From the issue dated February 2, 2007
Diversity-Program Administrators Fear Challenges to Their Spending
Many college administrators who gathered here last week for a national conference on educating black students said they saw a new threat to their programs emerging from a libertarian group's recent efforts to demand a strict accounting of expenditures on diversity by the University of Colorado at Boulder.
In a report released the week before, the Independence Institute, a research organization based in Golden, Colo., alleged that the state's flagship university had little idea how much money it spends promoting diversity and poorly manages such expenditures. University officials denied that they were spending any such money wastefully, but two Republican state representatives in Colorado have cited the report in calling for the state auditor to thoroughly examine the university's diversity expenditures.
News of the Colorado development distressed, but hardly surprised, many of the nearly 170 college administrators, faculty members, and admissions counselors who subsequently gathered here for Clemson University's Fifth National Conference on Best Practices in Black Student Achievement.
Although several participants said they had grown accustomed to justifying their affirmative-action efforts and felt confident they would be able to account for every dollar spent on diversity programs, others said they worried that colleges were ill prepared to defend such efforts against those demanding that they be subjected to a strict cost-benefit analysis.
The prospect of colleges' being asked to account for every dollar spent on diversity is "something to think about, maybe even sweat about," said an administrator from a public university in Indiana.
One of the conference's featured speakers, Damon A. Williams, the University of Connecticut's assistant vice provost for multicultural and international affairs, said he saw the Independence Institute's efforts to scrutinize university spending on diversity as representing "the next wave" of attacks on affirmative action. He said he had responded to news of the institute's report by sending letters to three major national higher-education organizations, which he declined to name, urging them to mobilize colleges elsewhere to defend themselves against similar scrutiny.
"I think many institutions are greatly at risk," Mr. Williams said. Colleges have only in the past few years begun documenting the benefits of diversity, he said, and while they generally can make good arguments that the diversity programs serve a valuable purpose, they have not done enough to track the money spent on such efforts and their results.
Fear of Paralysis
Jessica Peck Corry, director of the Independence Institute's Campus Accountability Project, said last week that she found it "disheartening" that college administrators would see her organization's demand for financial accountability in diversity programs as an attack on the programs themselves.
"This has nothing to do with affirmative action," she said. "This has to do with fiscal policy." She said she had hoped colleges and her organization could find common ground in their desire to make sure diversity programs "are getting the best bang for their buck."
It is also the case, however, that the Independence Institute has challenged the legality of some of the University of Colorado's affirmative-action efforts, criticizing its past practice of reserving some workshops and classes solely for members of minority groups. Its most recent report similarly criticized minority-oriented programs that the institute perceived as promoting racial and ethnic separatism.
Richard Bayer, dean of enrollment services at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said he saw the inquiry about diversity spending at Colorado as part of a broader movement to demand accountability of higher-education institutions. "To some degree I think it is going to have an impact on diversity on campus," he said. "It makes you stop and think very carefully about how you are spending your dollars, and are you making a difference."
"Every time we try to do something, there is a group that is challenging what we are doing," Mr. Bayer said. "We are going from analysis to, almost, paralysis."
Some administrators who expressed the most confidence in their ability to defend their diversity expenditures were those from states in which affirmative action has come under the most intense scrutiny. Karen Eley Sanders, assistant provost and director of academic support at Virginia Tech, said being the subject of past investigations by the Virginia-based Center for Equal Opportunity had left her institution at a point where "I think we can account for what we are doing with our dollars."
Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor for campus-community relations at the University of California at Davis, said a ban on affirmative-action preferences, approved by voters in that state in 1996, had forced his institution to restructure its diversity programs in ways that may have made them less vulnerable to attacks on their spending.
Rather than operating stand-alone programs focused on specific racial or ethnic groups — an approach that he sees as most exposed to auditors' scrutiny — his campus has incorporated diversity into its basic mission and broadened its diversity programs to include a wide range of populations, he said.http://chronicle.com
Section: Government & Politics
Volume 53, Issue 22, Page A20