As administrators and leaders, we have goals that move us through each day as we strive to make Missouri State University better. Sometimes we take for granted that our students are aware of the strategic plans that drive our decisions, as well as the budget constraints that force us to select among many deserving options or the governing policies that ensure we act fairly and consistently in all situations.
Recently, a group of students took the time and initiative to remind us of our responsibility and commitment to provide you with an inclusive environment that fosters learning, growth and opportunity. Pointing to the ongoing challenges that our nation continues to face in terms of diversity and inclusion, these students have presented important questions, made requests, and asked that we stop what we are doing to listen and respond. We have stopped, we are listening and we offer this letter in another effort to address those concerns.
Throughout our tenures with Missouri State, one of our primary goals has been to advance the University’s focus on diversity and inclusion by expanding diversity programs, increasing enrollment and retention of under-represented students, and expanding the pool of faculty and staff from underrepresented backgrounds.
We have achieved steady growth in this student population and have responded to challenges in attracting faculty and staff by adding hiring incentives and implementing specific goals. As recent conversations underscore, creating and sustaining an environment of inclusiveness where everyone on campus feels safe and welcome is an ongoing challenge. It is also a priority.
Despite much work in the last 40 plus years, current events indicate racism is an ongoing issue on many campuses. Unfortunately, Missouri State has not been immune to racist incidences. When we have become aware of such an event, we have responded quickly, publicly denounced the incident, increased our focus on diversity education and added opportunities for the difficult conversations in the wake of the incident. Even so, we recognize that we all must do more to represent and serve all our students.
The role of the division for diversity and inclusion
In 2011, as part of its on-going commitment to raise the level of inclusion, the University created the division for diversity and inclusion (DDI). The position of vice president was created, and Dr. Ken Coopwood was hired to lead the division. Diversity and inclusion was envisioned as a strategic arm of the University with a mission to promote, achieve, advance and sustain Missouri State’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It would do this by enhancing student, employee and stakeholder capabilities and competencies through diversity research, professional development, collaboration, and integrative activities and practices.
Since its inception, DDI has been very successful at raising the University’s profile in many ways including creating the Statewide Collaborative Diversity Conference and winning the 2014 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.
Essential to maintaining this momentum is a frank and honest review of the University environment. The University conducted a campus and community climate study that began in June 2013 and concluded with a final report in March 2015. As vice president for diversity and inclusion, Dr. Coopwood led this endeavor and is charged with leading the evaluation and review that is being conducted by the Climate Study Response Task Force, a presidential committee.
The Task Force is charged with the development of a plan of action to create and implement recommendations directed at enhancing the campus climate. As part of its process, the Task Force is auditing and evaluating diversity initiatives across campus to shed light on fundamental and core functions of these programs (i.e. purpose, framework, targeted problem, history, measurable outcomes, etc.). The Task Force’s work is expected to provide input into the diversity section of the University’s next long-range plan by delivering recommendations for prioritized diversity programs in categories: strategic, importance and value-add.
The evolution of multicultural programming and the MRC
One goal of the University is to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for all of our students. The office of multicultural programs has historically played a critical role at Missouri State in creating this environment for many of our underrepresented students and has existed at Missouri State for more than 25 years. For all but three of those years, it was part of the division of student affairs. During this time, it expanded as the University established a Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), the LGBTQ Resource Center and a variety of new student services for underrepresented students (inclusively referenced as “multicultural programs” in this letter.)
Partnering with University departments and student organizations, multicultural programs celebrates the history and heritage of various multicultural and underrepresented groups. The organization coordinates student programs to enhance academic performance and support the three pillars of public affairs.
In 2011, multicultural programs was moved into the then new division for diversity and inclusion. However, personnel conflicts began to manifest soon after the transition of multicultural programs into DDI. Following multiple management issues that were brought to the attention of the Board of Governors, an internal evaluation was initiated. It became apparent that student programming, which includes day-to-day tactical activities, was not being well served in a division that exists to serve the University in a strategic capacity.
We determined that in returning multicultural programs, TRiO, multicultural services and access programs to student affairs, we would again enhance our student programming by having staff and students responsible for diversity-related programming working alongside those who are responsible for programming in the student union and in our residence halls. Not only does that provide an opportunity for greater synergy among programming entities, it also keeps programming silos from occurring. From a peer perspective, it aligns with the organizational structure utilized among universities across the United States.
Embedding multicultural programs within student affairs also emphasizes Missouri State’s commitment to ensuring that diversity and inclusion are hallmarks of all of our student programs and initiatives. Additionally, we anticipated that the relocation would diminish the personnel issues that existed in diversity and inclusion. This has proven to be true.
