimination the campus already supports."

The survey, which should cost an estimated $100,000 and will be handled by a to-be-determined outside entity, appears to be the first of its type at CU. Hilliard notes that the university conducts so-called "climate surveys" every four years or so, with the two most recent having been completed in 2006 and 2010, "and from time to time, those provide data on things like if students who are conservative or religious feel welcome here." But the new analysis will encompass the views of students and faculty alike on all of CU's campuses (not just Boulder) and broaden the scope of inquiries considerably.

Sharkey's arguments for the survey are encompassed in the following power-point presentation, which includes a graphic suggesting that only 40 percent of conservative students feel their opinions are respected "no matter what." Also included is an essay about the need for diversity submitted to the regents by University of Wisconsin professor Donald Downs.

Continue for more of the CU diversity power-point and Professor Downs' essay. Continue for more of the CU diversity power-point and Professor Downs' essay.

Professor Donald Downs Diversity Statement

More from our Education archive: "Photos: Ten new Westword-approved conservative classes for CU-Boulder."

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