Inclusive Excellence and the Role of Faculty: In Order to Gain Faculty as Stakeholders in a Strategic Diversity Agenda, Their Values and Those of the Institution Must Align

By Lewis, William T. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Inclusive Excellence and the Role of Faculty: In Order to Gain Faculty as Stakeholders in a Strategic Diversity Agenda, Their Values and Those of the Institution Must Align


Lewis, William T., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


"What role do faculty play in a strategic diversity agenda?" people ask me all the time. Historically, the diversity agenda has been rooted in the "islands of excellence" paradigm, which sought to recruit racially diverse students and "help them" to assimilate to the institution. Under the reconsidered diversity agenda, "integrated inclusive excellence," we seek to "help the institution" to adjust to the wholeness of today's students.

The faculty is at the epicenter of this change. I recall the lyrics of legendary rapper 2Pac: "Wars come and go, but my soldiers stay eternal." I find this lyric true for academic life. Administrators and students come and go but the faculty are eternal. The curriculum and pedagogical approaches that are developed, owned and implemented by faculty have an eternal impact on the students they teach.

The role of faculty in an institutional diversity change agenda is critical to transforming the institution, crucial to helping students understand their responsibility in a global economy and central to sustaining long-term change. If faculty are at the heart of institutional change, then the question we must answer is, "How are faculty engaged in a long-term, campuswide diversity and inclusion change agenda?" The answer is tied to the interplay among the faculty's values, the academic department's values and the institution's values.

We cannot, however, merely substitute inclusion for diversity and think our jobs are done. In order to gain faculty as stakeholders in a strategic diversity agenda, academic and institutional leaders must create and articulate a new message regarding diversity and inclusion that aligns faculty values with departmental and institutional values regarding diversity. Concerning faculty values and diversity, much discussion has occurred around what is taught (diversity-related content in the curriculum) and how it is taught (inclusive pedagogy). In the "integrated inclusive excellence paradigm," I suggest that our conversations focus on epistemology--the origin, nature and meaning of knowledge.

Centering our attention on epistemology provides stakeholders in the academic enterprise an opportunity to locate the source of faculty values regarding curriculum, pedagogy and scholarship. Matthew Mayhew and Heidi Grunwald provide a compelling example as to why we need to begin by focusing on epistemology. They found that faculty's personal beliefs about diversity influenced their likelihood to incorporate diversity-related content into their courses. Specifically, faculty who were more likely to believe that affirmative action leads to the hiring of less-qualified faculty and staff were less likely to incorporate diversity-related content in the classroom. When we shift our attention to epistemology, we begin to focus inward. In doing so, we attend to the nature and meaning of knowledge and how learning occurs.

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