Since the return of multicultural programs to student affairs, there have been other changes and opportunities.
We recently experienced the unexpected resignation of Francine Pratt, former executive director of the MRC. We are committed to hiring a new leader who is a highly qualified, experienced professional who can provide leadership and support for the establishment and achievement of underrepresented student recruiting and retention goals, and develop programs that serve the needs of multicultural and diverse student populations.
The University will be conducting a nationwide search, which is consistent with the University’s search practices, when filling such an important position. The position description, which was created several years ago, will be reviewed and modified as needed to reflect the ever-changing environment and our continued commitment to multicultural services. As is also our practice, the search committee will consist of diverse representatives from across the University, including underrepresented students.
Dr. TaJuan Wilson, Ed.D., has been named as interim director of the MRC effective Nov. 30, continuing through the completion of the search process. We appreciate Dr. Wilson taking on this additional responsibility and continuing to move the MRC forward.
The other opportunity, which is quite exciting and which aligns with our commitment to expanding and enriching multicultural programs, is the expansion of the MRC into what we are referring to right now as the MRC Annex. The number of students from underrepresented populations on the Springfield campus has increased to the point that we have outgrown the MRC as it currently exists within Plaster Student Union.
The MRC will remain in the union; however, extensive space in Freudenberger House (Freddy) has been designated for the MRC Annex. The LGBTQ Resource Center, currently located in University Hall, will be moved into the Annex, where there will also be expanded space for other underrepresented students and student groups. Staff from multicultural programs will be housed there as well.
We understand the need to create and ensure a collaborative environment as we expand and enhance our multicultural programs. We have already met with some students to discuss the Annex, but there will be another opportunity to meet at 4 p.m. Dec. 1 in Meyer Library, Room 101 to discuss space usage, opportunities for naming and provide input on overall appearance. Dr. Dee Siscoe, vice president for student affairs, and other administrators will be present to answer questions and receive your input on the plans.
The expansion of the MRC is very exciting, but this is just a first step in the next continuum. The University wants to better understand what we are doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement. To facilitate these discussions, Missouri State has engaged Lori Patton Davis, Ph.D., an expert in creating cultural centers in predominantly white institutions, to assist us in the planning, development and expansion of multicultural programs and the MRC.
Dr. Patton Davis will be on campus on Feb. 18 to begin these important conversations, and we look forward to partnering with her, our current students and our alumni in this growth process.
The bigger, long-term vision is to construct a building on campus as a dedicated cultural center. The first step in achieving this goal is to include this building in the Visioning Guide, a ten-year prospective for campus construction. As with all envisioned facilities, funding will entail partnerships with major donors, naming opportunities consistent with University policy and monetary commitment from the University. We are excited about this opportunity and look forward to making the center a reality.
Expressive speech on campus
We come to an important part of the Missouri State experience and what has become another recent driver of tension on college campuses — speech deemed by many to be “offensive” or “hate speech.” At Missouri State, we encourage the free exchange of ideas and recognize the free speech rights of all members of the University community.
Missouri State’s policies mirror the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedents. They protect our students’ freedom of speech and other civil liberties. We encourage a market place of diverse ideas on campus. This means faculty, staff and students have a right to share their opinions and perspectives, regardless of their politics or points of view. The University prohibits expressive activities only in those rare instances where the law permits government limitations on speech.
Even though a person has a legal right to express ideas that many find offensive and hateful, comments designed to offend and hurt others are not appropriate and are inconsistent with Missouri State’s public affairs mission. It is incumbent upon all of us to treat others with respect regardless of their views.
To encourage and demonstrate ethical leadership and cultural competence, the University is establishing a Bias Response Team. The team will focus on promptly responding to bias-related incidents experienced by campus community members, educating the campus community about bias and our diversity and inclusion values, training bystanders on how to respond when they witness discriminatory speech and conduct, reviewing reported bias-related incidents and referring them to appropriate University entities and monitoring student experiences for trends and issues negatively impacting campus climate.
Missouri State strictly prohibits violations of the law on campus. The University has not and will not tolerate threats, harassment or any other form of violence on campus. All incidences of campus violence will be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators will be held responsible and punished. We detest all forms of campus violence, especially when it is motivated by prejudice against someone due to their race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, religion or membership in any other protected class.
As we noted earlier, we make assumptions regarding student knowledge and understanding of the operations of the University. To add some clarity, we are including some information regarding our governance process to help you better understand the roles of leadership.
Missouri State University is operated and managed by the Board of Governors, which was created by Missouri statute and vested with the power and authority to adopt all necessary rules and regulations for the guidance and supervision of the University. Although the president represents the face of Missouri State for many students, the president does not and cannot make decisions in isolation. Rather, the president works with and reports to the Board.
