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Diversity Advisory Council

The University of Montana

History: UM's Diversity Advisory Council

Written by Ray Carlisle, Retirees' Association

When George Dennison came to UM as its 17th president in August 1990, he stated in his first address to campus that diversity would be on a short list of priorities for his new administration. That fall, the state Board of Regents passed a resolution, since codified as Minority Achievement Policy 1902, requiring each Montana University System campus to develop and carry out a plan to increase racial and cultural diversity in three key areas: student population, workforce and curriculum. In October 1990, the UM Faculty Senate also passed a resolution “endorsing the goal of augmenting cultural diversity at (UM)” and recommending that a report and action plan be developed for Faculty Senate approval and action at its May 1991 meeting.

To give shape and direction to a diversity plan, Dennison created two task forces – one chaired by Barbara Hollmann, dean of students, and a second chaired by Nancy Borgmann, director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Both task forces met regularly during the remainder of the ’90-91 academic year and by June 1991 had jointly crafted a “Ten-Year Diversity Action Plan” that was submitted to Dennison. One of several action items in the 10-year plan was the creation of a President’s Diversity Advisory Council, which would play a major role in the implementation and monitoring of the plan.

When the 10-year plan was endorsed by the faculty and staff senates and approved by Dennison in July 1991, the Diversity Advisory Council came into being, with Nancy Borgmann serving as chair. Members of the original council included five faculty members, five classified staff, five administrators and six student members representing the Associated Students of UM and key student groups affected by the action plan. The Kyi-yo Native American Student Organization, African American Student Union and Alliance for Disabled Students at UM were three of the student groups. 

DAC’s initial charge included four responsibilities: (1) annual reporting and coordination of any diversity-related reports, (2) directly sponsoring diversity events and serving as a clearinghouse for diversity-related events sponsored by others on campus, (3) dissemination of news and achievement reports about UM diversity-related programs and activities in conjunction with University Relations, and (4) ongoing policy review and recommendations for revision of UM policies and procedures that affect diversity issues.

After leading the council for a year with no budget support, Borgmann requested and was given an annual operating budget of $10,000 to support DAC activities. In the early years of its existence, the DAC focused on sponsoring activities such as cultural awareness training for campus personnel, bringing speakers or diversity-related performances to campus, and developing an effective way to measure and report progress on the goals of the 10-year action plan.

The assessment and reporting task proved especially time-consuming and challenging for the council. After two years of mostly unsuccessful attempts to write annual reports summarizing progress, the DAC arranged a visit to campus by Hazel Symonette, who was employed by the University of Wisconsin system to assess and evaluate its systemwide diversity plan. Following a review of UM’s diversity plan and three days of meetings with DAC leaders and UM administrators, Symonette concluded that an effective annual report measuring progress was too complex a task for a committee of volunteers to carry out successfully and that a report should be developed by appropriate campus personnel who reported on progress at the unit-level rather than the campus as a whole. Ideally, this would be a systemwide report. After her visit, DAC reduced its emphasis on reporting, and, by the late ’90s, the task of evaluating the progress of campus diversity plans became a task coordinated by the Office of Commissioner of Higher Education, which drew from reports completed by appropriate campus administrators.

The primary original intent of BOR policy 1902 was to correct the underrepresentation of American Indian and other racial and ethnic groups in the MUS workforce and student enrollment. The policy also was intended to encourage curriculum development on each MUS campus that was more reflective of Montana’s racial and cultural diversity. While these goals have remained central to DAC’s priorities, it became clear in the early stages of efforts to implement the 10-year plan that DAC would need to take a broader and more inclusive view of diversity constituencies. Discussions included issues pertaining to discrimination based on disability, gender, sexual orientation and non-U.S. citizens. In December 2001, the DAC proposed redefining the charge of the council, in part to incorporate a broader view of diversity and to refocus the council’s charge on advocacy and facilitation.

The revised charge was adopted and is as follows: to encourage, advocate and facilitate communication, education and relations among persons of various races, physical conditions, religions, national origins, citizenship, genders, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual orientation at UM.

Since its creation, the DAC has sponsored or co-sponsored many activities that have been well-received by the campus community. Examples include the annual Nancy Borgmann Diversity Award, given at the annual Faculty/Staff Awards Reception to a member of the faculty, staff or administration for contributions to diversity on campus; the DAC Student Achievement Awards, given to 15 to 20 students selected from nominations submitted by the campus community at a spring semester reception; maintenance of a UM website that provides information about a wide range of diversity activities and opportunities; and mini-grants of up to $1,000 for student organizations that submit proposals for activities such as speakers, films or other diversity-related activities open to the campus community. 

Examples of activities that have received DAC seed money, advocacy and support include an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration; prejudice-reduction training offered by a Missoula chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute; UM’s Day of Dialogue, which is funded primarily by UM Student Affairs; and UM Allies, a group within Student Affairs that promotes a campus environment supportive and inclusive of all individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2010, the DAC committed to creating a diversity report that would lead to a much-needed overhaul of the original “Ten-Year Plan for Diversity.” That report is online at http://www.umt.edu/eo/diversity/report.php. Then in February 2012, the DAC completed a detailed diversity plan that is online at http://umt.edu/eo/diversity/diversityplan.php.

The DAC has been fortunate to be led by an outstanding group of faculty members and administrators who have served as chair since 1991. They are:

Nancy Borgmann, Equal Employment/Affirmative Action

Deborah Wetsit, education college

Raymond Cross, School of Law

Len  Foster, education, and Tunde Adeleke, African American studies/history (co-chairs)

Gyda Swaney, psychology, and David Schuldberg, psychology (co-chairs)

David Schuldberg and Lucy France, Equal Employment/Affirmative Action (co-chairs)

Lucy France and Julie Edwards, Mansfield Library (co-chairs)

Lucy France and Blakely Brown, health and human performance (current co-chairs)