External report addresses UI diversity and inclusion


Angela Kerndl

Angela Kerndl the daily illini Chancellor Robert Jones requested the External Review Report last fall in order to address issues at the University regarding the school’s diversity and inclusion efforts in the past. A team of non-University affiliated reviewers surveyed over 25 offices and committees to understand all of the exact issues and necessary changes to be made.

By Luke Cooper, Staff Writer

A team of non-university affiliated reviewers released a report on April 26, evaluating and critiquing the University’s efforts for diversity and inclusion.

The External Review Report and the reviewers involved in the evaluation process were requested by Chancellor Robert Jones shortly after his appointment last fall.

“This is one of the fundamental ways that we have to think differently,” Jones said at a town hall meeting on April 19.  “We need a rational, high-impact strategy to be able to advance this University and make sure that each and every one of our members of this community feel welcome and safe.”

More than 25 offices and committees responsible for promoting diversity and inclusion were assigned to complete a self-study on their projects and initiatives prior to the hired reviewers’ two-day visit in February.

Reviewers then conducted 27 interviews with committees, staff groups and faculty members while on campus. A clear and more efficient system for furthering diversity and inclusion efforts are necessary, the report said.

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    The University has long thrived on investments in “decentralized efforts” to increase equity, diversity and inclusion on campus, the report said.

    “Decentralized efforts have contributed to certain successes. However, the team believes there are ways in which decentralization of efforts also contributes to a number of challenges,” reviewers said. They attribute such challenges to redundancy, lack of synergies, communication issues and difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of programmatic diversity efforts.

    To help resolve these issues, the report recommends the University create a new position for a vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, to share some responsibilities currently held by the vice chancellor for student affairs and to help coordinate and optimize initiatives and funding.

    Reviewers observed numerous amounts of programs and committees currently dedicated to campus diversity and inclusivity, noting programs such as the Disability Resource and Educational Services and the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations as being particularly well functioning.

    The University committees, however, have similar and oftentimes overlapping purposes and roles which reviewers said tend to have little to no interaction, thus resulting in a competition over limited resources and “turf” issues.

    The report proposes an alternative to the current committee system by establishing a university-wide diversity, equity and inclusion council, under the oversight of the proposed vice chancellor, with subcommittees taking on some of the tasks of current stand-alone committees.

    The University invests more than $60 million toward diversity and inclusion efforts, with over 80 percent for scholarships, according to the report.

    Although, the report said it is unclear as to how the investments are prioritized and how the University assesses their impact.

    Based on data shown to the review team, the report said that the University has had success with reducing the achievement gap for African-American and Hispanic students in relation to peer institutions and other Big Ten schools.

    However, reviewers said that those interviewed could not identify the efforts made to achieve this.

    The report said the University has had “moderate success” with recruiting diverse students because of the programs focused on doing such, attributing the school’s cultural centers as playing a key role in recruiting students with the Office of Admissions.

    The University still needs to re-evaluate its recruiting strategies with African-American high school graduations rates declining and try to attract diverse Illinois residents while exploring the recruitment of nonresidents, the report said.

    University Spokeswoman Robin Kaler said that feedback on the report from members of the University has been positive.

    “I think the University community shares the goal of embracing our diversity and becoming more inclusive,” Kaler said. “This report offers thoughtful perspective on how to achieve that.”

    Kaler also said that  Jones has already begun asking for input and feedback on the report, and is scheduling meetings with stakeholder groups in the next few weeks to discuss the report’s implications and recommendations.

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