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Blueprint for Campus Change: University of Maryland Charts a New Course
Gladys Brown, Director of Human Relations, University of Maryland

The research is clear: student retention rates, college satisfaction, grade point averages, and intellectual and social self-confidence are higher at colleges and universities that value diversity. But this kind of educationally productive diversity does not happen by accident. It grows from institutional commitments and concrete policy changes.

The forthcoming publication, Diversity Blueprint: A Planning Manual for Colleges and Universities (AAC&U, 1998), examines the importance of institutional commitments and the difference strong leadership has made at the University of Maryland.

Over the past several decades, the University of Maryland has made an institutional commitment to increasing the diversity of its campus and to making productive educational use of campus diversity. This commitment has included centralized diversity programs including admission and recruitment goals and specialized programs like the Women’s Studies Department and the Afro-American Studies Program. Maryland’s commitment to diversity also seeks to involve every department, unit, and college on campus working to achieve specific diversity goals within the context of their own needs and administrative processes.

While Maryland is often lauded for its achievements in this area, its commitment needs to be seen in light of its own history. The University of Maryland remained segregated and exclusionary well into the 1950s. Numerous internal struggles and external pressures challenged the exclusionary policies and practices of the university. Campus leaders faced these challenges with a combination of stoic resistance and a new determination to change with the times. Through a process of trial and error, the university did learn to move beyond its racial divide and to emerge as a national leader in diversity learning. The road, however, has sometimes been bumpy.

Maryland is the site of one of the first court cases in the most recent series of challenges to affirmative action programs. The university defended, but ultimately lost, a court case challenging the legality of its Benjamin Banneker scholarship program. This program, designed to increase the enrollment of African American students, was instituted in 1969 in response to a challenge from the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights that asserted that “the State of Maryland [was] operating a system of higher education that [was] racially segregated.” While Maryland lost this case, campus leaders publicly demonstrated their commitment to the goals of inclusiveness in their vocal and strong defense of the program. Because of this visible leadership and because this program was not the only diversity program on campus, Maryland has been able to continue to attract African American and other students of color to enroll in, and ultimately graduate from, the University of Maryland.

Beyond its response to the Banneker decision, Diversity Blueprint tells the story of Maryland’s transformation. It offers lessons to help other institutions facing similar challenges and is designed as a planning resource for campus leaders who want to create diversity policies and initiatives through collaborative, campus-wide planning. It features a variety of ways in which programs facilitate change, but it also stresses one essential factor: it is programmatic substance, not size, that contributes most significantly to changing a campus climate to one of inclusiveness, equity, and educational excellence.

By reviewing the institution’s history of both exclusion and inclusion, campus leaders developed five planning principles essential to successful diversity initiatives: Accountability, Inclusiveness, Shared Responsibility, Evaluation, and Institutionalization. The guide is organized thematically and highlights programs designed to address a series of institutional priorities created at the University of Maryland using these five principles. The manual focuses on these principles and issues of leadership, recruitment and retention, curriculum transformation, campus-community connections, and faculty, staff, and student involvement.

Using these principles and priorities to build a planning framework, the message that emerges is that any institution can establish and sustain a variety of diversity programs. Diversity Blueprint offers compelling voices and stories that highlight the impact of strong leadership in making campuses inclusive, democratic centers of justice, equity, and educational excellence.

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