The Board of Governors is guided in its management of the University by the long-range plan. The plan is developed every five years as the guiding document that charts Missouri State’s strategic path toward achieving its mission. The University utilizes its long-range plan to decide how to allocate resources; determine what initiatives should be pursued, expanded and dissolved; and make other strategic decisions. It is developed through a collaborative process that seeks broad input from stakeholders across campus including faculty, staff, students and administrators. The next plan that will guide the University from 2016-2021 is currently under development.
There are six areas of focus, one of which is diversity. Through its long-range plan, the University is actively pursuing several specific goals designed to foster an academic and professional environment that promotes diversity and inclusion in meaningful, concrete ways.
Guiding Missouri State leadership on a day-to-day basis is a set of goals developed each year with specific action items to facilitate implementation of the long-range plan. The current set of nine major goals, which were approved by the Board, summarizes the University’s focus for 2015-2016. This document is an action plan — a road map — that University administration will follow in the coming year.
Current diversity goals
Diversity related goals included in the plan for the coming year, many of which have been on-going, are:
- Continue to implement incentive and recruitment programs directed at increasing enrollment of underrepresented students.
- Promote and assess the graduate needs-based scholarship program and the graduate diversity scholarship program.
- Continue to strengthen relationships with diversity-oriented organizations.
- Implement the first-generation retention initiatives included in the University’s recent Title III grant application if funding is awarded.
- Evaluate the campus climate study and develop a plan of action to create and implement recommendations directed at enhancing the campus climate.
- Collaborate with community organizations to provide services and opportunities for underrepresented individuals, including initiatives funded by the Springfield Project 2025 (Lumina Foundation grant).
- Encourage individuals involved in hiring processes to hire highly qualified, diverse candidates in furtherance of the University’s Affirmative Action Plan, with a target of at least 20 percent of new hires being ethnically or racially diverse, international, disabled, of veteran status or a member of a group that is underrepresented within the hiring department.
- Continue to implement the campus-wide Appraisal and Development Plan (ADP) diversity goal, with a target of at least 80 percent of ADPs including a goal related to diversity.
Opportunity for voices to be heard
Thank you for challenging us to examine how we operate as a University. Critical to the success of an inclusive and welcoming campus is an open dialogue between administrators, faculty, staff and students that enables us to rationally discuss our successes, failures and opportunities. Everyone’s voice is important in this process, and the Board of Governors would like to hear the experiences and perspectives of our students.
The next opportunity to share your views with the Board will be at their next scheduled meeting on Friday, Dec. 11, from 9-11:45 a.m., in Plaster Student Union, Room 313.
The rules of participation in a Board of Governors’ meeting are as follows:
Public comment at Board meetings
The Chair of the Board shall allow time for public comment on agenda items prior to final action being taken on any such item by the Board. It is within the discretion of the Chair to determine the amount of time to be allotted, provided individual speakers shall be limited to five (5) minutes unless a majority of the members of the Board present at the meeting determine otherwise. Each speaker shall be required to give his/her name, and affiliation, if any, prior to speaking to the issue.
Those Missouri State students who would like to present their views on diversity and free speech issues should sign up at the president’s office in Carrington 201 by Friday, Dec. 4.
Due to commencement scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. that day, the meeting will end promptly at 11:45 a.m. Consequently, the Board may not be able to accommodate all students who wish to make a public comment at this meeting.
Alternatively, you may always contact the Board of Governors by email at email@example.com and/or the office of the president by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your input and continue the dialogue about these important issues.
Stephen B. Hoven, chairman of the Board of Governors
Clifton M. Smart, III, president
Actions/opportunities noted in this document
- TaJuan Wilson, Ed.D. named as interim director of the MRC effective Nov. 30
- Opportunity to assist in determining the use and design of the MRC Annex as published in The Standard — 4 p.m. Dec. 1, Meyer Library, Room 101
- Opportunity to participate in the short-term and long-term expansion and enhancement of the office of multicultural programs and the MRC — Feb. 18 meetings with Lori Patton Davis, PhD
- Creation of the Anti-Bias Team — Spring semester
- National search will commence for new leader of the MRC — subsequent to meetings with Lori Patton Davis where recommendations will be gathered regarding the position
- Opportunity to see a cultural center included on the next Visioning Guide. We encourage students to email the office of planning, design and construction DesignandConstruction@missouristate.edu and the Board email@example.com regarding this idea. We will review all input received from the campus community when deciding what to include in the next Visioning Guide. Access the current Visioning Guide.
- Opportunity to add your voice to the long-range planning process. Access the current plan and information about the process for developing the next plan. Meetings with students will be held during the spring semester and will be posted on the University calendar.