Blago signs for more diverse school staff

By Hetal Bhatt

The University may soon have as diverse a faculty as it has a student body.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich recently signed legislation aimed at putting more minorities into teaching positions at Illinois state universities. The bill seeks to increase the percentages of minorities in university faculties to at least match those in the state’s population.

Don Sevener, spokesman for the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), said the governor’s decision to back the legislation was a “no-brainer.”

“Once the governor’s office took notice of this bill, they felt extremely strong about it and kept on backing it until it was eventually passed,” he said.

The legislation, State Senate Bill 3107, was originally proposed by the IBHE and swiftly backed by Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park). Before it was passed, Illinois had two pre-existing programs, the Illinois Consortium for Educational Opportunity Program and the Illinois Minority Graduate Incentive Program, which were also intended to put minorities into university faculty positions.

However, according to Rep. McCarthy, the programs were minimally effective.

“We saw that the numbers of minority students were increasing at state colleges, but the minority faculty numbers were not,” McCarthy said. “So this legislation will take two less effective programs that gave minorities incentives to pursue careers in higher education, and combine them into a single, stronger program that will be easier to monitor and maintain for the IBHE, and thus be more effective.”

The new single program, dubbed the Diversifying Faculty in Illinois Higher Education Program, gives scholarships and other incentives to minorities who wish to pursue careers in higher education. It is being lauded by IBHE executive director Daniel LaVista as a tremendous step forward in making diversity a renowned and indispensable aspect of Illinois colleges and universities.

Sevener summed up the new program as an effort to not only educate Illinois college students on a scholastic level, but also on a communal level.

“Teacher diversity is an educational value that promotes learning for students in many more aspects of their lives than if they were educated by a less diverse faculty,” he said.

Some University students echo this sentiment.

“I feel that you definitely need a more diverse teaching staff because the minority students need teachers that they can relate to and confide in about various things that may happen on campus or in their lives,” said Herald Watson, sophomore in LAS. “It’s always better to have a broader spanning racial mix of faculty members because they will be able to reach out to a broader spanning racial mix of students.”

Jeanette Rudder, sophomore in LAS, also sees the legislation as an opportunity to impact the lives of students in more ways than with a simple textbook lesson.

“When you hire more minority teachers, you bring in people with many different takes on life, which is important for the students to be exposed to,” she said.

With Illinois universities’ minority student populations growing as a result of past government initiatives, the IBHE and the state senators sponsoring the bill wanted to expand those initiatives to raise the minority population in university faculties as well.

McCarthy said he sees the passing of this bill as an exemplary way of achieving just that, which will have a much more profound effect on Illinois college students later on in their life.

“Not only do we want the classrooms to be diverse, but the people teaching in front of the classrooms to be diverse as well,” he said. “When you do this, the students will be able to see things through many different viewpoints and backgrounds that they may not have previously experienced, and that’s what college is all about.”